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Five years ago

Not our independence day

As Tor's article will show, the Norwegian fascination with the 17th of May is no longer a geographically isolated affair. To be fair, it hasn't been for a while. I know I celebrated my second (I suppose) 17th of May on some Greek island, and there are pictures of me sporting a flag and a rosette. And I assume some Americans have been celebrating it more or less as long as we have.

But as we now have conclusive proof of the proliferation (Calcuttagutta being the arbiter of knowledge, facts and the Truth about the world), I thought I'd clear up one important fact for our foreign friends (FFs): the 17th of May is not our independence day.

Nor is it, of course, a day connected to the patron saint of our country (unlike, say, St. Patrick's Day or St. Andrew's Day). No saints are involved (see, when we took on the Reformation, we did it properly).

It is our Constitution day. Others may not make such a fuss about the day their constitutions were signed, but they did not face the prospect of becoming Swedish.

We used to belong to Denmark (from the 1380s onward -- about 500 years). Having managed to remain neutral through the major part of the conflict the Danish king got a little carried away when Britain tried to bully him, however, and joined Napoleon's side against ... the rest.* Well, the key actors were (if my memory serves me right, but there is always Wikipedia for you if you want a semi-reliable version) England, Russia, Prussia and Austria. The often forgotten partner is Sweden.

Having thoroughly lost, Denmark had to hand Norway over as a peace offering.

Norway woke up and decided it wasn't a present, figuring even the Danish were better than the Swedes (sorry, Matteus -- this is of course in general terms, not personal). It therefore gathered together some semi-sensible gentlemen and wrote a constitution. On the whole a good idea, although people like me are fond of pointing out §2, which states that

Jesuitter og Munkeordener maae ikke taales. Jøder ere fremdeles udelukkede fra Adgang til Riget. (Jesuits and monks must not be allowed. Jews are still excluded from the Kingdom).

They also added a point requiring the king to be a Lutheran in order to keep Bernadotte (who by now had been adopted as the heir presumptive of the Swedish crown) out.

After a bit of a muddle we did still end up in the hands of the Swedes, but we did so with rather better cards on hand than we would have had had there not been a constitution, and it set the stage for our actual independence almost a hundred years later. In fact, the celebration of the 17th of May was one of those things we did in the meantime in order to annoy the Swedish king.

So now you know.

*This may be more complicated, involving Napoleon threatening to send the future Swedish king (but currently Napoleon's general) Bernadotte up to Holstein, but history is rhizomatic and a blog post can get out of hand quite easily.


Tor,  17.05.11 23:44

But I don't really see how the constitution helped. The kind of people who ask for a country as compensation for something someone else did are probably not that nice, so why would they care if the country they want happens to have a constiution?
Kjellove,  18.05.11 04:03

But a union is a union. Denmark and Norway were equal on paper.

And btw, I heard Oscar II were quite hurt about that 7 June thing.
17. mai
Last edited by
Camilla, 17.05.11 19:58