Psychosocial consequences of the national commemoration site in Hole Municipality

Michel, P. O., & Hellevik, P. (2015). Psykososiale konsekvenser av nasjonalt minnesmerke i Hole kommune [Psychosocial consequences of the national commemoration site in Hole Municipality] Norwegian only. (Rapport 3/2015).

The purpose of this study was to investigate the psychosocial consequences in the local community, following the erection of a commemoration site with regard to the Utøya terror shooting.

The Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS) was tasked by the Norwegian Ministry of local government and modernisation to carry out the study. The methods used were performing a review of the literature of the field, as well as carry out interviews amongst those in the local community that could be affected by the site. The time frame was limited, which in turn restricted the amount of interviewees, as well as the time for analysis of the data. Out of more than 70 addresses in the area, 29 local residents were invited to take part and 12 agreed to do so. This will of course reduce any generalisations with respect to the whole population in the community, and hence the results should be interpreted with some caution. 

The Utøya shooting inflicted different effects in the inhabitants of this particular local community. Especially, those residents who participated in the rescue of victims of the shooting were severely exposed to traumatic experiences. In the society as a whole, as well as in this specific local community, the event and the process of erecting a commemoration site, have led to conflicts between different societal groups and individuals. In this way the terror shooting, as well as the process, have divided groups and individuals, instead of bringing people together. This can be viewed as a negative factor, since it is well known that societal and social support are essential for the recovery process.

The local inhabitants received information about the government’s decision to erect the commemoration site, primarily by the media and/or neighbours. This was perceived by the local inhabitants as decreasing their possibility to take part in the process. This could also have contributed to reported feelings of being run over by the government and that the process had been forced through in a non-democratic way. Most of those taking part in the interviews share the view that the primary victims of the shooting should be honoured, but that the planned commemoration site should be placed somewhere else, and that it also should be designed in another way. 

If a process of erecting a commemoration site is to be performed, it should be based on earlier experiences from similar events. More novel ways to handle such processes should be employed, that bring people more together and that lets different stakeholders take part, so that they through dialog can reach an understanding about how to best honour all those involved. In turn, such ways could lead to more reflection and thinking, instead of primarily remembrance and freezing of history. Performing processes in this manner will improve the ability to recover and mitigate psychosocial consequences.