Home » General » Bicentenary Celebrations to Mark Norway’s Constitution Address By Mr Bard Hopland, Ambassador of Norway to Zimbabwe, Harare, May 16, 2014. [document]

Address by Mr Bard Hopland, Ambassador of Norway to Zimbabwe, Harare, May 16, 2014: IT is an honour for me to welcome you all to this reception in celebration of the 200 birthday of the Norwegian Constitution adopted on the 17th of May 1814.

On this day we wanted to give you all a present to remember it by. Our gift to you is one of the most famous gender political moments in world literature, when Nora Helmer leaves her husband and three children the night between the second and third day of Christmas.

Henrik Ibsen wrote ‘A Doll’s House’ in 1879. It created havoc then, and it is still relevant. The issue has been debated for 135 years: did Nora leave for good, or did she not?

To leave or to stay was also the pressing issue for Norway in 1814. We wanted desperately our freedom after 400 years under Danish colonial rule. We did not succeed. We went from one forced relationship into another.

It would take too long to give you the full historic background against which the Constitutional event took place in May 1814, but briefly it was like this: after years of bloody wars in Europe, Napoleon met his Waterloo in late 1813.

Denmark was on the losing side and Sweden on the winning side. Sweden had lost Finland to Russia in 1803, and wanted something instead.

Norway had been a colony under Denmark for 400 years, and now Sweden wanted to take over the colonial rule of Norway. And with the support from the major powers in Europe, Norway was handed over to Sweden merely as a spoil of war.

Neglected by Denmark and for seven years under constant blockade by Great Britain, Norway was not much of a trophy: a collapsing economy, rampant unemployment and 20 percent of the population dead from starvation following the long British siege of our coast and country.

People’s lives were sleepless nights and nightmare days. Most survived on bread made of bark from elm trees, which brought these trees close to extinction.

A culture of death forced people to defend a culture of life. In this situation Norway said “Enough is enough! We demand instant, total and unconditional indigenisation of our land.”

We hurriedly wrote our Constitution, declared our independence and elected a king. This was before the Swedish crown prince came home after having put the final nail in Napoleon’s political coffin.

He undid whatever he could, but pressured by the major powers of Europe, Sweden had to accept a union with Norway with considerable internal autonomy based on the newly adopted Constitution.

So, Norway achieved a lot in May 1814. The seed of independence was sown. Our birth certificate was signed and sealed.

In 1814, the Constitution was seen as quite revolutionary. Inspired by the 1776 American declaration of independence, the French Constitution of 1791 and the declaration of human rights of 1789, it was founded on two main ideas: the idea of the sovereignty of the people, and the idea of individual liberty.

To underpin these objectives, the Constitution adopted the principle of distribution of powers and the principles of citizen’s rights.

It was not democratic. Only a part of the population was given voting rights, and women were given the right to vote only 100 years later.

On a day like this, please permit me to direct a sentence to our Swedish friends: the word “Union” has given a bad name in Norway to a not so bad a thing. The union with Sweden was not all that bad, and when we finally got our independence in 1905, you let us go peacefully.

Norway became a contributor, no longer a dependent. And, what have we not achieved together by talking more than by fighting?

And a word to our Danish friends: for Norwegians in 1814, the call of the future changed the voices of the past from 400 years under Danish rule.

We stood up against colonialism because it carried no hope for us. Today we are the closest of friends, and indeed it feels good to be a Norwegian in Denmark.

And, one remark to share with our Zimbabwean friends: our history has put clear marks on the Norwegian national identity, the way we think and act, as well as the way we approach the world.

It has left the nation with two instincts, one of which we clearly share with Zimbabwe the instinct of insubordination. We refuse to give in for unwarranted dominance from outside.

The other instinct has been coined by being a small country in a world of mighty nations – the instinct of cooperation. Our prosperity could only be secured through constructive engagement everywhere where a small nation could pursue and secure its interests.

Gentlemen and ladies, it may seem trivial to change the order of two words. My excuse is to touch on the subject of equal rights and how it has changed Norwegian politics.

As a principle it was embodied in our Constitution, but it took some time before women became full participants in the political process and economic activities of our country. Now they are, and it has grown our economy and enhanced our political system and wisdom.

We failed for too long to bring everybody regardless of sex, ethnicity, sexual preferences and religious beliefs into the mainstream of our society.

We have made some headway, but we have to remind ourselves every day that every single human being has the right to be different, to prosper and live in security.

The 17th of May is actually all about children. In every city and every village in Norway, there are children’s parades today, marching through the streets behind brass bands with their dashy uniforms and shining instruments, waving their flags, singing and cheering hurray.

Not one single military symbol in sight! Rather, we celebrate the most powerful capacity any nation possesses its youth, their appetite for life and trust in the future.

Source : The Herald

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