Norway's Political Youth Camps

The World

Utøya (Flickr image: Rødt nytt)

Norwegian officials have called off the search for more victims around the island of Utøya. That's where the youth wing of the Norwegian Labor Party was holding its annual summer camp on Friday, July 22, when a gunman attacked. Dozens of young people died in the shootings on the island. For the families and friends who lost loved ones on Utøya, the ordeal has been a shock. And comments from American radio talk show host Glenn Beck have only added insult to injury. On Monday, Beck referred to the youth political camp on Utøya as sounding "a little like the Hitler Youth." That offhand comparison did not go down well in Norway. After all, feelings here are still very raw following last week's attacks. Anders Behring Breivik, the man who's admitted to the attacks, is an avowed right-wing extremist. And the Hitler Youth comparison especially hurts because Norway lived through Nazi occupation. One of the original leaders of the Norwegian Labor Party survived a concentration camp. But beyond all that, most here are baffled as to how Utøya could possibly be equated with a Hitler Youth group. "Utøya represents some of the finest qualities in a democracy, a place where youth can meet to celebrate democracy and openness, quite the opposite of what the Nazis stood for," said Martin Fredriksen, the former leader of Norway's Youth Labor Party, whho now runs the Utøya camp. "Other than that, I do not wish to give Glenn Beck any attention." Summer gatherings for youth parties in Norway have been part of the political scene for 60 plus years. It's not all work, according to Labor Party politician Are Helseth. "It is a place where young people interested in politics discuss politics, get training in politics, but also have time for football and other sports activities, and boys meet girls," Helseth said. In fact, one walking path on Utøya is known as "The Path of Love." But the fact is that many leading politicians in Norway today got their first taste of politics in these summer camps; the current Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, for one. Martin Fredriksen remembers one time when Stoltenberg visited Utøya. "I got to speak to the Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and be very critical of his policies, and he answered us as he always does. It's very good to hear your opinions, and now we can disagree. It stands not only as a good memory, but as a symbol of what Utøya was — or is," Fredriksen added. That correction speaks volumes. The Youth Labor Party is determined not to let the attacks — or any comments — cripple them. Members say they'll go back and rebuild Utøya, and get it ready for next year. But it's not just one youth party that's been affected. Most of the youth parties in Norway have some sort of yearly summer gathering. The Young Liberals were set to have their camp this weekend. Their President Sveinung Rotevatn said it will go ahead, with increased security. "The security part has been one of the most difficult issues this week, when we were debating whether to cancel the camp or not," he said. "But we've been in touch with the police, and they tell us that they are going to be there for us." And what does Rotevatn make of Glenn Beck's comments? "These camps are just such a nice and important part of Norwegian democracy that I can't take that kind of comment seriously from someone who doesn't know what he is talking about."
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