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Youths arriving to take a ferry to Utoya Island, Norway, Aug. 6, 2015. The youth camp there is set to reopen after four years.
Vegard Wivestad Grott / AFP / Getty Images
Norway’s Utoya youth camp to reopen, four years after mass shooting
Island was site of nation’s worst massacre, when Anders Behring Breivik killed 69 during 2011 rampage
August 6, 201510:27AM ET
Four years ago a far-right fanatic gunned down 69 people, shattering tranquillity on the idyllic Norwegian island of Utoya after killing eight in a bomb blast in the center of the capital, Oslo.
This week a flood of newcomers will be arriving on the island as the Labor Party's youth camp opens for the first time since the massacre, on July 22, 2011.
Emilie Bersaas, a camp organizer, said they won't allow "that dark day [to] overshadow the nice and bright" memories of past camps or future weekend youth meetings and social events organized by the party's youth wing, which owns the island, about 25 miles from Oslo.
More than 1,000 students have enrolled for three days of seminars on politics that start Friday. Private visitors a day earlier will include NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former Labor Party leader who was Norway's prime minister at the time of the massacre.
Many of the island's traditional red-and-white wooden buildings have been renovated, and construction continued feverishly Wednesday to complete new conference and meeting rooms. A bright circular steel memorial engraved with the victims' names has been given pride of place among pine trees on a secluded spot overlooking Tyrifjorden, the surrounding lake.
Mani Hussaini, the president of the youth group, believes that a good balance was found in constructing buildings and restoring old ones, describing the reopening as "an important step" for going forward after the events of 2011.
Utoya will "always [be] a place where we honor and remember our comrades, a place to learn and a place for political engagement," he told reporters.
The murderous rampage of the self-styled "militant nationalist" Anders Behring Breivik, who randomly shot students as he walked through the island, shocked Norway, a nation of 5 million people in the far north of Europe. About 1 in 4 people in the country were affected by the massacre, through family, friendships or work connections.
It left lasting traces on Utoya, including the dark green cafeteria, which bears bullet marks from the murder of 13 people. It has not been renovated and will open as a center for learning after another building has been built around it.
Survivor Ragnhild Kaski, secretary-general of the youth organization, remembered with glee and excitement how she gave her first political speech in that fateful cafeteria — tinged with deep sorrow and emptiness over the loss of her friends.
"For me, that building will always be the building where I was giving a speech for the very first time, when I was 17 ... At the same time, that's the place where people lost their lives and I was saving mine," she said. "So it kind of shows it's part of the island. You have both the good and the bad memories."
In 2012, Breivik was convicted of mass murder and terrorism and was given a 21-year prison sentence that can be extended for as long as he is deemed dangerous to society — which legal experts say likely means he will be locked up for life.
But his attack on the government quarter in the capital and the students of a left-wing movement in Norway that prides itself on equality and democracy has left a scar on its reputation as a country that doesn't need armed police and where political leaders can walk freely.
During the fourth anniversary commemoration ceremony in Oslo, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that July 22, 2011, will remain a dark day in the country's history for "scenes of evil and heinous acts" and that the victims are "remembered with love" and will never be forgotten. She later inaugurated a July 22 Center, which shows how the assailant carried out the cold-blooded attacks — an initiative some opposed on the grounds that it was too poignant.
Since the shooting, 16 regional support groups and a national organization were set up to help families of the victims.
On Utoya, the victims' names, engraved in longhand on the suspended memorial, glittered in the cloudy sky. The youngest was that of a 14-year-old boy; the oldest, that of Breivik's first target on the island, a 45-year-old security guard.
But not all 69 names are there. Eight spaces have been left for those names parents do not want displayed.
"It's still too early for some now, and that's a natural thing, I think," said Lisbeth Roynehold, whose 18-year-old daughter, Synne, was killed. "Because we grieve in different ways and some parents need more time."
Roynehold, who is the leader of a July 22 support group, welcomes the reopening of the camp.
"By going back to the island, I think the youngsters will fight for what my daughter fought for," she said quietly, her folded hands twitching. "They are fighting for democracy."