Today is the Norwegian Constitution Day, which is a really big event in Norway, but what exactly are we celebrating?
The traditional answer has always been the constitution from 1814, democracy and the victory over the Nazis in 1945. That is undoubtably a part of the package, but 17th May is also important to create a sense of community, and possibly a way to control the population. The authorities prefer a satisfied or passive population because it would be less likely to interfer with the goverment’s desire for control. It’s a day for patriotism.
It may seem like a good idea to have a constitution day that gathers people. They have something similar in the USA, where it may appear that the people is very much divided, but when they raise the flag and play the Star-Spangled Banner, there aren’t many critics left. Governments prefer blind loyalty, but this loyalty has to be manufactured. That’s why today is important in Norway.
There is still a major but, because is it really that obvious that we are gathering behind the right ideas and values?
There are several parades on Constitution Day. The first one starts at 10 in the morning and all the schools in town take part together with the school bands and a few bands with adult musicians. The parade ends up in the town square where there are two speeches, one by two 10th grade students and one by an invited speaker.
The invited speaker this year was Karen-Christine Friele, one of the early gay rights activists in Norway. She has fought for a freedom that is entirely in keeping with the ideals this day should represent, but she is also known for an incident that suggests she doesn’t really support freedom of speech for everyone. She won a freedom of speech-award in 1978, but in 2009 she said she would give it and the “Judas money” back. She also encouraged all other winners of this award to do the same. The reason was that the philosopher Nina Karin Monsen, who had been opposing the law that gave heterosexuals and homosexuals equal rights, won the same award that year. So it seems like there are some conditions attached to freedom of speech, and the most important one is that tolerating gays isn’t good enough. We have to agree as well.
Regarding the democracy we like talking about on this day it implies that we have a significant influence on decisions made in parliament and city councils, but it seems to me that the state and bureaucracy has too much power, and that is just as much the case in a social democracy as in a capitalist system.
Norway has been governed by Labour for most of the time since World War II, and for a long time that was a good thing, but more and more decisions are made outside the country. We are not a complete member of the EU, but they still have significant influence. Our governments also usually make the decisions NATO wants. So it’s not that clear to me that the Norwegian people has a lot of influence. Another thing is whether the people have the intelligence to make the right choices (most countries have their own Donald Trump these days). We also like to refer to Greek philosophy when we talk about democracy, but they debated already 2 500 years ago whether we were intelligent enough for democracy. Politicians seem to think that democracy gives them the right to decide that we are not capable of making decisions on our own.
It’s not hard to find issues both on a national and municipal level where politicians have taken major and highly questionable decisions. The present General Secretary of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, advocated for Norway bombing Libya in 2011 when he was Prime Minister. According to a Swedish book that was published three years later the Swedish Social Democratic government was shocked when Stoltenberg told them that sending Norwegian F-16’s to Libya was important for target practice. Norway dropped 567 bombs over Libya, which is the highest amount since World War II.
We have a Conservative government now, but they are not much better. It recently decided to send special forces to Jordan. Their official mission is to go in to Syria and train rebel forces, but they will also be allowed to engage the enemy themselves. Politicians have a tendency to assume that they know best, that the common people need state or municipal guardians. We’ve had mostly socialist governments in my lifetime, which has made life better than in most countries, but the uncertainty that people in other countries has experienced is spreading to Norway too. It just took longer to reach this northern outskirt.
Noam Chomsky quoted Reinhold Niebuhr and Walter Lippman once. They said that “necessary illusions” and “manufacturing consent” were key components of democracy. In other words, democracy may not be real. The solution isn’t a completely new political system, but a better organized protest than Occupy Wall Street would have been a step in the right direction. The problem is that the various groups of activists have difficulties playing on the same team. There is nothing more frightetning to politicians than democratic voices, and I believe that includes the Democrats. Perhaps we ought to scare them a little more?