Today was the Norwegian constitution day. There were casualties.
Norwegian blue is a fictional parrot, a state of mind and a real colour.
Sure, Norwegian blue isn’t its proper name. The indigo blue is more accurately called Pantone MS 281 U, but let’s stick with Norwegian blue for now. So imagine a cross in that colour, outlined in white on top a red base (or a PMS 032 U base, if you like). Width to length proportions of the base are 22:16, with colour elements having widths of 6:1:2:1:12 and lengths of 6:1:2:1:6 so that the vertical part of the cross is shifted to one side. What we have here is the Norwegian flag.
A nation’s flag will always be a symbol that folks very naturally invest a lot of feelings in. And as a symbol it represents the sum total of the values projected into it by the population of its country. Thus the symbolic values vary over time. At the time of its introduction in 1821, it was meant to symbolize both a certain concord between the Scandinavian people as well as Norwegian sovereignty. Using the tricolour of red, white and blue was also a nod to France and the USA, nations whose constitutions had inspired our own when that was drafted seven year prior.
Last Friday was Norway’s National Day, celebrating the 199th anniversary of the signing of our constitution at Eidsvoll on May 17, 1814. As always, thousands upon thousands of flags were flying. These flags are no longer political instruments (well, of course flags are always politically charged, but not to the same extent as during Norway’s union to Sweden), neither are the flags a symbol of resistance, as during the WW2 occupation years. Today’s flags are celebratory flags, and what we are celebrating is our way of life.
Norwegians are a proud and self-righteous people any day of the year, but Constitution Day is of course something of a climax. This is probably the case for most countries’ National Days. Somehow Norwegians often manage to pull it off without too much sickening self-indulgence on the topic of our own excellence. Well, some do, at least. My hometown doesn’t. Bergen has perfected the act of indulging in excellence to a degree that’s certainly nauseating but also quite charming (some will disagree – Bergen is an acquired taste).
I wasn’t celebrating May 17 in Bergen this year. Instead, I was in Nordfjordeid, a small community in a county further north, with a population of less than 3,000 people. I wasn’t really celebrating here either, but that’s my own fault. Nordfjordeid is a nice place with laidback townsfolk, honest traditions and an unassuming yet proud way of observing days like this. But seeing that I feel lonely in crowds, am suspicious of parades and might possibly be called patriotically challenged, I’m not really inclined to National Days in general.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m genuinely proud of Norway’s egalitarian values and ideals, the welfare state and the kindness of my fellow Norwegians. I do indeed think that our constitution – being the basis of all this – is something very worthy of celebration. And I don’t really mind the way it is celebrated either. Although I am naturally sceptical to nationalism of any sort, the benign kind that is on display on May 17 doesn’t really bother me.