At the age of 19, Lisa Marie Husby had to choose which funerals for her companions she was going to go to because there were so many, that many coincided on the same day. He spoke at his friend’s funeral and ran off to get to his best friend’s.
Just 10 years ago, Anders Breivik, disguised as a policeman and inspired by a far-right ideology, entered the island of Utoya, Norway, and killed 69 young people who were attending the summer camp of the League of Workers’ Youth. Lisa ran through the woods. He noticed how the bullets passed close by, he managed to enter a cabin and hid under the bed.
Minutes before the massacre, Breivik had planted a bomb in front of the main government building and eight other people were killed. In the minutes between the explosion and Breivik’s arrival on the island, Lisa was talking to her mother on the phone, who thought this was an attack on the Labor Party. “I’m sure something is going to happen on the island,” her mother told her.
A decade later, Lisa talks to elDiario.es about what she experienced that day and the impact it had on her life and on the political life of Norway.
Ten years after the terrorist attack, how are you and how has your life changed?
Today I’m fine. We were very lucky that this happened to us in Norway because we have had a great support system and we have received a lot of help from the government and the people around us. But it has been difficult. I had a lot of trauma and PTSD, so for a few years I was not able to work or study because I was having a very bad time.
But today I am doing very well and I receive a lot of help from psychologists. I have a company with which I go to schools, I talk about the attack and I try to use the experience for something positive. I speak of the consequences of the attack, of mental health and of the political part to prevent it from happening again. I also work as a consultant for the Norwegian Academy of Sciences.
Do you think the terrorist attack also changed the country in some way?
In the early years we thought that we would be able to discuss the political side of the attack, but I am afraid that the attack did not really change Norway as much as we would have liked. I feel like for a few years some of the survivors were almost silenced because we were not allowed to discuss and talk about racism and the far right without being accused of using it for political gain.
In recent months a lot has changed in Norway. We are finally arguing and being brave enough to face the most difficult conversations, but it has taken us almost ten years to be allowed to speak openly about the political side of the terrorist attack and for the victims to speak out.
Do you think the attack in Norway influenced the evolution of the extreme right?
We have seen several terrorist attacks in which the attacker was inspired by Breivik, including one in Norway a couple of years ago. As they were both from Norway and not a foreign force, it has been very difficult for us to talk about it. We have not been able to recognize that it could happen again because it is too uncomfortable for us.
For some he was just a madman who killed people on an island, but the truth is that he was a political terrorist who even wrote a manifesto. The scariest part of the last 10 years is that people haven’t wanted to discuss it because it was uncomfortable. I think it is now, 10 years late, when we are beginning to discuss and learn.
Do you think that some points of this manifesto are now more common and visible in society?
Yes. In Norway, some of the far-right politicians have pushed the limits of what can be said and how people can be talked about. It’s like we can’t call someone a racist because it hurts their feelings. The problem was not being a racist, but being called a racist. So they silenced us because we started saying that there are certain things that politicians in Norway shouldn’t be able to say about certain groups of people.
It is becoming more and more normal to have a far-right political vision that is scary because it alienates certain people from public debate. There are many people in Norway, especially Muslim women or people belonging to minorities, who are not part of the debate because they are afraid. Many of the survivors of the terrorist attack have been silenced and are not part of the debate either. We are suffering hatred and threats. Many of my friends keep their phone numbers and addresses secret because they are suffering a lot of hatred.
Would you say then that 10 years after the attack we are in a worse situation in terms of the extreme right?
Yeah right. We are seeing how in Europe it is becoming something more accepted. What we see is that words are not just words, but can inspire violent acts such as an attack. Once you start accepting hate speech or racist comments, people can be inspired by that. So I think politicians on both sides, on the extreme right or the extreme left, have to be very aware that their words can have consequences.
In Norway we have not addressed it because people have been too busy talking about freedom of expression, but we also have the right not to feel threatened and not to feel that we have to accept hatred and threats.
That day you survived hiding for several hours in a cabin with other colleagues. What do you remember from that moment?
After entering the cabin and closing the door, I was in shock and couldn’t stop looking for my backpack. I think it is impossible for people to understand what your brain is doing if you have not been through it and if you have not felt the fear of thinking that you are going to die. Inside the cabin she was hidden under the bed with a friend and we stayed there for about an hour until the police arrived.
It is important to remember that Breivik was disguised as a policeman, so we did not trust anyone and when the agents arrived we did not understand if they were really coming to save us. It was a very difficult situation because Breivik took the innocence out of many of us. It took away that sense of security in the police. When the agents came, I thought they were going to kill me and I was very anxious. I was 100% sure that I was going to die.
And how did you get to the cabin? What happened before?
I was talking to my mother on the phone after the terrorist attack in Oslo and the first thing she told me was that she thought it was an attack on the Labor Party and that we were next. “I’m sure something is going to happen on the island,” she said. A few minutes after hanging up, we started hearing what I thought were fireworks. And then I saw the group of people that I was in charge of. I ran over to them, we started debating where to go and decided to go to the cabin.
We ran through the forest and at one point I could feel that the guy was behind shooting us because he could feel the air pressure from the bullets in his hair. We went into the cabin and I wanted to run again, I did, and a woman stopped me and said that if I left, I would have to find another place to hide. I was hesitating between going out or going back in when a girl came running through the woods screaming that she had been shot. He had a gunshot wound to his arm. So I decided to go back into the cabin.
After the attack, she was very involved in politics, she studied at the university … Could you tell me about your career in the last decade?
After the terrorist attack, I was elected as a councilor for my municipality, where I was supposed to stay for four years. Then I was also elected to lead the Labor Party in my city. However, two or three years after the attack I began to have mental problems. He was not in a good mood. She was depressed and had anxiety and PTSD.
I was unable to function properly, so I retired from all political positions and stopped working. I was on sick leave for almost a year in which things were not looking very good. I stopped having faith in having a normal life again, which is very difficult because I love life.
Later I received help from a very good group of psychologists and doctors and they made me realize that one day I should be able to find the rest of my life. After a year of consulting once a week, I was able to get back on my feet.
Since then, I have done very well. I managed to study at the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) for four years, which is amazing because I thought I would never be able to study again. It was very good for me to go out for a few years. He needed a little distance from Norway. Now I have bought a small farm that I live on. Since the attack I was afraid to sleep alone and I never thought I would be able to, especially in winter when Norway is so dark. 10 years later, I am still taking steps to regain full control of my life, but I am happy and doing very well.