Last year Norway celebrated the bicentenary of its constitution, which was adopted on 17 May 1814. At the start of 1814 Norway was part of the absolute monarchy Denmark-Norway. By the end of the year Norway had entered into a union with Sweden.
In between, Norwegians had mobilized and drawn up one of the world’s most democratic constitutions – and elected their own king. 1814 was hailed as ‘the year of miracles’. Sovereignty of the people, the separation of powers, the independence of the political institutions and the rights of the individual were to be basis for the nation. Last year a large number of events, both in Norway and abroad, debated the value of this historic and yet very much alive document and what it means for a democratic society. Also here in Romania.
With the constitution of 1814, a new era was in the making. It laid the foundation for the birth of modern Norway. Moreover, it gave the direction for the years to come. This is what we celebrate.
However, every 17 May gives us another possibility and an obligation to reflect and to discuss. About what kind of society do we want, which values do we cherish, and how do we protect them?
It took many years before all citizens had the same rights to participate fully in democratic institutions in Norway. However, throughout the years the direction has been clear, but also given Norway new tasks, to include a more multicultural and diverse population.
Another celebration has taken place in many countries this year.
On 8 May we celebrated 70 years since the end of World War two in Europe. Norway and other occupied countries became free again. Norway had been under Nazi occupation for five long years. The occupation of Norway and many other European countries was indeed a struggle about the populations’ minds and attitudes. A fascist dictatorship against freedom, democracy and the right to self-determination. In Norway symbolized by Hitler’s local governor, Josef Terboven, setting up his administration in the very Parliament building in Oslo. Dictatorship replaced democracy.
The struggle in 1814 for the right to our own constitution and the resistance against a foreign power and the fascist dictatorship during the years of 1940-1945 have elements in common: Individuals knowing their rights and their values. Fighting for these values and fighting for the common rights.
There shall be freedom of expression. There shall be free and fair elections. The citizens of the country make the laws and they shall live by the law. Everybody is equal to the law. There shall be an equal balance and independence between the state institutions. The powers of the state shall be controlled. Those who govern shall be accountable.
Yes, each year we do remind ourselves about these principles. They are utterly important.
Not only does 17 May matter, equally important is what takes place between each years’ festivities.
On 1 June this year, a government committee will present an extensive work documenting injustice towards the Roma population in Norway, from the end of the 19th century and until today. Head of the committee is Knut Vollebæk, former foreign minister of Norway and OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Besides documenting the history, the committee is mandated to suggest how further reconciliation and justice can take place between minorities and the greater society.
It is hard work to build a democracy with a high degree of equality. It implies a willingness to acknowledge that we are all the same, independent of ethnic origin, color, family background or wealth. It implies willingness to share the resources. It implies willingness to pay ones taxes to finance what is takes to build the common good. It implies willingness to acknowledge the past and to have visions for the future. Yet, it is a solid basis for a stable and well-functioning nation.
The values we try to live by are also the values on which we build our bilateral relations with other countries. Norway has, through the EEA agreement, close economic relations with Europe, including Romania. Through the EEA and Norway Grants, our two countries work together to reduce social inequality in Romania, and further strengthen the bilateral relations. In almost all areas of society – from justice, green industry innovation, environment, research, civil society, health and culture – institutions and individuals in both countries are working together. Results are achieved, the mutual knowledge and respect strengthened, and bilateral relations deepened. In addition comes Norwegian private businesses investing in and cooperating with Romania.
On this day of celebration I would like express my sincere appreciation to all those who contribute to the strengthening of our bilateral relations.