King Harald of Norway used his annual New Year’s Eve speech to draw parallels between the love that gives us personal direction and value as human beings, and the Norwegian constitution which steers the country and enshrines rights and freedoms. 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of Grunnloven, Norway’s constitution.
“I think no one can live a full life without love,” he said in his annual national address, broadcast on Norwegian state television NRK. “Everyone has a story to tell about love as something essential. Whether it’s for a partner, a family member, a friend or a pet.”
“In the same way love is fundamental in human life, the constitution is fundamental for the nation of Norway,” he continued. “The constitution ensures today the Norwegian people’s rights we easily take for granted every day. Rights which people in many other countries can only dream of – and which they fight for with their lives at stake.”
A compass and a shield
King Harald named the constitution as a common foundation for all Norwegian citizens, and a means of their protection. It enshrines freedom of assembly, religious freedom and freedom of speech, allowing people to freely express their thoughts on the authorities and royal family without fear of recrimination.
He welcomed the development of new technology and social media, opening up space for debate. King Harald raised both the positives and negatives new media brings, warning against cyber bullying, but highlighting a southern Norwegian community whose elderly residents’ “Ask Grandad” website lends an ear to troubled youths.
Rights and responsibilities
King Harald said while the constitution protects benefits, it also pushes Norwegians to contribute to society. “To deliberately withdraw your own efforts – and receive help that is meant for those who really need it – is contrary to our basic values,” he argued. “Likewise, it is unacceptable that some restrict the freedom of others by spreading fear, while at the same time benefiting from the rule of law’s protection.”
The speech also paid tribute to the late former South African president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, whom the king praised as his idol in last year’s New Year’s Eve address. He pointed to the lessons learned in South Africa, where good values and governance carried the country out of turmoil. King Harald linked the case to the Norwegian experience, and the poverty and foreign occupation the country once endured.
“We know what a good constitution which affects the whole community can mean for a country’s development,” he explained. “Let us use this experience in a compassionate way – in practice, with wisdom.
King Harald concluded by exhorting Norwegians to appreciate their lives as free people in a free country, and not take it for granted. “Love is a place to fix my eyes,” he quoted, from the Norwegian singer Anne Grete Preus. “And the constitution is a place on which to stand. I wish you all a happy new year!”