Constitution set for modernization

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After much debate, the three biggest Norwegian political parties reached an agreement on Monday over how they would breath new life into the Constitution (Grunnloven) ahead of its 200th anniversary next weekend. The proposal would see a modernization of the Constitution’s language, which is currently written in an archaic version of the bokmål dialect, and another copy of the text in Norway’s other official language, nynorsk.

The Norwegian Constitution, called Grunnloven, was drawn up in 1814. This year's 17th of May National Day celebrations will mark its 200th anniversary. After much debate, politicians have finally agreed on the best way to modernize the archaic text of the bokmål version, and will also introduce a version in Norway's other official language, nynorsk. PHOTO: Stortinget

The Norwegian Constitution, called Grunnloven, was drawn up in 1814. This year’s 17th of May National Day celebrations will mark its 200th anniversary. After much debate, politicians have finally agreed on the best way to modernize the archaic text of the bokmål version, and will also introduce a version in Norway’s other official language, nynorsk. PHOTO: Stortinget

The parties had been in a stalemate over various proposals for updating the constitution, reported news bureau NTB. The Conservatives (Høyre), Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP) and the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) finally agreed on a proposal by language professor Finn-Erik Vinje for a moderate update of the bokmål text.

They also agreed on the new nynorsk edition, based on text proposed by a committee headed by law professor Hans Petter Graver. The parties rejected the Graver committee’s proposed bokmål text, which was more modern again that the Vinjes version. The agreement created the two-thirds majority needed ahead of the vote on Tuesday.

“The decision will be historic,” said Labour’s Martin Kolberg, who heads the parliamentary scrutiny and constitutional affairs committee (kontroll- og konstitusjonskomiteen). “Nynorsk gets a status which is has never previously had.”

Opinions were split
Last week the committee faced a situation where the three parties each supported a different model, but none had the support to get their proposal through parliament. The Conservatives wanted to keep the constitutional language exactly as it was. Politician Michael Tetzschners argued there was no point changing the wording, because some of the most old-fashioned expressions would be phased out when parliament enacts other debated changes.

Meanwhile, Labour, the Socialist Left (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) and Centre Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) were in favour of the more radical Graver update. The Centre Party’s Per Olaf Lundteigen is the chairman of the case. He said the Conservatives’ stance would make the constitution easier for most people to understand in nynorsk rather than in bokmål, because the latter keeps so many archaic words and expressions. “The Conservatives position means the nynorsk version gets an advantage over bokmål,” he said.

“There were many who believed this would be embarrassing for the Parliament, which had wanted the renewal, that nothing may have come of it,” said Helge Thorheim from the Progress Party. “That is motivation to try and form a majority.”

As the architect of the new bokmål version, Vinje is satisfied. “Anyone would think it is a great honour when one’s work leaves its mark on history,” he said. “It looked so bleak for a while, then now we have the flag flying.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate