At the start of September, over 100 young people from 22 countries came together at Utøya, Norway, for the Willy Brandt Conference – Youth Against Extremism. Through lectures, workshops, dialogue and study visits, participants were able to explore the theme of right-wing extremism in an international setting. Participants came from as far as Kenya and Peru, Palestine and Indonesia, and Belarus and Brazil.
The location is particularly poignant, the location where 69 members of the Workers’ Youth League (AUF) of Norway – from IUSY, the sister organisation of IFM-SEI – were killed by a far-right extremist posing as a policeman during their summer camp on 22 July 2011. Participants of the Willy Brandt Conference were able to reflect of the tragedy that took place, see the humbling and thoughtful way the island has been reconstructed in remembrance and learn why it is important that the island remains a place for political activism of young socialists and progressives.
In addition to reflecting of the event of July 22, highlights of the conference include a guest lecture from expert in right-wing terrorism and violence, Jacob Aasland Ravndal, and a talk by Shoaib Sultan, head of the anti-Racist Centre of Oslo, on whether the risk of right-wing extremism increases with islamic terror. A multitude of workshops tackled topics such as how to respond to terror from a left-wing perspective, feminism as a solution to extremism, and how the media can influence extremism from a youth perspective.
The seminar was concluded by a visit to the Nobel Peace Prize Centre and July 22 Memorial in Oslo. We also had the IFM-SEI Presidium meeting before the conference, whereby Presidium members and other IFM-SEI members stayed at the trade union conference centre, Sørmarka, in the outskirts of Oslo.
We would like to share some of the experiences of young participants at the Willy Brandt Conference:
When I learnt that I would attend a conference at Utøya, I was not aware that a three days stay at the place would fundamentally and possibly forever change my perceptions and views on radicalisation and violent extremism; and most importantly on the role of organised youths in being part of sustainable and youthful preventive measures against extremism. It was initially strange being at the island where young people like myself died from the hands of a person filled with so much hate. But the more we had discussions around possible preventive and combat measures, the more it became apparent that with love and courage, we can respond to hate crimes. Especially for women, as we fight for equality of genders, we can promote social inclusion and minimize with a huge magnitude the push and pull factors that account for recruitment of young people into radicalisation and extremism.
– Carolyne, Kenya (24)
The Willy Brandt conference in Utøya was one of the greatest if not the greatest experiences I’ve had. I’ve been on numerous international exchanges and other projects but what I think was so special is that there were people from all around the world. You had the opportunity to see how almost the entire world sees on problems concerning extremism. I would also like to say that the choice of having the conference in Utøya was a very good decision regarding what happened there. It reminded us all of how evil extremism is.
– Muhamed, Sweden (17)
It’s very interesting to be in a forum to discuss about extremism and radicalisation with people from all over the regions with different culture background in an island where 6 years ago, many people died in vain in the hand of a man who really hates multiculture itself. 3 days, and i have learned many things! Current situation of extremism in different countries, how media frame it and the important for youth like me to stand together to tackle extremism.
– Tara, Indonesia (21)
When I think back to the days I spent in Utøya attending the Willy Brandt Conference, I always feel overwhelmed upon realizing it really did happen. It’s hard to describe how it was, how it felt to be part of that big group of young people coming from all around the globe who cherished every difference between them. Who found that the beliefs and the dreams they shared brought them together way more effectively than any plane ever could. Who, from day one, started working together seamlessly, learning, listening, speaking, sharing ideas and opinions, asking questions, giving answers, joining discussions about ways to tackle right-wing extremism and terrorism. It felt powerful. It felt as if we were changing the world. And we are. We changing the world. Day by day, piece by piece, we all are changing the world. For us, for the future generations and the past ones, for those who don’t fight with us, for humanity, for the planet itself. In the hope that tragedies like the one that happened in Utøya, an island as beautiful as filled with grief, will one day be a memory and not a fear.
– Anna, Italy (17)