Utøya. Charlie Hebdo. Brussels. Berlin.
Nice. Barcelona. Manchester. Kongsberg.
When terror strikes, the feeling is like the one of holding breath under water. Surreal, and deafening silence overtakes all our senses. We are both present and absent in the moment, seeing but not believing, not having full consciousness of our own senses. The time stands still. Victims and their beloved ones know this very well. Anxiety and fear can strike and hurt as hard as a physical wound. We are worried for our loved ones, for their and our own personal safety. Such traumatic incidents shatter, otherwise “normal”, sequences of events of our daily lives producing visible and invisible wounds immune to the passing of time.
Terrorist attacks have marked our daily lives and shaped our collective memories making us indirect recipients of violence that societies, victims, survivors, and their loved ones have suffered. This exhibition walks us through the memory lane, to document political, societal, and personal reactions to terrorist attacks. The author of the exhibition, Dr Ana Milosevic has travelled to France, Spain, Belgium, and Norway to investigate the ways in which local, national and EU authorities have addressed memorialisation after terrorism. The key questions underpinning her research were: In what ways memorials and memorialisation support personal and societal recovery after a terrorist attack? Do the victims and/or their relatives have a voice in the memorialisation process? What role will these memorials play for future generations?
The 2011 Norway attacks
On the morning of 22 July Anders Behring Breivik committed two sequential domestic terrorist attacks against the government, the civilian population, and a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) summer camp, in which 77 people were killed.
The first attack was a car bomb explosion in Oslo within Regjeringskvartalet, the executive government quarter of Norway. The bomb was placed inside a van next to the tower block housing the office of the then Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. The explosion killed eight people and injured at least 209 people, twelve severely.
The second attack occurred less than two hours later at a summer camp on the island Utøya in Tyrifjorden. The camp was organized by the AUF, the youth division of the ruling Norwegian Labour Party (AP). Breivik, dressed in a homemade police uniform and showing false identification, took a ferry to the island and opened fire at the participants, killing 67 and injuring 32.
“Dark waters of Utøya” – The view from the national memorial currently under construction. 2021.
The 2015 Paris attacks
On 13 November, a series of attacks have struck the French capital in Saint Denis stadium, local bars, and restaurants as well as in the Bataclan theatre. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks planned in Syria and organised by a terrorist cell based in Belgium.
The attackers killed 130 people, including 90 at the Bataclan theatre. Another 416 people were injured, almost 100 critically. Seven of the attackers were also killed. The attacks were the deadliest in France since the Second World War, and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings of 2004. France had been on high alert since the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo offices and a Jewish supermarket in Paris that killed 17 people.
“Bataclan” – Rebuilt entrance to the Bataclan theatre, Paris. 2020.
The 2016 Brussels attacks
The 2016 Brussels bombings was a coordinated terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium on March 22nd. Three coordinated suicide bombings occurred: two at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, and one at Maalbeek metro station on the Brussels metro. Thirty-two civilians and three perpetrators were killed, and more than 300 people were injured. Another bomb was found during a search of the airport. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The perpetrators belonged to a terrorist cell which had been involved in the November 2015 Paris attacks. The Brussels bombings happened shortly after a series of police raids targeting the group. The bombings were the deadliest attack on Belgium since the Second World War.
“Together” – Memory wall at the Maalbeek metro station. Brussels. 2018.
The 2017 Barcelona attacks
On the afternoon of 17 August 2017, 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub drove a van into pedestrians on La Rambla in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain killing 13 people and injuring at least 130 others, one of whom died 10 days later on 27 August. Abouyaaqoub fled the attack on foot, then killed another person in order to steal the victim’s car to make his escape.
Nine hours after the Barcelona attack, five men thought to be members of the same terrorist cell drove into pedestrians in nearby Cambrils, killing one woman and injuring six others. All five of those attackers were shot and killed by police.
“Pla de l’Os» (by Joan Miró) – A place where the van used in the Rambla attacks stopped. Barcelona. 2021.
A wide variety of stakeholders participate in the memorialisation initiatives to commemorate terror attacks. This includes both the community upon which a harm was inflicted (victims, survivors, and their family members, broader public) and the use of remembrance by institutional actors (e.g., states, the EU, political parties, museums, archives). The intended purposes and produced effects of memorialisation are manifold, and dependent on the constellation of actors that initiate, guide and implement the process, as well as reap its results.
Grassroot memorials created in the aftermath of the attacks at the places of tragedy or at important public spaces are initiated and managed by the society. Using remembrance tools, the society itself becomes affective and empathetic community that uses remembrance therapeutically – to cope with the state of shock and channel a wide variety of emotions such as sadness, anger, grief. Such memorials have a rather short life cycle and can be reenacted annually for the anniversaries when the official memorialisation – led by the authorities – overtakes the remembrance process.
Organised and implemented by local, national or EU authorities the official memorialisation takes many forms. Governmental responses in the aftermath of the tragedy frame the narrative about what had happened offering reassurances of security and justice to the society who too fell victim of the attacks. In a later stage, annual commemorations are organised, and permanent monuments made. In this view, the aim with memorialisation is manifold: it pursues restorative justice efforts for the victims and it inscribes a particular narrative of the occurred in collective memory. For instance, in Spain and France, medals are given to the victims as a token of symbolic recognition. Similarly, national and local heritage institutions are given the opportunity to inscribe the meanings attached to such tragedies in the collective consciousness of the society. The Paris and Brussels case evidence this most prominently, where the Archives conducted important work on collecting and exhibiting memorabilia placed in the memory of the victims at the places of spontaneous memorials.
Memorialisation efforts often serve the needs of specific groups, which makes them a useful mechanism for rebuilding personal, political, legal, or social fabric, for providing promises of security (through preventing repetition), or supporting specific policies such as the anti-radicalisation. This suggests that the success of memorialisation efforts is often evaluated on little more than ‘client satisfaction’; a compromise between the mapped-out needs of the (in)direct beneficiaries of that particular memorialisation effort, and the purposes assigned to it by ‘memory entrepreneurs’, those who in addition to having decision-making powers are responsible for the creation and reinterpretation of memory policies.
“All I want this Christmas” – Grassroots’ memorial at the place de la Republique, Paris. 2020.
“Charb-y” – Street art memorial in memory of one of the Charlie Hebdo victims, Paris. 2018.
“In memoriam” – Local residents of Etterbeek placing a memory token in front of the Maalbeek metro, bombed in 2016. Brussels. 2016.
«L’Uomo della Luce» – The 9/11 memorial in Milan, Italy. 2020
Given the understandable lack of expertise in addressing the consequences of mass violence in modern urban space, most of the governmental and local authorities’ responses in terms of memorialisation were made ad-hoc. Such memorialisation strategies are based on examples of “best” practices – solutions already chosen by other cities and countries that went through similar experiences. These “best” practices relate to the ways in which official ceremonies are organized, speakers selected, and monuments created for the first anniversary. While each case under examination has its own specificities, some common challenges in four cities (Barcelona, Oslo, Brussels and Paris) have emerged during the course of this research.
“White” – Candles at the City Square. Kongsberg. 2021.
“Boxing day” – Memorabilia collected by the Brussels’ archives in the aftermath of the 2016 attacks. 2017.
“Say my name” – State memorial to the victims of Oslo and Utøya at the Government Quarter. Oslo. 2021.
Time sensitive memorialisation strategies
Societal and personal paths to recovery and coping with the consequences of terrorism travel on different timelines.
The rush to resume ‘normal’ rhythms of life in a wounded city does not allow for timely sedimentation of emotion, trauma and memories in the public space. One-off monuments, created usually for the first anniversary, differ from their spontaneous counterparts that occupied public space in the aftermath of the attacks. The victims and local citizens perceive such permanent monuments as static and not reflective of the emotional impact trauma has produced on society.
While the public recognition and acknowledgment of victims’ experiences remains important, anniversaries bring out a wealth of emotions in victims, survivors and those who are left behind. Especially for the first anniversary, returning to the place of crime can stir up such emotions and set back the victims’ progress in their path of recovery.
“Patrie” – Place de la Republique after the 2015 attacks. Paris. 2015.
“Memory in a backpack” – Anonymous visitor of a commemoration. 2020.
“Immortalize me” – Visitors take ‘souvenir’ pictures moments before the Bataclan commemoration, Paris. 2019.
of victims’ memorial needs
Symbolic recognition of victims appears to be more effective when the ownership of one’s own personal experiences, narratives, and endured consequences is maintained.
The community bound by victimhood – victims, survivors, and their family members – often reject or contest memorial meanings and purposes assigned to the official memorialisation. Across cases, victims are often excluded from commemoration planning. The role the authorities reserve for them is one of bearing witness – as their authentic experiences support security, prevention and non-repetition promises and, in some cases, legal and political actions. As such, their experiences are appropriated by the collective leaving their memorial needs unattended. A meaningful monument in victims’ view has the capacity to communicate their experiences while considering their dignity and well-being.
“Floating” – Private memorial to the victims at Utøya Island. 2021.
“Cornered” – Private memorial at the place of murder on the Utøya island. 2021.
“The olive branch” – Visitors’ messages at the 2019 commemoration of the Paris attacks. Paris. 2019.
Enhancing citizens participation in memorialisation efforts
A successful memorialisation strategy is not only time-sensitive and respectful of victims’ memorial needs, but also mindful of the impact it seeks to achieve.
Due to the nature of terrorism, the society itself is seen as a victim of violence; a memory maker, through use of spontaneous memorialisation; but also, a memory consumer. However, citizens – intended users of state-led memorialisation efforts – often do not engage with such initiatives in the intended way. Public commemorations report low numbers in terms of citizens participation. In some instances, monuments fail to communicate with local communities as they e.g., lack authenticity or visibility in public space. At Rambla in Barcelona, even for the intended visitor, it is very hard to locate the monument made in memory of the 2017 attacks. In Brussels, the memorial to all victims of all terror attacks is created far away from the authentic site of attacks. Lack of citizen participation both in consultative process about permanent monuments and in commemorative efforts, weakens the potential of memorialisation strategy. In Norway, where such consultations were held early on, citizens, victims and survivors rejected the first memorial project that aimed at cutting Utoya island in half. Monuments and memorials can have wider reach, more impact and visibility if they are brought in communication with its intended user – the society itself.
“We – The People” – Memorial in front of the 22 July museum in Norway. Oslo. 2021.
“Rambla” – Barcelona, a city of peace. Barcelona. 2021.
“Shattered” – Shattered glass after the explosion at the governmental building in downtown Oslo attacks makes part of the memorial. Oslo. 2021.
“Memory making» -Workers installing the memorial to all victims of terrorism in the EU Quarter. Brussels. 2017.
Reconciling private and public
dimension of remembrance
One of the most important challenges for policy makers is to create memorialisation strategies that reconcile both private and public dimension of remembrance.
Private memorials remain the main tool for mourning and remembrance for the victims, survivors, and their families. For instance, on the island of Utøya, such a memorial has been made by those who were directly affected by the violence. Through consultation about and work on the memorial itself, the victims and survivors conceived a monument as a place of reflection, grief, and memory of those who directly suffered its consequences. This initiative contrasts with memorial purposes of the national memorial, currently under construction just across the island. The National memorial of the 22 July attacks will reflect on broader understanding of the attacks’ consequences for Norwegian society.
Citizens and victims/survivors engage with terrorist attacks’ sites actively throughout the year, and not only around anniversaries. Such places have the capacity to communicate beyond victimhood and should be regarded not only as places of memory but as a space to contest the imagery of violence and promote democratic values. State led, the 22 July Sentret, is an important example of good practice. It is a learning center that works with the mediation of memory and knowledge about the terror attacks in Oslo and on Utøya. Situated in the governmental quarter where the first attacks happened, the center’s educational programme invites ordinary citizens, tourists, students and teachers into the dialogue about the 22nd of July. The main contribution of the Centre is in encouraging active participation in the negotiation of the attack’s significance both at present, and in the future.
“A rose and a name” – Private memorial made by the victim community at the Utøya Island. 2021.
“Peace and terror” – the Nobel peace prize given to the European Union next to the memorabilia left in the streets after the attacks in Norway and Belgium”, House of European History, Brussels. 2021.
“The island” – The cafeteria crime scene on the Utøya Island. 2021.
As cities and states affected by terrorist violence have often dealt with memorialisation in an ad-hoc manner without clear policy guidance, identifying their practices is vital towards the development of future policy frameworks that can effectively address societal and victims’ needs. This project explored the methods and objectives of such policy guidance, generating the data necessary for identification of best practices through the assessment of memorialisation policies and practices on (trans)national level.
This research has a clear policy impact that can support management of the long-term consequences of a terrorist attack more efficiently. As such, it is highly relevant to the needs of the victims of terrorism and their families, decision makers and the general public. To effectively gauge the ways in which the victims can be memorialised, this project assessed current practices, needs and expectations of key actors, and provided a detailed account of the post-terror memorialisation process in the EU (see Policy Brief).
Dr. Ana Milosevic
This exhibition is based on research conducted on the memorialisation of terror attacks in Spain, Belgium, Norway and France. I am grateful to the 22 July sentriet; Jørgen Watne Frydnes, the Utøya director; the Brussels’ Archives; my colleagues in the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), victims’ organisation and their representatives from across the EU.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge an extraordinary debt I owe to the victims and survivors who have, over the years, informed my research.
Thank you wholeheartedly for taking the time to talk, and to share your hardships and victories with me.