Norway faces hard decisions as Breivik verdict nears

As Oslo court set to pass judgement on anti-Muslim mass murderer, isolated nation tries to come to terms with new reality.

Breivik in court 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Breivik in court 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
OSLO - As the trial of Anders Behring Breivik comes to an end, Norway is just starting to shape its future as a nation no longer isolated by its great wealth from a troubled outside world.
Survivors of Breivik's massacre are waiting for Friday when an Oslo court passes judgment on the anti-Muslim gunman, hoping to return to something like the lives they led before he slaughtered 77 people last year.
Norwegian society, however, must still balance its liberal and conservative traditions exposed by Breivik's 10-week trial as it decides how to deal with security and intelligence surveillance, gun controls and rising immigration.
"We are no longer so naive to believe that Norway is the best country in the world," said Mette Yvonne Larsen, o ne of the three lawyers in court representing victims of Breivik's attack on July 22, 2011. "It has made us understand we are a part of international society. We cannot solve problems by ourselves."
For survivors such as Khamshajiny Gunaratnam, the most pressing need is to hear the verdict after a trial that went into every detail of Breivik's bomb attack in Oslo that killed eight, and his shooting dead on Utoeya island of 69 people, mostly teenagers.
"After Aug 24, we can be done with it," Gunaratnam told Reuters.
With what witnesses described as a "joyous battle cry", Breivik arrived at the island youth camp of the ruling Labour Party dressed as a policeman. He regarded his victims, the youngest of whom was 14, as brainwashed "cultural Marxists" whose support for Muslim immigration threatened Norwegian ethnic purity.
Gunaratnam, aged 24, escaped the massacre by jumping into icy lake waters and swimming for her life. She survived because Breivik was busy shooting her friends in the head at point blank range, presuming she would drown.
Verdict not about guilt, but rather about Breivik's sanity
The verdict itself is not about Breivik's guilt but whether, as prosecutors say, he is insane.
If Breivik is declared sane, his maximum sentence is 21 years, although this can be extended if he is seen as a danger to society. If declared insane, he faces indefinite mental care under lock and key.
The 33-year-old well-to-do son of a former diplomat is jailed in a three-room cell. He has a computer in one room, a treadmill to keep fit in another, access to TV and newspapers and is allowed a daily stroll in the fresh air outside.
Whatever the verdict, Breivik will probably spend the rest of his life in similar conditions, underscoring what some Norwegians regard as an excessive civility in the face of the cold-blooded killings.
Lawyers for the survivors say some do not care about the verdict while others would prefer Breivik be declared sane, meaning he takes responsibility for his actions.
Breivik himself wants to be ruled sane and his attack considered a political statement rather than an act of lunacy. He has said an insanity verdict would be "a fate worse than death" and that he would appeal it, prolonging the survivors' ordeal.
Some believe isolated Norway must look to others for precedent
Beyond the survivors' personal feelings, the country of five million people faces difficult decisions following its worst massacre since World War Two.
Norway's huge oil wealth has long set it apart from other nations. It has prospered outside the European Union, and its economy is expected to grow more than three percent this year while many European neighbors are stuck in recession.
Likewise, its strong political and legal systems mean it has avoided the corruption that afflicts many other oil producers.
With more than $600 billion in reserves from its oil fund, pristine forests and a welfare system that is the envy of the world, Norway has often looked haughtily at the rest of Europe.
However, some Norwegians now believe their country must draw on the experience of other nations to debate issues such as immigration as the oil wealth attracts large numbers of foreign workers.
These are being discussed more openly after the killings by Breivik, who believed the government's immigration policies were adulterating Norwegian blood and leading to war with Muslims.
"We know now that Norway can be a source of terrorism ... it has led us to just start talking about what kind of society we want," said Geir Lippestad, Breivik's lawyer. "What to do about right-wing fundamentalists, access to internet sites by extreme groups. We have just started the discussion."
"Norway is more aware of racism now, of the issues of multiculturalism. Hopefully, we can start a process that Norway can open up more for the rest of the world," he told Reuters.
Norway tries to stay the same in aftermath of massacre
On the face of it little has changed since the killings. The foreign ministry has new road blocks on its nearby street and a security check has been set up at the prime minister's office. But government ministers still walk around without bodyguards and you can drive right up to the parliament building.
After the massacre, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg stressed that Norway would make no gut reactions that would infringe on its tradition of open democracy.
When prosecution lawyers shook hands with Breivik at the start of the trial, this civility sent a deliberate message that he would not force changes on the Norwegian way of life.
In some ways they succeeded. Opinion polls show more Norwegians accept multiculturalism - policies designed to accommodate differing communities - as the immigrants flock in.
Norway's population grew 1.3 percent last year, one of the fastest rates in Europe, and net immigration accounted for 71 percent of that growth. While immigrants arrived from all round the world, 70 percent of them came from Europe.
"People are more aware of the danger of anti-Muslim rhetoric. We are more aware that some ideas can become very dangerous," said Larsen.
But Norwegians' civility is being tested already. A 500-page official report last week into the attacks found a host of mishaps and mistakes by police and intelligence services allowed Breivik to carry on the attacks unimpeded.
Norway's police chief resigned after the report and the intelligence service are pressing for more surveillance powers.
Stoltenberg, who drew widespead praise for his measured and dignified leadership after the attack, is now under pressure to resign following the report. The conservative opposition has gone on the offensive before parliamentary elections next year.
The report also touched on a subject at the heart of Norway - wide gun ownership in a country where hunting is a national pastime, a legacy of Cold War defence preparations and Norway's strong rural culture.
But the commission's proposal to ban semi-automatic weapons - the kind that Breivik bought easily - may founder on opposition from many of Norway's conservative voters for whom gun ownership, like in the United States, is a right.
Some critics of the government say Norway is also unprepared for its role in the outside world, saying its presence in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, for example, could make it a target for further attacks.
All these debates need to be settled after the Breivik verdict. "Perhaps it was necessary to have a year of mourning," Brent Aadal, political scientist at the Institute for Social Research. "Now we have to move forward and respond to real challenges."