Since the Norwegian National Day is on 17 May, it gives me an excuse to draw attention to a few aspects of the country’s history since independence over 200 years ago, in sun and rain, as development is never linear but full of conflicts and confrontations of class and other interests. We see that in Pakistan just now and in connection with the elections in Türkiye and Thailand, and the crisis in Sudan. I hope that some of the Norwegian development aspects and history I draw attention to will be of interest to Pakistanis.
But first, to the just about 5.5 million Norwegian citizens, with about 20 percent immigrants, including about 50,000 in the Pakistani diaspora, some of them lawyers, doctors, MNAs, taxi drivers, and more, and their relatives: Congratulations on the Day.
The day is very special (as you will find out 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, 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 important to be proud of one’s homeland, be it rich or poor, advanced or still climbing the hill, struggling for better justice, education, health and opportunities. I wish Pakistanis often would talk about positive aspects of everyday life, drawing less attention to the official history of conflict, rather focusing on today and tomorrow. 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 public cultural and political disputes with the internationally more famous writer Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), holding rallies downtown and writing sarcastic newspaper articles. In his books, Bjørnson was writing about life of ordinary people mostly on smallholder farms, but in an almost romantic style, not in the new social-realism genre of Ibsen, who wrote about women’s rights, pollution issues, the hypocrisy of the leaders in the public and private sectors, in plays such as ‘A Doll’s House’ and ‘An Enemy of the People’. However, Bjornsons ‘Sunday stories’ helped make people proud of who they are, and that is important.
After four hundred years, Norway was on 17 May 1814 separated from Denmark, which had lost in the Napoleonic Wars and had to cede land to neighbouring Sweden on the winning side. Norway went into a union with Sweden as a junior partner, which lasted until 1905. But it had its own constitution and parliament. Hence, 17 May is officially termed Constitution Day, and sometimes even Independence Day, although the latter is usually reserved for 8 May 1945, when Norway gained independence after five years of Nazi Germany occupation, during which time the indigenous Vidkun Quisling (1887-1947) was PM for the occupiers. Norway doesn’t have capital punishment in peacetime; last time it was used was for Quisling and a few others after WWII.
Now then, the mentioned writers were not the only prominent ones of the time; there were a number of others, 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 the 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 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.
The sexual awareness enlightenment and emancipation of women expanded in the 1920s. At 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.
The second half of the 1800s is in Norway often referred to as the ‘golden age’ in culture, politics, and other areas. Norway was mostly made up of poor peasant and fishing communities, and also a growing shipping industry. There was no real family planning, leading to a population growth higher than the land and social system could accommodate. As many as 800,000 Norwegians, in a population of just about two million at that time, emigrated to the New World, notably 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.
When I grew up in Norway in the 1950s and 1960s, it was still common for people to keep contact with their old Norwegian-American relatives, but the contact was dwindling and today it is almost gone. The emigration led to Norwegians becoming more internationally minded than they would otherwise have been, also helped by the fact that Norway from the 1840s began sending Christian missionaries to Africa and Asia, including India, Nepal, China and Japan. When the Norwegian became involved in the UN and the development aid began in the 1950s, with the Indo-Norwegian Fisheries Project in Kerala in India, those efforts benefitted from earlier contacts and cooperation by missionaries. Also, by the time of breaking away from the union with Sweden in 1905, Norway had become one of the world’s leading shipping nations. Many young men, often unskilled, took contracts on ships at young ages and brought home with them some international exposure and memories – and exotic souvenirs. Even today, Norway is an important shipping nation with competent ship owners, captains and other sailors.
The Norwegian-American immigration history, and also the history of sailors and missionaries, is something we talk about in an unrealistic positive light. It is never easy to stay away from home for long, indeed for good. Many Pakistani-Norwegians can testify to that, and their relatives in Pakistan, too. But today, it has become easier to communicate and visit relatives on the other side of the globe.
Many Pakistani-Norwegians have done well in their new land. In the future, we should talk more about the successes of immigrants. Also, we talk little about the drain of the sending countries when their good and most 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.