I went to the Norwegian Embassy in Belgravia yesterday to cast my absentee ballot in next week’s parliamentary election. Along with my fellow countrymen and women, pasty and sweating in the direct sunlight, I queued silently for the makeshift voting room, next to the bins.
The judges presiding over the trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo are due to give their verdict tomorrow. It is likely, though by no means certain, that Breivik will be judged to have been criminally insane when he murdered 77 people last year, and sentenced to compulsory psychiatric treatment. The only other possible outcome is that he be judged criminally responsible for his acts and condemned to life imprisonment. The difference between the two verdicts is in all practical senses minimal: in neither case is he likely ever to walk free again. But in symbolic terms the difference is huge. It represents, in effect, a judgment as to whether Breivik’s actions have political meaning or not.
Sweden isn’t Norway, and relations between the two countries aren’t as sisterly as outsiders might assume. But of course there’s wall-to-wall coverage of recent events here – 27 pages of Saturday’s Expressen, and SVT2 relaying NRK’s live reporting 24 hours a day – and immense sympathy. From pictures of it, Utøya could well be an island in the Stockholm Archipelago, like the one I’m writing from now. There’s enormous admiration in Sweden for the way the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, has responded to the atrocity. Also, the reluctance of the authorities and local media to jump to the conclusion that it was the work of Islamists – despite a (supposed) Islamist website immediately claiming ‘credit’ for it.