Honorary Consul in San Diego, Calif. for the Kingdom of Norway

These remarks were delivered May 11, 2002 before the Greater San Diego 17th of May Committee annual dinner.

The history leading to Freedom and Independence for Norway is one of suffering and hardship over many years. We celebrate the establishment of the May 17, 1814 Constitution which could not be fully implemented until independence was achieved in 1905.

Immigrants from Norway to all parts of the world have always had a deep appreciation for the Constitution and the traditions of May 17. I can assure you that our celebrations here in San Diego are similar to events that take place in many areas of the world on this day.

It is fair to characterize Norway up to the Second World War as a poor country. For many years it was the fishing, lumber and shipping industries that supported the country.

Immigration to this country was for many the only way out of poverty. Everyone is familiar with the large percentage of Irish that immigrated. It might surprise you to know that the area where my wife, Malla, and I were raised had the same high percentage of immigrants.

I am going to give you a couple of personal references that relate to the period that will be discussed.

I have traced my roots back to 1330. This is back to just about the time when the Union period started. I had an uncle who remembered the end of the Union period and he delighted in telling me of his service in the military in 1905. My parents remembered experiences during the First World War when they were of about the same age as I was during the occupation of Norway during the Second World War.

I have memories of May 17 celebrations before the Second World War. I have memories of the absence of such celebrations during the five-year occupation and I have some vivid memories of the many and long-lasting celebrations that followed when the war ended in May of 1945.

While the early immigrants left a poor country, recent immigrants left a very different Norway.

It was in 1969 that the first oil was discovered in the North Sea.

What followed has been a revolution. When the oil and gas adventure started off shore, the country was totally unprepared.

It now has approximately 70,000 employed in this industry and masters this challenging technology to such a degree that it is exporting this expertise throughout the world. The value of the oil and gas production in 1999 was in the order of 20 billion US dollars. For comparison, Microsoft has sales of approximately 25 billion, Merck Pharmaceuticals 47 billion and AT&T 52 billion.

The Ormen Lange field is the largest gas field now being developed for a depth of 3000 feet. It is due to come on line in 2007 and has an estimated life expectancy of 30 years.

In March of this year the Parliament (Storting) approved the development of the huge Snow White natural gas field in the Barents Sea. This is the first field to be developed this far north. The gas will be liquified and brought to world markets by ship.

Fish farming that started in Norway, primarily with salmon, is now a most successful industry which also has been exported throughout the world.

Norway started to produce an electric car that they called City Bee. Ford Motor Company got interested, bought the company and renamed the car Think. The car was featured on Good Morning America on March 7 of this year and the Ford Dealership in La Mesa will let you test it.

Norway has in a few years achieved a living standard that is just about the highest in the world.

Freedom and independence are terms and expressions that we take for granted. For a few minutes of this happy occasion we need to take time out to remember the period in our history when it was not so.

The word union has several meanings, from a mutually agreed union between two or more parties to, as in our history, a union that was forced upon the country.

We are all familiar with our proud forefathers, the Vikings, who roamed the seas and who were able to navigate and make landfall at will, seemingly without fear. I suspect that many of you saw the exhibit that made the rounds in this country to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Viking landing in North America (locally at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County last November.)

A fair question that can be asked is: How could it happen that a nation that seemed so free and independent found itself tangled up in union after union?

The Union history for Norway reminds me somewhat about the little boy who had experienced some sex education in school. His mother asked if she could clarify anything for him, she asked if he understood it all. The boy thought for quite a while before he said "Well yes, I guess I understand it  — except for one thing, how did I get into your stomach and how did I get out?"

This, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what we are dealing with in the history of Norway, how did the country get into a Union and how did it get out of it.

This history lesson can therefore be viewed in two parts: the GETTING IN PART which was easy, and the GETTING OUT PART which was long and very difficult.

When King Haakon V died in 1319, he did not leave a male hair and the male line of Harald Hårfagre died with him. His daughter, princess Ingeborg, had married a Swedish duke. The crown of Norway was given to their son Magnus Eriksson. He became King of Sweden and Norway when he was three years old.

The GETTING IN PART was therefore easy. A marriage union led Norway into the long union period of our history.

The black plague arrived 30 years into this Union with the result that 1/3 of the population died.

Now, I take a leap in history to the year 1814. That is, after 59 years of union with Sweden and 434 years of union with Denmark.

The feeling in Norway at that time was that the country deserved freedom, they felt that they were ready for it, they felt that the political situation in Europe was in their favor, and they realized that a CONSTITUTION was needed.

So in 1814, when the country had a population of 900,000, 112 brave men assembled hastily at a place called Eidsvoll and went to work April 10. They completed a constitution in record time and approved it on May 17.

The Constitution of Norway emphasizes, like the French and the U.S. Constitutions that were used as models, sovereignty of power, separation of powers and freedom for the individual.

Norway's proposal to the assembly at Kiel after Napoleon's defeat was to no avail because that assembly had already made its decision. The treaty of January 14, 1814 contained a provision wherein Denmark, who had supported Napoleon, was to surrender Norway to Sweden. This was a punishment to Denmark and a reward to Sweden who had aligned itself on the winning side. It is not known why Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroe Islands, that had been dependencies of Norway, were not transferred to Sweden.

This was a terrible blow for Norway. Their expectations had been so high.

So, the Union period continued, now with Sweden.

However, the movement for freedom had been started. The GETTING OUT part of our history was gaining momentum. Four Swedish monarchs had tried but never succeeded in gaining Norway's favor.

Norway had a Storting from 1884 that grew more radical and even urged a dissolution of the Union. Demands became unacceptable. For example, Sweden demanded that all foreign ministers of the Union should be Swedish. Norway demanded that they should be able to have their own consulates, in a large measure to support its growing merchant fleet.

On June 7, 1905, the Storting of Norway took the bold step and declared the Union with Sweden for dissolved. Sweden would not have any part of this idea. After all they had the legal right to the Union.

However, it was finally the representation issue that brought the Union issue to a referendum, and thereby facilitated the end of the union.

The population of Norway was now 2.3 million and of the votes cast (368,576), only 184 voted against breaking the Union. By the way, this was an all male vote, females were permitted to vote from 1909.

The message from the referendum was clear and Sweden gave in on October 27, 1905.

As I said at the beginning, the GETTING OUT PART was very long and difficult. The Union period had lasted 584 years. This period in our history is often referred to as the long winter. (First 59 years with Sweden, then 434 years with Denmark and finally 91 more years with Sweden).

Norway was now independent and the Constitution of 1814 could be put to use as intended.

By the way, Norway and Sweden established a Consulate in San Diego in 1888 (on February 23).

Prince Carl of Denmark was chosen as King of Norway on November 18 of 1905 and he selected the name Haakon, the seventh King to use that name. The new King arrived in Oslo in November (November 25), took the oath of office that same month (November 27) and was crowned in the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim on June 22, the following year (1906). You remember our celebration in San Diego three years ago when we had king Haakon's great grandson, Crown Prince Haakon, as our guest at this gala.

As you can well imagine there was no lack of opinions between politicians and others from 1814. Endless discussions were held regarding how to lead the country forward and by whom. After all, this was to be a brand-new undertaking.

Some prominent elders had enough foresight to basically say that we will never be able to fully agree in our life time. They stated that this new freedom would be to the benefit of children and for generations to come. Many passionate songs were written at this time for the younger generation that are still popular.

The emphasis in Norway on the May 17 celebration is on children.

Pictures of the children's parade in Oslo are broadcast all over the world as it passes in front of the Royal Palace.

Norway is unique among free nations in that it does not display its military on constitution day.

It is fitting for us to celebrate May 17 and we are pleased to congratulate the 4.5 million people of Norway as they celebrate their national day. It is remarkable that the constitutions of the United States and Norway that have so much in common are the oldest in the world still in use.

We appreciate how fortunate we are for having such durable constitutions as our inheritance and to guide us in our daily lives.

Gilbertson shared with his audience greetings he had received from the mayor of San Diego, the governor of California, Norway's ambassador to the United States, and from the king and queen of Norway.

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