Breivik remains unmoved at his trial

Relief at the end of Breivik’s testimony was short-lived

Every day I push through the photographers and stare in his face. I want him to stare back. I want to look into the face of evil.

Anders Behring Breivik, 33, never does. He doesn’t look at anyone. He just sits there. There are only so many times that you can write about him sitting dispassionately. You never get over it. You can never fathom it.

A coroner describes separating body parts from the victims of his bomb attack in Oslo, and he sits there. The court is played an emergency call from a terrified girl hidden in the toilet on Utoya Island begging the police to come while her friends are executed outside. He sits there. Families of his 77 victims weep in court. He just sits there.

When his own testimony came to an end last week, even Breivik’s own defence attorney, Geir Lippestad, admitted some relief. The two hours spent listening to him describe executing children on the holiday Island of Utoya will haunt every person in that court. He described murdering 69, mostly teen, members of the Labour Party Youth wing as if he were recalling a journey to work. He talked about their paralysis; how he had time to reload his gun and shoot them dead. “It was odd,” he said like he’d mislaid his keys.

“Some of them are just paralysed there” he said. “They are unable to run: Something that is never shown on TV or film. It looked really odd. Two people dodge down and curl up. I think that I ran out of ammunition. They heard that. And they just stand there. Many people screamed and begged for their lives. I don’t really remember what they were saying. They were just standing there. It was really odd. Then I reload and I shoot both of them in the head.”

The day before, Breivik had shown his contempt for the court by refusing to stand when the judge entered the room. By the end of his description last Friday, when the judge stood up to leave, more than half the court stayed in their seats as well. They were too stunned to move.

But any relief at the end of Breivik’s testimony was short lived. For the survivors and bereaved families, the gruelling courtroom ordeal is really only beginning. With Breivik out of the way until the summing up at the end of this ten-week trial, the court has begun to hear the testimony of the witnesses of his twin attacks on Oslo and Utoya, and the quietly heartbreaking accounts of the survivors’ individual tragedies.

In his seat at the side of the court, Breivik stifles a yawn. Aware that his impassiveness in court might help damn him to the secure psychiatric hospital he says would undermine his anti-Islamic cause, Breivik claims to be using Bushido meditation to “de-emotionalise” himself. He has been using it since 2006, he says, when he decided to undertake a “so called suicide operation.”

But Breivik is not incapable of emotion. If psychosis had left him with an emotional lobotomy, his manner might be easier to accept. Yet he angers when the prosecutor says Bushido was only mentioned after the publication of a psychiatric report, which concluded he was mentally incompetent. He is stung by the “humiliation” when the prosecutors ask him about his love of uniforms or the year he spent playing World of Warcraft for 16 hours a day. He even cried when his own 12 minute propaganda video was played to the court on the first day.

It is just that he is incapable of understanding how other people feel. He knows that his actions have caused grief and sorrow in an abstract sense. But he describes them without any sense of what they might mean. “What I have done is contrary to human nature and there are almost no words to describe the suffering and pain I have inflicted on the families and victims,” he says again and again. “That is the best way to describe it. But I will not let this affect me.”

Next week the court will begin to hear the coroner’s reports on the 69 children and young people he gunned down on Utoya. The weeks of testimony loom black in the court schedule. “I don’t think that people should expect me to break down,” says Breivik. “I have prepared myself.”

Many people here believed he might already have cracked. Nobody really thinks he will now. We have watched him sit there unmoved for too long.

Mark Lewis is a freelance journalist reporting from the Breivik trial.

Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in twin attacks in Norway last year, arrives at Oslo court. Photograph: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty
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Is Scottish Labour on the way back, or heading for civil war?

There are signs of life, but also recriminations.

The extraordinary rise of the Scottish Tories and the collapse in SNP seat numbers grabbed most of the headlines in the recent general election. Less remarked on was the sudden, unexpected exhalation of air that came from what was thought to be the corpse of Scottish Labour.

In 2015, Labour lost 40 of its 41 Scottish seats as the SNP rocketed from six to 56, was wiped out in its Glaswegian heartlands, and looked to have ceded its place as the choice of centre-left voters – perhaps permanently – to the Nationalists. But while the electorate’s convulsion in June against the SNP’s insistence on a second independence referendum most benefited Ruth Davidson, it also served to reanimate Labour.

The six seats grabbed back (making a total of seven) included three in the West of Scotland, proving that the Nat stranglehold on Labour’s territory was not quite as secure as it had seemed. There is, it appears, life in the old dog yet.

Not only that, but the surprise success of Jeremy Corbyn across the UK has stiffened Labour’s spine when it comes to insisting that it, and not the SNP, is the rightful home of Scotland’s socialists.

Corbyn was largely kept south of the border during the election campaign – Kezia Dugdale, the leader at Holyrood, had supported Owen Smith’s leadership challenge. But in August, Corbyn will embark on a five-day tour of marginal SNP constituencies that Labour could potentially take back at the next election. The party has set a target of reclaiming 18 Scottish seats as part of the 64 it needs across Britain to win a majority at Westminster. The trip will focus on traditional areas such as Glasgow and Lanarkshire, where tiny swings would return seats to the People’s Party. Dugdale is no doubt hoping for some reflected glory.

Corbyn will present himself as the authentically left-wing choice, a leader who will increase public spending and invest in public services compared to the austerity of the Tories and the timidity of the SNP. “Labour remains on an election footing as a government-in-waiting, ready to end failed austerity and ensure that Scotland has the resources it needs to provide the public services its people deserve,” he said. “Unlike the SNP and the Tories, Labour will transform our economy through investment, insisting that the true wealth creators - that means all of us – benefit from it.”

The SNP has benefited in recent years from the feeling among many north of the border that Labour and the Tories were committed to differing shades of a similar economic programme, that was starving public services of cash and that paid little attention to Scottish desires or needs. But as the Nats’ spell in government in Edinburgh has worn on, first under Alex Salmond and now Nicola Sturgeon, with little being done to tackle the nation’s social problems, patience has started to run out.

Dugdale said yesterday that she “looked forward to joining Jeremy in August as we take our message to the people of Scotland”. That’s not a sentiment we would have heard from her before June. But it does raise the future spectacle of Davidson’s Tories battling for the centre and centre-right vote and Labour gunning for the left. The SNP, which has tried to be all things to all people, will have to make a choice – boasting that it is “Scotland’s Party” is unlikely to be enough.

The 20th anniversary of the referendum that delivered the Scottish Parliament is almost upon us. Then, Scottish Labour provided the UK and the Westminster government with figures of the stature of Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, Donald Dewar and George Robertson. That was a long time ago, and the decline in quality of Labour’s representatives both in London and Edinburgh since has been marked. The SNP’s decade of success has attracted much of the brightest new talent through its doors. Young Scots still seem to be set on the idea of independence. Labour has a credibility problem that won’t be easily shaken off.

But still, the body has twitched – perhaps it’s even sitting up. Is Scottish Labour on the way back? If so, is that down to the SNP’s declining popularity or to Corbyn’s appeal? And could Dugdale be a convincing frontwoman for a genuinely left-wing agenda?

There may be trouble ahead. Yesterday, the Scottish Labour Campaign for Socialism – whose convener, Neil Findlay MSP, ran Corbyn’s leadership campaign in Scotland – accused Dugdale of “holding Corbyn back” in June. A spokesperson for the group said: “While it’s great we won some seats back, it’s clear that the campaign here failed to deliver. While elsewhere we've seen people being enthused by ‘for the many, not the few’ we concentrated on the dispiriting visionless ‘send Nicola a message’ – and paid a price for that, coming third in votes and seats for the first time in a century. In Scotland we looked more like [former Scottish leader] Jim Murphy’s Labour Party than Jeremy Corbyn’s – and that isn’t a good look.”

While the group insists this isn’t intended as a challenge to Dugdale, that might change if Corbyn receives a rapturous reception in August. We’ll learn then whether Scotland is falling for the high-tax, high-spending pitch that seems to be working so well elsewhere, and whether Scottish Labour has jerked back to life only to find itself staring down the barrel of a civil war.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland).