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DEFYING HORROR: The restraint of the people during the trial of Anders Behring Breivik has left many observers impressed, writes Karl Ritter
YOU would have forgiven Norwegians for showing more outrage against confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik. When he walks in to court flashing a right-wing salute. When he testifies effortlessly about killing their children, brothers and sisters as if they were flies. When he calls his teenage victims traitors who deserved to die for their political views.
The subdued atmosphere during the trial of a right-wing fanatic who confessed to slaughtering 77 people on July 22 last year, reflects Norway's almost self-punishing efforts to avoid feelings of vengeance against the unrepentant gunman.
"This is the Norwegian way," said Trond Henry Blattmann, whose 17-year-old son was among the 69 people killed in Breivik's shooting massacre on Utoya island.
"We need to carry this out in a dignified manner. If people were shouting and screaming this would be a circus and not a trial. We don't want it to be a circus."
Like other Scandinavians, Norwegians are not prone to express their emotions out loud. But the good behaviour of the crowd inside courtroom 250 has surprised even some local observers.
Thomas Hylland Eriksen, a professor of social anthropology at Oslo University, said by treating the trial with "respect and decency", Norwegians were showing defiance against Breivik by standing up for values at the core of their national identity.
Breivik has admitted setting off a car bomb outside the government headquarters, killing eight, before unleashing a shooting massacre at the governing Labour Party's youth camp on Utoya. But he denies criminal guilt and rejects the authority of the court, saying it is a vehicle of a "multiculturalist" conspiracy to destroy Norway.
His testimony has been horrific. A hushed courtroom heard his macabre account of point-blank executions of shell-shocked youth on Utoya. The bereaved embraced and sobbed, but they let him finish, holding back the urge to scream out in agony.
"I think everybody has that urge. Even his lawyers have that urge. But will that help us?" asked Blattmann. "It would just give the terrorist more publicity."
The "dignity" of the process has won praise in Norwegian media. But between breaks there is sometimes discussions in the corridors about whether Breivik deserves it.
"It puzzles me a little bit," said Thomas Indreboe, a citizen judge who was dismissed from the case for an online comment that Breivik should get the death penalty, which is not applied in Europe, except for Belarus.
"When you look at other countries, people shout and scream," he said.
Indreboe said he "didn't quite understand" why Breivik got to start his defence by reading an hour-long statement about his extremist political views. And he stands by his opinion that Breivik deserves to be put to death.
Most people here say it's important that Breivik -- like anybody accused of a crime -- gets a chance to explain himself in an open court, despite the scale of the attacks.
To some foreign observers, Norway's desire to do right has gone overboard, allowing the confessed mass killer just what he wants: a platform to promote his extreme political ideology.
Print media can cover all parts of the trial. Norwegian TV broadcasts much of it live, including when he enters court, but isn't allowed to show his testimony.
In Germany, particularly sensitive to right-wing extremism, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung criticised how the "the murderer is smiling, grinning gloatingly, clenching his fist" before a world audience.
"The murderer had the centre stage, as if the court's most pressing matter were how he stages himself," the newspaper said in an editorial.
Others applauded the way Norway has handled the case.
"Norway announced last year that it would respond to the attacks with more openness and democracy and, amazingly, has lived up to that pledge," Dutch daily De Volkskrant said.
"The trial is a demonstration of the strength of democracy against a violent loner who is so weak he feels the need to take up arms."
Breivik, himself, ridiculed Norway's maximum prison sentence of 21 years, saying the only proper outcomes of the case would be death or acquittal. If found sane -- a key issue in the case -- he would face 21 years in prison though he can be held longer if deemed a danger to society. If sentenced to psychiatric care, in theory he would be released once he's no longer deemed psychotic and dangerous.
Norwegian legal experts say it's crucial that every part of the proceedings be conducted by the book so that Breivik cannot claim he didn't get a fair trial.
Many say it's also important that the gruesome details are documented to make sure that Breivik is kept away from society for a long time, maybe for the rest of his life.
Following Norwegian custom, the prosecutors and even lawyers for the bereaved shook Breivik's hand on the first day in court. Prosecutors maintained a polite tone, even when Breivik was being evasive or challenged the point of their questions.
The general impression in Norway is that all parties in the case, from the prosecutors to the defence lawyers, are doing a good job.
Outside the Oslo district court, the spirit of facing terror with tolerance that was so strong in Norway after the attacks has returned. People are attaching roses to the fence surrounding the court, many with messages of support for victims' families and survivors of the massacre.
The closest thing to anger was a short message scribbled on a card decorated with a ribbon in the red-white-and-blue colours of the Norwegian flag.
"Apologise, Breivik," it said. AP