Since the Norwegian National Day was a few days ago, on 17 May, it gives me an excuse to draw attention to a few aspects of that country’s history from its independence over 200 years ago, in sun and rain. Development is never linear but full of conflicts and confrontations of class, geography and other issues and interests. We have seen that in Norway, indeed in Pakistan just now, in Türkiye and Thailand in connection with elections, in Sudan in the aftermath of dictatorship. Conflicts are part of development, but they should not be violent.
I hope that some of the Norwegian development aspects and history I draw attention to in this article, will be of interest to Pakistanis. The Norwegian citizens just passed 5.5 million in exact number two weeks ago, with about 20 percent immigrants in the population, including about 50,000 in the Pakistani-Norwegians, lawyers, doctors, MNAs, taxi drivers, restaurant staff and owners, and more.
Norwegian National Day
The Norwegian National Day is celebrated in unique ways (as you will see if you check on YouTube), with school children and families in processions, with brass bands in the lead, in towns and villages all over the land, dressed in their best, waving the flag and cheering. In Oslo, pupils and teachers from the about 150 primary schools walk passed the Royal Palace, greeting the royal family, who wave back from the balcony. On that day, none is lesser or more than others; all own the day and are proud of feeling included as Norwegians – beautiful brown-eyed Pakistani children, blue-eyed ethnic Norwegians, indigenous Sami-Norwegians, and all others, in a seamless less mix. It is a celebration of democracy and diversity. “Sweden is a bit envious about the fantastic way the Norwegian National Day is celebrated”, said the Deputy PM, Ebba Bush, in neighboring Sweden a few days ago, but then she may be a bit biased, holding dual citizenship.
It is important to be proud of one’s homeland, be it rich or poor, advanced or still climbing the hill. I wish Pakistanis more often would talk about positive aspects of everyday life, drawing less attention to the official history of conflict with the bigger neighbour to the east and current politics. Many things are better for the Pakistani-Norwegians where they went, but other things are better in the land they left.
The Norwegian national anthem, ‘Yes, we love this country’ (in Norwegian, ‘Ja, vi elsker dette landet’) was written in 1888 by one of the greatest Norwegian writers Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910). He was often in cultural and political disputes with the internationally more famous writer, Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), holding rallies downtown and writing sarcastic newspapers articles. In his books, Bjørnson was writing about peaceful life of ordinary people, often on quite poor smallholder farms. He wrote in an almost romantic style, not in the new social-realism genre of Ibsen, who wrote about women’s rights, pollution issues, hypocrisy among the leaders in the public and private sectors, in plays such as ‘A Doll’s House’ and ‘An Enemy of the People’. However, Bjørnson’s ‘Sunday stories’ helped make people proud of who they are, with their ways and values.
After four hundred years, Norway was on 17May 1814 separated from Denmark, which had lost in the Napoleonic Wars and had to cede land to neighbouring Sweden, on the winning side. Norway was forced into a union with Sweden as a junior partner, which lasted until 1905 when it was peacefully dissolved. But Norway had its own constitution and parliament. Hence, 17 May is officially termed the Constitution Day, and sometimes called Independence Day, although the latter is usually reserved for 8 May, when Norway in 1945 gained independent after five years of Nazi German occupation, during which time the indigenous Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945) was PM for the occupiers. Norway doesn’t have capital punishment in peace time; last time it was used was for Quisling and a few other country traitors after WWII.
Now then, the mentioned writers were not the only prominent ones of the time; there was a golden age in art, literature, and more, with a number of eminent people, all men in those days. Just a few independent women were published, such as Camilla Collett, nèe Wergeland (1813-1895), but she and the other women were not given their rightful support and recognition in their lifetime. The first woman was admitted to university in 1882, and the voting right for women came in 1913. Today, just well over a hundred years later, Norwegians tell everyone else that they, too, should have gender advanced equality. True, it makes sense and the world will be better for it, but countries must do it their own way, at their own pace, in this and in other fields. In Scandinavia the elementary school (‘folkeskolen’) became compulsory for both boys and girls from the 1840s/1850s onwards, and extended to seven years in Norway in 1989, yet, with some differences in requirements between rural and urban areas up to as late as about 1960. It would be good if Pakistan, too, made the elementary school compulsory.
The sexual awareness enlightenment and emancipation of women expanded in the 1920s. That time, poor and working class men also began to achieve more equality in what was otherwise a class society. They had to fight for their rights, mostly peacefully, but not always. The broader equality results both for women and men were achieved slowly, especially from the 1950s onwards, and another leap from the 1970s until our days.
Real family planning in Norway
In the 1800s, also the beginning of 1900s, there was no real family planning in Norway, causing a much higher population growth than the land and social system could accommodate. As many as 800,000 Norwegians, in a population of just about two million people that time, emigrated to the ‘New World’ of America, from 1825-1925, with about a quarter returning because they had been very successful, or because they could not make it, or for other reasons.
The emigration helped the Norwegians becoming more internationally minded than they would otherwise have been, also supported by the fact that Norway from the 1840s had been sending Christian missionaries to Africa and Asia, including India, Nepal, China and Japan. Norwegian became involved in the UN and the development aid began in the 1950s, with the Indo-Norwegian Fisheries Project in Kerala in India being the first. By the time of breaking away from the union with Sweden in 1905, Norway had become one of the world’s leading shipping nations, as it still is. But today oil and gas export play a greater role.
There are many aspects of the Norwegian-American immigration history that resembles that of the Pakistanis going to Norway, and other countries, too. Dr. Kari Guttormsen Hempel, University of Stavanger, will focus on many of these aspects in a forthcoming book. We should learn more about the many Pakistani-Norwegians who have done well in their new land, and others who have just become average people, as most of us are anyway. In future, we should talk more about the struggles and successes of immigrants. Also, we should talk about the drain on the sending country when their good and productive people leave. It is a fact that Norway has become a better country thanks to the hearts, minds and contributions of the Pakistani-Norwegians and other immigrants – but their homeland also needed them.
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid. Email: email@example.com