Fredric Holen Bjoerdal never thought about becoming a politician until the day he ran for his life from a gunman’s relentless bullets and watched friends around him die.
Mr. Bjoerdal was among those attending a camp run by the youth wing of Norway’s Labour Party on July 22, 2011, when Anders Behring Breivik opened fire, killing 69 people along with another eight in an earlier bomb blast in downtown Oslo. Mr. Breivik targeted the Labour Party because of its support for multiculturalism and he wanted to kill as many young activists as possible, firing for more than an hour before finally being arrested.
Mr. Bjoerdal not only survived, but on Monday, he won a seat in Norway’s elections for the Labour Party, becoming one of the youngest members of Parliament in the country’s history. Three other survivors of the massacre were also elected as Labour MPs.
“For me, you could say it’s a small victory,” Mr. Bjoerdal, 23, said in an interview Wednesday from Malta where was taking a break before heading to Oslo. “It tells me that the man who tried to kill me for my political beliefs did not triumph. I did instead.”
He paused and added: “It’s strong symbolism and tells me that democracy is working when he is in prison and I am about to take up a seat in the Norwegian Parliament.”
It was a bittersweet victory. While Mr. Bjoerdal was elected, the Labour Party and its left-of-centre coalition were voted out of government after eight years in office. They were defeated by a group of right-wing parties led by the Conservatives and their veteran leader Erna Solberg who will become Prime Minister.
The Conservatives are expected to form a coalition government with three other parties including the anti-immigration Progress Party, which once included Mr. Breivik as a member. The Progress Party, which won the third-largest number of seats in the election, has been around for 40 years but it has never been in government. Leader Siv Jensen has made it clear she wants to play a significant role in the coalition government and will push for her party’s policies, which include restrictions on foreign labourers, tougher rules for asylum seekers and programs to ensure newcomers are assimilated.
Mr. Bjoerdal doesn’t look forward to sitting across from the Progress Party. But he is quick to add that he doesn’t equate the party with the extremist views of Mr. Breivik. “Naturally, I don’t relish the concept of having the Progress Party in government. But I think we should be very careful about drawing parallels between the Progress Party and the 22nd of July incident.”
And, yet, he will never shake the images from that day and the fact that Mr. Breivik targeted him and his colleagues because of their support for multiculturalism. “I ran for hours to get away from him. When the bullets hit the water next to you, then you know it’s only a matter of inches and luck,” he said. “It is especially painful for me because I believe that some of those who died that day were to become my colleagues in Parliament.”
Before that day, he never considered a career in politics. Born in Orsta, about 400 kilometres northwest of Oslo, Mr. Bjoerdal studied psychology at the local university and became a social worker. He’d been active in various causes since he was 13 and joined the Labour Party at 18. But his plan was to become a doctor.
The shooting changed that. “I feel I have to continue the struggle for those who can’t and my political interest is perhaps even greater now than before,” he said. When the party asked him to run, he didn’t hesitate.
Mr. Bjoerdal knows there are plenty of issues confronting the next government and he isn’t sure if he’s ready to be an MP. Norway has had a remarkably strong economy lately, with unemployment at 3.5 per cent, bulging government surpluses and economic growth rates topping 3 per cent annually. But the economy is slowing and Norway’s huge dependence on oil and its $750-billion sovereign wealth fund has become a concern. Inflation is also above 3 per cent and house prices have soared. All difficult issues for any MP.
Mr. Bjoerdal believes that while Norwegians are coming to terms with the 2011 shooting, it is still difficult for many people to discuss why it happened.
“I don’t think [the shooting] will be forgotten but I think it will lie there in the background perhaps, like the elephant in the room,” he added. “Even though [Mr. Breivik] is prison, he has a lot of supporters and the struggle continues against extremist ideas.”