There was a debate in Norway a couple of years ago about what Norwegian culture was and whether or not it was disappearing. The high profile politicians Tybring-Gjedde from the immigration-sceptic Progressive Party and Hadia Tajik from the Labour Party were arguing loudly in national media. So what are we celebrating on our Constitution Day, May 17th? What is the Norwegian identity?
It changes all the time, and children in 1814 didn’t have anything in common with these children.
This was a video the state channel (similar to PBS) made last year as a part of the 200 year celebration of our constitution, and this rap tells the whole story. The short version goes something like this:
Norway was under Danish control for 434 years. The Danish king supported Napoleon and when he was defeated, Denmark made a peace treaty with Sweden where Norway was handed over to our archenemy. Then we spent 91 years under Sweden before the Norwegian parliament more or less did what Crimea did recently. It was probably going to happen eventually anyway, but this radical decision undoubtedly angered Swedish authorities, and there were strong voices in the military and parliament that wanted a war. I have to say it was a brave decision by the Norwegian parliament because they would have lost a war, but fortunately the Swedish P.M. was strong enough to oppose the warmongers.
As for the fear of Norwegian culture disappearing it may have been justified for a while. I am thinking about multiculturalism, which could have destroyed Europe (there are other liberal ideas that still may destroy us). I think most “elite thinkers” today acknowledge that this experiment was a huge mistake. These are well-known concepts in the public debate in Norway, but I’ll include some brief definitions anyway:
Assimilation: An expectaction that immigrants adopt the culture in the country they choose to move to.
Integration: Immigrants can preserve their culture, ethics, dressing habits, family structure etc. for a couple of generations, but society expects them to eventually choose the majority culture.
Multiculturalism means that immigrants don’t have to integrate themselves, not long term either. They live in a sort of parallel society, by cultural values and norms that are practiced in the country they came from.
The reasoning behind multiculturalism was probably that we should learn from each other, but that’s not what happened. Was that really surprising? After all, how could the elite behind this naive philosophy assume that a country with a 1000 year history as a Christian mono-culture wanted to learn from Islam, Hinduism or the different African and Asian traditions that suddenly came to Norway? If multiculturalism had been a success it wouldn’t have enriched our culture; it would have replaced it. It goes without saying that it had to go wrong when the elite decided this without asking the people. Equality is one of the most typical traits of our society, and I think that’s why multiculturalism was a bad idea in Europe.
Multiculturalism was an experiment in many western countries, and Britain went as far as concidering to govern British Muslims according to Sharia laws. Things that were illegal to anyone else would be legal to Muslims, and in some cases the rights of Muslims would be restricted. It would undoubtedly have given Muslim women fewer rights. Many immigrants were negative to a speech the British P.M David Cameron made in Munich in 2011. He declared that state multiculturalism had failed, and I think it’s pretty obvious that it has:
I think it could have been a threat to our identity, but on the other hand we have experienced outside influence before. We lived through over 400 years of Danish rule and 90 years of Swedish rule. We have changed a lot, but we are still pretty different from our neighbours. We’re going to change a lot in the coming generations as well. That’s a natural consequence of our choices. I still come across some people saying that “they” should go back to where they came from, either “they” is a first generation or third generation Norwegian.
We want a modern life with a low birth rate, which makes immigration necessary. We can choose who we want to invite, but the Progressive Party’s dream of no immigration would certainly destroy us. That would result in a quick reduction in the population, but it is also necessary for the authorities to concider important norms in society. This is where “our way of life” could be threatened. The logic is very simple. If we have a low birth rate, the immigrants have a higher birth rate, and we don’t integrate them… What are parents that don’t know how to be a European citizen going to teach their children? This kind of reasoning quickly gives you a racist label in Europe, but I believe it is a legitimate concern.
Norway was strongly criticized by Sweden when the Progressive Party was included in a three party coalition. Sweden has had the same elitist approach to immigration as most of Western Europe has had. Immigration to Sweden has been high, probably far too high, which has made integration impossible. The only accepted view has been that immigrants enrich the Swedish society.
They have wholeheartedly embraced multiculturalism with up to 100 000 immigrants a year.The elite may have assumed that the people would welcome the new cultures, and that there would be an interaction where the different cultures influenced each other both ways. No other attitudes were welcome. There is still a significant “white flight” in a city like Gothenburg for example, which means that white Swedes move out when immigrants move into the neighbourhood. This development has started in Oslo as well.
So what is Norwegian? What is the Norwegian identity? That’s difficult for me to identify precisely. I don’t know if I can give a good answer, but perhaps George Orwell gave the best answer in his essay “The Lion and the Unicorn.” While London was being bombed during World War 2 he wrote about his England. I think many feel the way about their country as Orwell did about his, no matter what religion or minority culture they identify with. We are talking about feelings. George Orwell describes the feeling many get when they come home after a trip abroad. It’s exciting to encounter other cultures, but coming home and feeling that I breathe Norwegian air and that I surround myself with the familiar (what some foreigers think is boring and characterless) isn’t bad either. It’s also ok to live in a society that is obsessed about outdoor activities in any weather (there’s no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing) and in a society where you are not concidered to be a weirdo if your comfort zone is different.
It’s the little things we think about. These are the things that separate us from other Europeans. This is not going to disappear. As for coexsistence the USA has made many experiences. They use different metaphors to illustrate how well it has worked. The melting pot is probably the most classic one. It’s presented as something positive, but it means that everyone loses their individuality; everyone turns into the same. There’s a strong pressure to conform. A staggering one million people left Norway for USA over a hundred year period that ended around WW 1. They quickly learned that a desire to hold on to their own language and culture was going to create a lot of conflicts. I suppose it was the same with Greek-Amerians, Irish-Americans, Japanese-Americans etc. That’s not much better than a multicultural society where everyone lives separately. I like the salad bowl or the pizza as a metaphor, which means that we are a mixture of ingrediences that don’t lose themselves. The tomato is recognized as different from the olives for example, and together they change the community to something better.
The problem with a liberal society (and at least in Europe everyone from Labour to the Conservatives are liberal) is that everything is left to the people., and that could lead to major conflicts. If we give whole groups individual rights, which is what multiculturalism means, it’ll be disrespectful of us to expect immigrants to relate to Norwegian norms and traditions. This conflict became especially obvious after the racist caricatures in the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten and the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. After the shooting in Paris world leaders were basically holding hands and singing We are the World.
What is most important? An artists right to produce racist caricatures or a Muslim’s respect for a prophet? Are we going to give Muslim women the right to cover their face (and/or hair) or is society’s demand to see the face more important? A few years ago many Norwegians acted like their rights had been trampled on when a news anchor at a small, local TV-station wore a cross shaped necklace. I’ve heard about similar cases where teachers have been asked not to wear something that would offend other groups because they had Muslim and atheist students. We also have a few situations where Muslim individuals and organzation get special privileges because we are concerned about tolerance.
Situations like these occur because the authorities haven’t done enough, if anything at all, to integrate other cultures into our own. They left the details up to the people to sort out, but integration requires a lot of work. I still see a few headlines every spring where someone states that Constitution Day should reflect a monoculture. There should be Norwegian national costumes and Norwegian flags, and whoever can’t respect that, had better stay at home. That’s the melting pot where no one is different.
They want a society that doesn’t change, but we didn’t even have that a thousand years ago. I have lived long enough, and had enough bad experiences, that I am probably more occupied with the best from the past than what lies ahead. I don’t especially like all the changes myself, but it’s not so bad that I don’t think Norway will survive, as the drama queen Tybring-Gjedde seems to think. I do however think the road we have chosen will be longer than necessary. The elite that rules us is probably going to impose more social experiments on us, which multiculturalism clearly was. I still think this could become a country where many cultures talk to each other. That would be a country where there is only us; not us and them.
I know some people that naively think this will happen automatically. They have tried this in the USA for a long time, but I don’t think they would have made any progress without some incentives like affirmative action. We don’t have those incentives in Europe and we see the result in countries like Germany, Netherlands and Britain. That’s something we should concider when we celebrate ourselves. We shouldn’t have a lot of “the others” on our Constitution Day.