A play about Breivik is essential for our time

Can the radical manifesto of the killer of Oslo and Utøya really be staged? A theatre project in Copenhagen has raised strong protests in Norway and Denmark. But hearing the words of Breivik’s Manifesto 2083 is vital for understanding our times, responds its director, Christian Lollike.

Published on 27 January 2012 at 14:53

The recent decision of the CaféTeatret to stage Manifest 2083 has aroused anger and indignation. We have been accused of playing the game of Anders Behring Breivik and of showing insensitivity to the families of the victims. Politicians have condemned us.

These reactions naturally made an impression, and we have asked ourselves if we were right. The tragedy of Utøya [July 22, 2011] is undoubtedly the most evil event ever to happen in Scandinavia.

This incomprehensible crime not only cost 77 people their lives, it also traumatised and scarred the lives of their loved ones. I know that families are living with pain, emotions and thoughts that we who were not directly touched cannot feel in our own skin, and that it must be terribly difficult to live with. I can only hope they have enough inner strength, close friends and professional assistance to help them bear that pain.

But the rest of us – what do we do? We who are neither relatives nor Norwegians, who are on the outside but feel affected none the less?

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Journalists on the lookout for a good story

Where are we headed with our anger, our pain, our frustration and our big question: how could this have happened? What is it in our culture that could drive a relatively normal man like Breivik to abandon the rules of democracy and start on a process of deliberate and meticulously calculated radicalisation? What kind of mindset and view of humanity does he have? And where does it come from?

Writers, journalists and analysts have looked into and tried to answer these questions based on reading through his 1,518-page manifesto. They have the right to do that – and yet drama, by reading Breivik’s manifesto out loud and deploying the critical and analytical tools of theatrical art, is not to be permitted to examine these same questions?

Is it not the mission of art precisely to understand how such an atrocious act could be perpetrated? Is a collective space, such as a theatre, not an appropriate place for attempting to grasp the crime?

I fully understand that relatives who have a microphone thrust at them and are told that a "controversial" playwright is to stage the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik react with anger. But it also bothers me that they are finding out about my project from journalists on the lookout for a good story. I also find it worrisome that so many politicians feel they have to react to something they know nothing about.

We do not wish to serve as a mouthpiece for Breivik

Pia Kjærsgård, leader of the Danish People's Party [right-wing populist], has repeatedly called the project “shameful”. That party and its political programme, however, are mentioned several times in the manifesto, and thus, through no will of her own, Pia Kjærsgård is also part of Breivik’s universe. For that very reason she ought to have some interest in understanding how radicalisation happens.

One of the things that make Brievik’s manifesto so disturbing, and which may explain why Breivik could act as he did, was that there was no opportunity to contradict him. Because part of his preparations was to hide his intentions and never to speak of them, to conceal his thoughts and his murderous projects. I do not think it is wise to hush it up. I believe instead that it must be laid bare.

Since we started the project we have been in contact with researchers studying right-wing radicalism. Many of them will participate in the seminars that we will organise as part of the reading. The goal is to learn more and to share what we learn.

We do not wish in any way to serve as a mouthpiece for Anders Breivik. Quite the contrary. The piece is a critical and subjective work of art that tries to present a mindset that Anders Breivik is far from alone in having.

The timing may be bad

All across Europe radical right-wing groups have emerged, and it is our duty to ourselves, to our democracy and to our Muslim fellow citizens to study the xenophobic ideology that is the basis for Breivik’s lethal action.

We must say that this tragedy, far from being the work of an idiot, is a political act. If we turn our backs and toss out the manifesto, as a Danish politician suggested we do, we lose all opportunity to understand and so to make our decisions knowing all the facts, and thus to prevent this from happening again.

The timing may be bad, the event too close. I do not know, however, when that “right time” will come, and who should decide what time will be the right time.

To me, it seemed necessary to begin reading the “Manifesto 2083” so that I could understand, even if just a little better, what new form of terrorism we may face tomorrow.

I do not think we can wait several years to come to grips with the new terrorism through an art form. Should we not be thinking of our loved ones who could fall victim to a new tragedy tomorrow?

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