Tomorrow is May 17th. Some start the day with bubbles, others go on a children’s train. Many are also at work tomorrow. We will get everything from loud voices about the Eidsvoll men’s foresight, to my favorite genre: 7th grade at Berger school which gives a clear speech for the future, to us adults who are more or less red in the eyes between children’s laughter and balloons.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of two things in the charge for this year’s May 17th. One is a cartoon from Bergen from my childhood. The second is a sentence I read in Aftenposten a while ago, in a text by Einar Lie, who is a professor of economic history. The last one first. In one of his usual interesting texts that deals with everything from the Danish TV series Borgen to climate policy, Lie writes: “In the post-war period, the Labor Party formulated goals for full employment, economic growth and fair distribution. This soon became a common goal, no one disagreed with these ».
It is often difficult to explain to people who did not grow up in Norway that the Norwegian version of nationalism is quite progressive and inclusive
Especially the last sentence, “no one disagreed with these”, I have thought of, and then together with the drawing, which is by Audun Hetland, who for a lifetime depicted city life with its slanted line of twenty boys and bisque madams.
The drawing is called “Nordnes boys for you!” and consists of two scenes. In scene 1, it’s the first of May. Then a man with sixpence goes in a train with a red flag and cabins with his fist against one, apparently of the bourgeoisie, who stands with a floss hat and looks with angry faces at the workers.
In scene two, the sixpence and the floss hat go smiling side by side, under the flag of Nordnæs Bataillon. It is a May 17-like scene, but it is actually May 3, the founding day for the bow corps, which by the way was a so-called “Saturday corps” in the beginning, ie one for the better off, who had time off.
May 17, we celebrate national unity. It is often difficult to explain to people who did not grow up in Norway that the Norwegian version of nationalism is quite progressive and inclusive. Ever since Wergeland started the children’s procession, Constitution Day has been associated with peaceful coexistence in a young nation.
The community does not just come from a good celebration. Far more importantly, it comes from the institutions we have for the distribution of power: parliamentarism, the multi-party system, and the tripartite cooperation for working life, which is summed up in the beautiful word conflict partnership.
It is about the basic insight that it is not enough to go on a train together and admire each other’s national costumes. We must also have ways of dealing with the conflicts of interest that naturally exist in all societies, including well-functioning democracies such as Norway.
A book that all politically interested people can enjoy is Anders Johansen and Jens Kjeldsen’s collection of political speeches, from 1814 to the present day. It is called “Effective words”. In the introduction to this “spoken Norwegian history”, they make a main point that our public, indeed, the Norwegian identity, has emerged strengthened from conflict. “The history of political speech is above all a history of strife, in part violent, irreconcilable,” they write, asking: “Have we quarreled over a community? Is this a paradox? ” No, because the fact that all parties can state clearly whether their interests are, on the contrary, a sign of stability. This is how one can understand defining conflicts such as the EU struggle, the goal struggle, the labor movement’s struggle for political power and the liberation of women as nation-building: “After all, it was the confrontation that brought reconciliation”.
I often agree with Einar Lie, but not in the sentence “no one disagreed with these” to describe the post-war political tug-of-war. Our whole history is full of struggles, and perhaps especially about the distribution of goods.
That’s why Gro Harlem Brundtland humorously gave a pair of gilded brake pads as a gift to Kåre Willoch in connection with the Conservative Party’s 100th birthday, but also wrote quite harsh articles about the bourgeois party in the 80’s. While politicians from the Conservative Party often point to the liberalization of the TV monopoly, and perhaps to a lesser extent now, the housing market, as important reforms from the same time period.
Norwegian history is never free of conflicts of interest. But that does not mean that the community is weakened. On the contrary. This is what Lars Laid Iversen has written the book “Disagreement” about. The fact that we can have open battles about everything from the rules of working life to altruistic surrogacy makes us strong in the end.
This is more important than ever, when democracy is under attack in many parts of the world, even in our own Europe. So in advance: Congratulations on the day! It is allowed to argue and give compliments for the bunada.
This is how May 17 was celebrated around the country last year:
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