LONGYEARBYEN: Flags were raised and events officially kicked off at 8am all over the country on Wednesday as Norwegians launched into their Constitution Day celebrations on the 17th of May. The holiday is known for its unabashed displays of patriotism, highlighted by children, flags, tradition and memorials to fallen heroes.
Here in Norway’s most northern community on Svalbard, flags went up early all over town like they did on the mainland south to Sarpsborg. The local 17th of May Committee was planning a full day of events including the traditional parade, albeit much smaller than those in other Norwegian cities. With only one school in Longyearbyen and a population of just over 2,000, there’s not enough children to march for hours like they do in Oslo, so just about everyone joins in.
Celebrations in Oslo were being held under tighter security than normal, because of an elevated terror threat following last month’s attack in Stockholm and a bomb scare in Oslo. News broke Wednesday morning that Arfan Bhatti, a radical Norwegian Islamist, had been arrested Tuesday night by police who also raided his home in Oslo, but they initially wouldn’t reveal the charges against him.
Terror concerns were high enough that Justice Minister Per-Willy Amundsen, an Oslo police chief and a top city official visited one of Oslo’s largest schools earlier this week, to reassure both pupils and their parents that it would be safe to march in Wednesday’s parade. A few parents have told local media they intend to keep their children away from large crowds like those that always assemble on the 17th of May, but the vast majority were expected to be out marching and celebrating like usual.
Poor weather forecasts were more likely to discourage folks from spending long periods outdoors, with chilly temperatures, overcast skies and rain predicted over most of southern Norway. More sunshine was forecast in Northern Norway, and Svalbard had actually emerged on NRK’s national weather map Tuesday evening as the only place due to have bright sunshine and clear skies all day. The sun here is also up around the clock at this time of year.
On Wednesday morning, however, the brilliant forecast for Svalbard proved to be exaggerated, as the locals woke up to light but overcast skies and snow flurries. The sun was trying to break through, though, and newsinenglish.no was out covering the unique celebrations on this remote Arctic archipelago that’s an important part of Norway. So stay tuned, and in the meantime, gratulerer med dagen! (Happy 17th of May!)