Amid the healing that has begun in the days since Anders Behring Breivik's murderous rampage shocked this placid nation, Norwegians have been wondering if they had allowed themselves to become too vulnerable in an increasingly violent world.
Everyone engaged by a reporter seems to know that life will never be the same in a country where people don't lock their doors and police are routinely unarmed. They welcome statements from their political leaders that Norway must not succumb to fear and must maintain its open society. But many also sense that the attacks that killed 76 people on July 22 have changed everything.
"We were just walking around the other evening like we always do, and for the first time in my life, I actually felt threatened in Norway," says Anja Hallan-Wolff, an 18-year-old high school graduate, as she adds a rose to the hundreds floating in the murky pool at the fountain on the central square of Einar Gerhartsensplass in Oslo. "I don't think that people understand yet that we've lost this sense of security we once had."
Even in the hours immediately after the attacks, when Norway's TV news programs hauled al-Qaeda experts before the cameras and people assumed the atrocity was the work of Islamic extremists, public sentiment seemed to turn momentarily against the country's Muslim immigrants. "Just after the attack, Muslims were thrown off buses and asked to leave public places," says Anja's friend Oda Groemer, a tall 18-year-old who says she wants to travel around the world. "But Breivik can't win. We are not going to let this destroy us."
On the square where the car bomb detonated, the glass face of a clock high on a tower remains shattered and the windows of the Prime Minister's building and the nearby Labour Party headquarters are boarded up. Tourists press at the gates cordoning off the damaged area, kneeling to grab tiny shards of glass and stuff them in their pockets as souvenirs. In the city streets around the bomb site, everyone seems to be carrying flowers. People are waiting in lines at flower shops to buy bouquets, single roses, pairs of roses and long-stemmed gladiolas to pay tribute to those lost.
At the Scotsman, a pub near the bomb site, a handful of patrons sip beer in large chairs as they follow the nonstop news reports about the investigation on a big-screen TV. Outside, the steady trickle of people walking toward the bomb site becomes a torrent. In this city of some half a million, police estimate that nearly 300,000 people have taken to the streets, responding to a call on Facebook to place roses throughout the city. The rose, a symbol of love and of the ruling Labour Party, which was targeted by Breivik, breaks the somber cloud that has hung over the country since July 22, and the weight of pain seems to lift as people come out of their houses and embrace one another, sharing pain and stories about how the attacks changed their lives.
In the crowd streaming toward the bomb site, people are sticking roses in the fence that blocks off the street. Soon the gate is covered, a floral tapestry a stone's throw from the yellow inflatable tent covering the crater left by the bomb. A woman with long blond hair carrying a pair of gladiolas places her flowers in the fence. She says her name is Maria Samstad and that she is a 32-year-old property consultant. Samstad says she was a cousin to Benjamin Hermansen a 15-year-old Norwegian-African boy stabbed to death in 2001 in the most highly publicized of a string of incidents of right-wing violence since the 1980s. Michael Jackson even dedicated his album Invincible to Hermansen, who was killed by members of a neo-Nazi gang called BootBoys.