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Celebrations were a boost for king and integration

Norway’s national day celebrations on Tuesday sent out two strong messages, according to local media on the morning after: King Harald and the Norwegian monarchy remain important to the vast majority, and the country has come a long way in integrating immigrants and their children into Norwegian society.

The sight of the royal family on the palace balcony was widely viewed as a unifying factor for Norwegians. PHOTO: Views and News

The sight of King Harald and his family on the balcony of the Royal Palace in Oslo simply seemed to warm the hearts of a wide spectrum of Norwegians. Tens of thousands turned out to parade by them, wave at them and snap endless photos. Schoolchildren cheered, and lowered their flags in a sign of respect as they passed under the royal balcony.

“I am actually in favour of a republic, but even I think the king is an important national symbol,” Glenn Christiansen, age 50, told newspaper Aftenposten during a round of “person-on-the-street” interviews aimed at gauging public opinion on the monarchy. He was far from alone. Not a single person interviewed wanted to see King Harald replaced by a president.

Children from many different backgrounds seemed proud to march in the Tuesday's 17th of May parade. PHOTO: Views and News

Meanwhile, women in traditional Norwegian costumes called the bunad marched side-by-side women in head scarves and other forms of ethnic or religious dress. (See our series of photos from Tuesday’s 17th of May celebrations in Oslo). Schoolchildren marching proudly in the annual parade called barnetoget were far from simply being blond and blue-eyed. Nearly every nation in the world is now represented in Oslo schools, while in the northern city of Tromsø, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that children celebrated their internationalism by carrying flags of the homelands of their fellow students. Among them were flags from Thailand and Venezuela and more than 30 other nations at just one school.

A woman wearing a Norwegian "bunad" watches the 17th of May parade disperse after passing in front of the Royal Palace. Marchers now represent many cultures but all celebrated living in Norway. PHOTO: Views and News

People from the US, Canada, various European and African countries, and visitors and other “new Norwegians” from Asia and the South Pacific joined in Norway’s celebrations on Tuesday. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that the new multi-cultural participation marks a big change from the 17th of May in 1983, when immigrant children at Sagene School faced death threats from neo-Nazis before the parade began. As late as 2000, a community leader who originally came from Pakistan sparked headlines with her decision to wear a bunad and help organize 17th of May activities. Some didn’t think that was appropriate.

This year, Sagene School with its widely diversified studentbody led the parade, and not just because it’s celebrating its 150th anniversary. Both professors and Sagene teachers believe the honor showed that diversity has won out over insular nationalism.

“The neo-Nazis tried to twist our national day into a racist and nationalistic direction,” Joron Pihl, a former teacher at Sagene who now is a professor at the University of Oslo, told Dagsavisen. She said the threats against children, which were publicized and led to a need for special protection at the time, ended up “boomeranging” and ultimately led to today’s feeling that the 17th of May is for everyone.

“All children here are the nation’s children,” Pihl said, as families rooted in scores of other nations enjoyed the Norwegian traditions and festivities. Among them were the Nadir family, who took part  in the annual “17. mai for alle” celebration sponsored by Radio Latin America and the anti-racist group SOS-Rasisme downtown.

“The 17th of May is a fine day,” the family’s father Tariq Nadir told Dagsavisen. “We like to watch the parade and meet people. I try to teach the children about the Norwegian traditions.” His son Reda, age five, was marching in the parade for the first time this year.

And King Harald is widely seen as a unifying figure. “I’m from Ethiopia where we had an emperor and he was hated by the people,” Arero Boranto, age 29, told Aftenposten. “He was a dictator, so for me, it’s fantastic to see this, a democratic king who is respected by the people and folks cheer him of their free will.

“I feel absolutely that King Harald is my king, too.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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