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Norway offers to scrap Swede's Utøya memorial

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Norway offers to scrap Swede's Utøya memorial
An artist's impression of the memorial. Photo: Jonas Dahlberg Studio/NTB scanpix/TT
15:40 CEST+02:00
A Swedish artist's controversial memorial to the victims of the Utøya massacre may be replaced by the Norwegian government in an effort to appease local residents.

The 'Memory Wound' memorial to commemorate the massacre of 69 people, mostly teenagers, on the island in 2011 has been fraught with controversy for years.

Designed by Swedish conceptual artist Jonas Dahlberg, the memorial is a "permanent scar" that would see the tip of Sørbråten, the pensinsula which juts out into the Tyrifjorden towards Utøya, severed from the lakeside, and the names of the dead then carved on the exposed surface of the island.

Some residents of Sørbråten have fiercely opposed the memorial, condemning Dahlberg's design as a "rape of nature", a "tourist attraction", and a "hideous monument". The residents hired one of Norway's top lawyers to prevent the memorial's construction but the government said as recently as May that it would not change course

In an apparent turn-around, Local Government Minister Jan Tore Sanner said on Thursday that the government has now offered to scrap the Swede's controversial design.

"We want to avoid a long and harrowing trial and have proposed a settlement that includes us abandoning the selected artwork. We have asked the Attorney General to investigate the feasibility of launching settlement negotiations that would entail keeping Sørbråten as the memorial location but would involve all concerned parties in the decision to find another memorial instead of 'Memory Wound'," Sanner said.

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Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg at the site of the proposed memorial. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

The neighbours' lawyer, Harald Stabell, has argued that the memorial would damage the mental health of those locals who suffered traumatic stress after participating in the rescue operations following convicted terrorist Anders Behring Breivik's shooting spree on the island.

The neighbours have stated that they are not opposed to a memorial within Hole municipality, which encompasses Utøya, but they cannot accept having it placed within the local community that is home to so many people who were involved in the rescue process.

Stabell told Norwegian broadcaster NRK last week that he would move forward with the lawsuit if the government does not move the location of the memorial, regardless of its design.

"There has been a meeting between two lawyers from the Attorney General's office and myself, in which they, on behalf of the government, put forward a settlement proposal that was rejected by my clients," Stabell said.

Dahlberg himself said in comments published by Swedish radio that a memorial aiming to please everyone risked reducing the significance of the terror attack and its ability to prevent similar future violence.

"I am convinced that the purpose of a national memorial should be to honour those who lost their lives by insisting on a continued mutual conversation about what happened. And that the conversation itself, though at times unpleasant, is what could eventually help process the trauma," he said.

"I hope I will be trusted to carry out the work on memorials in both Hole and Oslo. The work itself and the people I have met have changed my life forever."

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