Combined ‘holiday’ stirs more critics

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The Akershus Fortress and Castle in Oslo was once again the focal point for Norway’s observance on Tuesday of its newly combined Liberation Day and Veterans’ Day holiday on May 8th. Canons roared and flags flew, but May 8th still isn’t a legal day off from school or work, and rumbling continued among those who think politicians are grabbing the glory instead the veterans themselves.

The Akershus Fortress and Castle is both a military and historic monument, often used for a wide variety of ceremonial events. On Tuesday it was the main venue for local observances of both Liberation Day and Veterans' Day. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Special events were planned nationwide and they started early in Oslo, with the president of Norway’s Parliament and King Harald V laying down wreaths at Akershus. That was followed by speeches by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide, both from the Labour Party, before a special church service in the Oslo Cathedral, a parade back to Akershus and ceremonial salutes that were to be held throughout the day. It was all set to wrap up with a medal ceremony in the afternoon and concerts and yet another speech by a politician, Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide of the Conservative Party and leader of the Parliament’s foreign relations and defense committee.

It was an ambitious program, matched by similar programs elsewhere in Norway and meant to celebrate the liberation (frigjøring) of Norway after World War II and honor Norwegian veterans of military service. It’s the second time Liberation Day was combined with Norway’s new Veterans’ Day observance. Not all were satisfied, though.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg congratulating Capt Jørg Lian when he received the War Cross last year for bravery in Afghanistan. Some would rather listen to Lian than to politicians. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Wikipedia

“On the program we find the president of the parliament, the prime minister, the defense minister, the military chief and the leader of the foreign relations and defense committee behind the microphones,” wrote Christian Bugge Hjorth, secretary general of Norway’s defense association (Norges Forsvarsforening). “The king is there, but without a leading role. And the government didn’t find a ceremony at the memorial to (resistance hero) Max Manus at Akershus worthy of a place on the program.

“My question is: Why the politicians, when we can listen to one of the day’s heroes, (highly decorated officer and veteran) Jørg Lian, draw the lines back to Max Manus?”

Hjorth claimed that Norway’s mental image of Liberation Day on May 8, 1945 is of Crown Prince Olav on the City Hall Plaza with Max Manus as bodyguard in the front seat, surrounded by cheering crowds after five years of occupation. “That’s the picture we want to present to coming generations,” Hjorth wrote. “Therefore we’re carrying out a ceremony at Akershus at 5pm.” And he urged readers to join in.

It’s not the first time there’s been public criticism of how May 8th is celebrated. Many think it should be a legal holiday, as the day set aside to honor veterans is in many other countries. That would also allow more people to take part in Liberation/Veterans’ Day celebrations.

Last year, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was harshly criticized for failing to even include King Harald in events at Akershus on May 8th. Stoltenberg later had to admit on the floor of Parliament that it was a mistake to have the defense chief hand out medals to veterans being decorated, and not the king.

This year things, as promised, were being handled differently and King Harald was on the program. Stoltenberg maintains, though, that it’s the government and parliament who decide to send Norwegian soldiers into action, from Afghanistan to Libya, and therefore are responsible for their operations and losses. Veterans’ Day, Stoltenberg felt, is an opportunity for the government to express its support for Norway’s soldiers.

For most Norwegians, May 8th remained a fairly ordinary school- or work day, also for other royals. While the canons were firing from Akershus at noon, meanwhile, Queen Sonja was promoting her new book on the royal residences around Norway that recently have been rehabilitated and remodeled. Crown Princess Mette Marit was in New York, to attend the launch of “Pure fashion” by Norwegian designer Nina Skarra.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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