In 1950 the union collective in Oslo and Akershus gave Utøya as an anniversary gift to the Labour Party Youth Organisation AUF (Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking). Before the island was handed over in 1950, a committee of around 65 people – led by Einar Gerhardsen – collected 84 349 kroner and 93 øre from their members, local party organisations, women’s groups and unions. Since then, local chapters and activists in AUF have organised voluntary work and dugnad to benefit the island on a regular basis. Into the 1980s they collected money and buildings were built and modernised as a result. One good example is the football pitch on the island. It was the first sports facilities built in Hole municipality, and was built in collaboration with Sundvollen sports organisation and AUF early in the 1960s.
After the gifting of Utøya to AUF by the labour organisation LO in 1950, the history of the island has been the story of a small island with a big impact. Utøya has often been used as a “political laboratory” for the mother party of AUF, both in position and in opposition. For instance, education politicians from the Labour Party have used Utøya and the AUF youth as a listening post in their development of the Norwegian school system. After environmental politics became a central part of AUFs policies from 1990 onwards, the party leadership have frequently been criticised by AUF on Utøya for unambitious environmental and climate policies. In foreign politics, the demands from Utøya have included more active Norwegian peace politics, both during the civil war in Spain in the 1930s, and later during the Vietnam War, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The struggle for tolerance is central in the political history of Utøya, especially the demands for equal rights for gay people. It is no coincidence that the founding meeting of Skeiv Ungdom, the youth organisation of LLH (The National Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People) took place on Utøya in 2004. Demands for a more liberal Norwegian asylum and refugee policy have been important for the AUF members at Utøya, and several ministers of justice have struggled to defend Norway’s restrictive immigration politics. It was at Utøya the demands for a red and green government coalition was raised for the first time, from the then leader of AUF, Anniken Huitfeldt, at the end of the 1990s.
If choosing to highlight just one single issue where Utøya has played a key part, it is natural to point to the most inflamed and important conflict in recent Norwegian history: the relationship with Europe and European integration. The Labour Party voters decided the result in two referendums about EEC/EF and EU in 1972 and 1994, due to the size of the party and because it was deeply divided both times. The leadership and government were on the yes side, while the youth in AUF said no. Both referendums ended with a victory to the no-movement, and in both cases Utøya was central in the process.
For many generations, it has been a unique arena for young people on the left, where they have combined political activism and leisure time. Through political education, awareness building and numerous courses, meetings, gatherings and not least the traditional camps during Pentecost and summer, thousands of young people from all over the country along with international guests have experienced Utøya. Key political topics and initiatives have been discussed, debated and developed here. Prime ministers, party leaders and leading politicians have conveyed their visions and their viewpoints. Long lasting political alliances have been formed. Political winds have blown from Utøya and across Norway, and other political winds have blown onto the island. In 2010, Jens Stoltenberg described Utøya as “one of the places that have had the biggest influence on Norwegian politics over the last 60 years”. Utøya is the prime podium in Norway during summer, said Stoltenberg.
At the same time, the island has been much more than politics. Many youths have spent warm summer days there over the years, and only a few have become full time politicians. Thousands still think of Utøya primarily as a place for carefree holidays, sun, bathing and summer. Perhaps the most important mission of the island is giving young people a chance to get insights into practical democratic work and increased political engagement, and they have taken those experiences with them onwards in life. The common threads in Utøyas history have been youthful dedication, culture, internationalism, diversity, tolerance and democracy.