Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute to Utøya Island

July 18 2021

Utøya Island and CEO Jørgen Watne Frydnes are awarded the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute for making the site of a terrorist attack and mass murder into an arena for knowledge, discussion and resistance.

Press release, 19 July 2021

In the aftermath of the right-wing extremist terrorist attack on the AUF (the Workers’ Youth League) and the Labour Party that took 77 lives on 22 July 2011, considerable uncertainty arose about the fate of Utøya Island and the activities there. “We’re going to take Utøya Island back”, declared AUF leader Eskil Pedersen already the day after the terrorist attack. However, this goal met with resistance and disagreement among survivors and bereaved family members for quite some time. Ultimately, the AUF has, in fact, managed to complete a difficult and profoundly important project that greatly expands and enriches Norway’s public discourse.

“From being the site of the most heinous terrorist attack in the history of Norway, Utøya Island has been transformed into an open, inclusive arena for discussion and learning. The activities on the island are proof that knowledge can overcome xenophobia, hate speech and conspiracy theories. On Utøya Island, new generations are learning to participate in demanding debates on freedom of expression, the culture of freedom of expression, and extremism”, remarks Grete Brochmann, Chair of the Fritt Ord Foundation Board.

As a result, Utøya Island is now once again a dynamic asset for the AUF, as tens of thousands of young people from organisations, politics, and schools in Norway and abroad visit the island each year. Such a turnaround and the breathing of new life into Utøya Island have only been possible through close, comprehensive dialogue with all the survivors and the bereaved families left behind. The powerful, deep points of contention about the future of the island have called for perseverance and daring. Jørgen Watne Frydnes has demonstrated these qualities for 10 years now. In autumn 2011, he was hired as CEO of Utøya AS. Since then, he has played a decisive role in achieving the results we now see coming to fruition, contributing greatly to the new Utøya Island becoming one of Norway’s most important venues for learning and discussion.

Frydnes2
Photography of Jørgen Frydnes: Paul Børhaug/Utøya AS

The new Hegnhuset Memorial and Learning Centre features a condensed version of the indescribable stories of what took place on Utøya Island on 22 July 2011. In 2016, The Guardian characterised the Hegnhuset Centre as “one of the world’s most important buildings”. It is home to some of the most important physical artefacts from the acts of terror committed in and around the Cafe building, and it houses a democracy workshop, where young people from all over Norway can come to participate and learn together with others. The goal is to improve young people’s grasp of democracy by sharing knowledge, values, attitudes and skills.

A new conference centre has been built adjacent to the Hegnhuset Centre, restoring Utøya Island to its former position as an arena for international solidarity and peacekeeping efforts. Tolerance, equality, freedom of expression and diversity are values that are hard pressed in a number of countries, and the activities on the island are a reflection of this.

During the 10 years that have passed since the terrorist attack, the Fritt Ord Foundation has provided funding for nearly one hundred books, exhibitions, photo projects, documentary films, journalistic projects and other initiatives on topics related to 22 July 2011. In future, the Foundation will continue to support projects related to the terrorist attacks.

The Fritt Ord Foundation Tribute consists of NOK 100 000 and a crystal vase. This recognition is awarded by the Fritt Ord Foundation’s Board for invaluable activities in the service of free speech, often in connection with current events. Fritt Ord awards the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute annually.

The award ceremony will be held on 21 August.