Norway’s king and prime minister made their traditional New Year’s speeches over the weekend and both of them touched on the issue of national pride. While the monarch had to avoid politics, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg could also promise better care for the elderly.
Stoltenberg started off the prime minister’s annual address, always held on the evening of January 1st, by hailing Norwegian polar heroes Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. This year will mark 100 years since Amundsen sailed Nansen’s legendary vessel Fram to Antarctica and became the first to reach the South Pole.
“Amundsen’s feat filled a young nation with pride,” Stoltenberg said in his nationally televised address on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), referring to the fact that only six years had passed since Norway had won its sovereignty in 1905. “A small country showed the world that it could accomplish great things.”
Now, Stoltenberg said, the challenge is to make sure the ice that helped shape Norwegian identity doesn’t melt away. Today, he said, it’s all about nations working together to reverse climate change. “Researchers from many countries are cooperating to understand the climate changes that threaten the world,” Stoltenberg said. While Nansen and Amundsen conquered the ice after a race against other countries, he claimed, now it must be saved through cooperation.
Norway’s prime minister, now in the midst of his second term after winning reelection in 2009, noted that 1,200 of today’s Norwegians were already alive when Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911. “In the 100 years since, they have participated in a fantastic transformation of Norway,” he said, from a poor country to among the world’s wealthiest.
He went on to devote his address to the importance of care for the elderly, promising improved social welfare programs to provide more nursing homes and more nursing care at home. Today’s elderly are a widely diverse group, Stoltenberg noted, likely to be active online and “hanging over their computers” or still working or traveling as Norwegians live longer and are healthier than ever before. That also pointed up the importance, he said, of pension reform due to take effect in the coming year.
Stoltenberg, whose administration suffered a wide range of setbacks last year, insisted that he was starting the New Year with optimism. He said that while he understands that many have viewed the past decade as one of “unrest” in the world, the numbers of armed conflicts and those killed in battle have gone down despite the casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. And despite the global finance crisis, “the average income in the world has never been higher.” Total combined production, Stoltenberg said, is almost double what it was 10 years ago. Infant mortality is down and longevity is up, he said. “The world will keep moving forward if we want it to,” Stoltenberg said. “And we want it to.”
King Harald V also touched on national pride and Norwegian prosperity in his annual address on New Year’s Eve, and the need to become better and “bigger.” He cautioned, however, against situations where personal dignity and self-worth can be challenged, not least in the case of foreigners trying to adjust to life in Norway. He spoke of how difficult it is to be an asylum seeker or immigrant in Norway, because they’re not always welcome in the workforce or community.
“Every single person has resources that can be used in our society, regardless of nationality, health, age or social factors,” King Harald said. He said Norway’s emerging “multi-cultural competence” must be put to use, because it will be “steadily more important for us in a smaller world.”
His remarks came a day before NRK ran a report about discrimination in the housing market in Oslo, where some property owners renting out apartments refuse to rent to non-Norwegians and actually wrote “No forigners” (misspelled) in their online advertising. That’s illegal, and the offenders are under investigation.