Utøya - an international meeting place
Utøya is an international meeting place and learning centre for young people fighting for democracy, human rights, peace and reconciliation – locally, nationally and globally. At Utøya, values such as tolerance, equality and diversity stand strong. In many countries, these values are increasingly under pressure and anti-democratic attitudes are on the rise. Violent protests, hate speech and hate crimes towards immigrants, refugees, LHBTQ and other minorities are more frequent than before. Polarization and distrust in democratic institutions and between people seems to be increasing both within countries and across borders. That is why it is instrumental to facilitate meeting places for young people to learn and collaborate on how to face these challenges, and together build strong international networks to promote democracy and human rights. That is what we do at Utøya.
Our International Programmes
Youth and Democracy
Utøya has a long-standing tradition as a meeting place for young people engaging in political, civic and democratic issues. It is a place for international solidarity and peace work, based on democratic values and principles.
After the terror attacks 22 July 2011, Utøya was re-established as a place for civic and democratic engagement. Young people come to Utøya from all over the world to share experiences and collaborate to promote democratic values and practices. It has become a powerful and inspiring example of young people’s resilience to extremism and terror.
The programme on Youth and Democracy acknowledges and promotes the importance of young people for sustainable democracies. It encourages democratic participation, activism, training and networking through workshops, seminars and conferences aiming to empower young people to make their voices heard and count.
The Thorvald Stoltenberg Seminar
The Thorvald Stoltenberg Seminar is an annual training course at Utøya to support young people’s actions to foster co-existence, trust and dialogue among people living in diverse societies.
The 5-day training brings together 30 participants from all over Europe, selected through an open call. The training is for young people 18 – 26 years old who are involved in youth work, campaigns, networks, youth organizations or other activities with young people promoting youth engagement in society. The aim of the training is to support and promote youth engagement in Europe to foster co-existence, trust and dialogue in diverse societies.
Former Norwegian Minister of Defence, Minister of Foreign Affairs and diplomat Thorvald Stoltenberg was a pioneer for peace diplomacy. He strongly emphasized the importance of dialogue, often exemplified by his “kitchen meetings”, where he would invite state leaders and foreign ministers to his home to enjoy a cup of coffee, relax and have a talk at his kitchen table. Thorvald Stoltenberg passed away in July 2018. In his memory, and to honour his strong belief that knowledge and respect could overcome xenophobia and hate, the Thorvald Stoltenberg seminar takes place annually at Utøya. The seminar was first arranged in 2019, and has become an important international meeting place for young people engaged in democracy and human rights.
The Thorvald Stoltenberg Seminar is organized in partnership with The European Wergeland Centre with the support of the Stoltenberg family.
WEXFO Youth Utøya
WEXFO Youth Utøya is an annual event at which gathers young innovators, activists, educators and community leaders aged 18 – 30 from around the world. The aim is to highlight how young people locally and globally advocate for freedom of expression. The event takes place in conjunction with the World Expression Forum (WEXFO) taking place annually in Lillehammer, Norway.
At WEXFO Youth, young people from all over the world share experiences on how to stand up for freedom of expression, whether it is online or offline, locally, or globally. Young people are key to finding sustainable solutions to counter hate speech and other threats to freedom of expression. They are not passively accepting the world as it is, but act to change it, in various ways and by various means. WEXFO Youth offers a meeting place and a setting to share experiences and good practices, while identifying commonalities and differences in terms of challenges of freedom of expression and how to deal with these challenges.
WEXFO Youth is organized in partnership with The World Expression Forum (Wexfo).
The Survivor Tree Youth Program
In October 2001, a severely damaged tree was discovered at Ground Zero in New York, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned to the 9/11 Memorial in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and present. Today, the tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival, and rebirth.
Each year, the 9/11 Memorial gives seedlings from the Survivor Tree to three communities that have endured tragedy in recent years. Utøya received a seedling in 2021, ten years after a right-wing terrorist killed 69 young people attending a summer camp for the Labour Party Youth Organization. Like the Survivor Tree, Utøya and other recipients have had to survive and heal through rebirth and resilience. Like the tree, each community has its own seedlings, young people representing the present and the future.
The Survivor Tree Youth Program aims to connect and support these young people to strengthen our common fight against extremism and for peaceful coexistence. It gathers young people from past and future community recipients of the Survivor Tree seedlings to an annual youth camp at Utøya to share their knowledge and experience of rebuilding communities in the wake of terror. The aim is to support and learn from each other’s efforts through networking and common projects, and to develop good practices and recommendations for communities that may endure terror attacks in the future.
The Survivor Tree Youth Programme is offered in partnership with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
Peace & Dialogue
Utøya has a long-standing tradition as a meeting place for international solidarity and peace work, going all the way back to the 1930s. International issues and perspectives have always been integral to the political and civil society engagement at Utøya. When the terror hit the Labor party youth camp at Utøya in 2011, participants from many countries across the world were at the island as guests.
After the terror attacks 22 July 2011, Utøya has become an international symbol of how democracy cannot be taken for granted. What happened here resonates not only in Norway, but everywhere young people are fighting against anti-democratic, populist or extremist forces. The rebuilding of Utøya after the terror attacks as a place for peaceful dialogue is a powerful and inspiring example of young people’s resilience to extremism and terror.
Young people come to Utøya to share experiences and find ways to collaborate in the face of various threats to peace and democracy. Utøya today represents hope and resilience in the face of growing threats to human rights and democratic values and principles. Utøya has become a symbol of how one cannot take democracy for granted, not even in a peaceful country like Norway. When young people come to Utøya today, they arrive at a place where young peers from all over the world meet to stand up for democracy, human rights, peace and reconciliation.
Youth Peace Process for Libya
Since 2011, Libya has experienced several armed conflicts and civil wars. These recurring wars have had a detrimental impact on youth in Libya. Despite this, young Libyans are actively working to promote peace, reconciliation, preventing future conflicts and building a lasting peace.
Utøya has supported this process by facilitating meetings at Utøya with young people from different sides of the conflict in Libya, as part of an informal peace process initiated by the Libyan organization Together We Build It. The dialogue meetings for Libyan youth leaders facilitate dialogue on national reconciliation and cooperation on a shared vision for a future Libya.
Research and policy
Utøya is not a research center. However, Utøya works closely with researchers and research institutions on issues relating to extremism and radicalization. Utøya facilitates study visits, workshops and conferences where research meets practice and policy.
The learning centre at Utøya is frequently the subject of research in the field of education and pedagogy, democracy and youth. Teacher education institutions follow the education programmes at Utøya, and there are several master theses written on various aspects of the learning programme at Utøya
A third field of particular interest for research is Utøya as a place for commemoration and memorialization. Utøya hosts study visits from museums, memorials and other sites of remembrance and commemoration, and maintains a close cooperation with several such places and institutions around the world.
Utøya organizes several conferences and public debates every year. This is an opportunity for policy makers, researchers and practitioners to meet and discuss issues relating to various threats to democracy. Utøya is a place where it is evident that democratic values cannot be taken for granted. As such, it offers a powerful setting for difficult and important conversations on how to counter and prevent extremism.