Rose march in OsloDaan Weggemans24 August 2012

Friday the 24th of August will be the last day of a trial which has been one of the biggest terrorism trials in the history of continental Europe. The trial of Anders Behring Breivik has been deeply emotional and confrontational for many Norwegians. They had to deal with violence on a scale which had not been experienced in Norway for a long time.

For this important trial the relevance of the concept of performativitiy is evident. Following Beatrice De Graaf (2011), a performative perspective on terrorism trials entails that ‘trials are a stage where the different actors adopt and act out strategies with the aim of convincing their target audience(s) in and outside the courtroom of their narrative of (in)justice’.

Breivik himself has been very aware of the fact that he was being watched by an audience. This audience consisted not only of the Norwegian people but also hundreds of international journalists present at the trial, and millions of people following the trial via the media all around the world. In his manifest Breivik has written that after his attacks the trial that inevitably will follow ‘offers him a stage for the world’. He stated that: ‘The goal for the European resistance fighter is not to win the trial but to present all available evidence, presented in this compendium, and his cause in the most favorable way in order to help generate a maximum amount of sympathisers and supporters (…).’

But the other parties were aware of the performative aspect of this trial as well. In this light the prosecutors have chosen for a very factual and detailed approach of the case. In their opinion the trial should be as similar to other criminal justice cases as possible. Prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh emphasized the importance of approaching the trial and the suspect, despite what he is accused of, in a ‘normal’ way. ‘My goal has been to treat him like any other criminal, and I think that that is important’. With this message the prosecutor tries to show that the Norwegian judicial system can handle terrorism cases like this.

The importance that this message reaches the public is demonstrated by the fact that this coming Friday, the judges start by reading out the conclusions of the verdict. The conclusions will be further explained during the rest of the day. The judges hope with this format to reach the biggest audience as possible with their verdict.

During our research in Oslo we will concentrate on the audience who witnesses this performance. Thus, we focus on he Norwegian public, that has been subject to both astonishment and compliments of international journalists, politicians and experts. Various experts – among others, Tore Bjørgo, Laila Bokhari, Ben McPherson and Siri Thoresen – with whom we have spoken during our stay in Oslo have emphasized the unique role of the Norwegian people after the attacks and during the trial. Their active involvement in the trial by, for instance singing songs addressed to Breivik, debating about the trial and visiting memorial-sites has made the Norwegian people not only a spectator of the trial, but also a participant trying to influence the other parties in the trial with a message of democracy and the need for a fair trial. For them, an open and tolerant society is the most important variable at stake before, during and after the trial.

Our research the upcoming days will focus on the feelings about the progress of the 22nd of July trial. Did the trial succeed in the eyes of the audience in becoming a trial of justice and has it helped them cope with the consequences of the attacks? Today, everybody spoke about one thing: will he be declared sane or insane, responsible or not responsible for his acts? One day before the end of this trial we are interested in the effects the verdict might have on the final answer to this question. Can a trial be fair in the eyes of an audience if they at the same time feel the punishment was not correct?