Porsgrunn first to cancel 17th of May

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Norway’s southern city of Porsgrunn became the first on Thursday to cancel its annual and festive Constitution Day celebrations on the 17th of May. More may follow, as the Corona virus crisis that’s shut down most of the country also threatens to spoil Norwegians’ most cherished day of the year.

PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

17th of May celebrations are always festive events featuring children and celebrating Norwegians’ pride in their country. They were banned during World War II, and are now threatened by the Corona virus. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Morten Møst

“We felt like we didn’t have any other choice than to cancel now,” Haavard, Gjestland, leader of Porsgrunn’s 17th of May Committee, told Norwegian Broadasting (NRK).

The cancellation affects the main parade and events in the downtown areas. It wasn’t yet clear whether local neighbourhoods would also feel forced to cancel their celebrations.

A statement sent out by the committee noted that it was the  “uncertainty regarding the time ahead” that prompted its reluctant decision to cancel local celebrations of Norway’s constitution and democracy. The 17th of May has also become a huge celebration of the country’s freedom after World War II and, earlier, when Norway broke out of its unhappy union with Sweden in 1905.

The committee urged all Porsgrunn residents to “mark the day locally” in their own homes, “on terraces, and in your own gardens.” All celebrations must abide, the committee noted, by the still current national restrictions that limit any gatherings to just five people.

“We have full understanding for the decision taken by the 17th of May Committee,” Porsgrunn Mayor Robin Kåss told NRK, adding that local officials were awaiting advice from national authorities on how the important day can be celebrated.

‘Guidelines needed’
Concerns about 17th of May celebrations have been swirling for weeks, but many have been hoping that the government and health authorities will ease the strict Corona containment measures that have mostly shut down Norway. They currently remain in effect until April 13, with the government expected to announce next week what will happen after then.

17th of May committees all over the country, however, need to firm up plans for the day now. “We need some guidelines from central authorities over how to deal with this in the best possible manner,” Mira Svartnes Thorsen, leader of the 17th of May Committee in Kristiansand, told NRK in March.

The City of Oslo, site of the largest parade with the Royal Family waving from the balcony, has also expressed concerns about whether the celebration can be carried out. Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen has already said that officials celebrations will likely be “different,” but she hoped there would be some.

Government needs more time
Pia Farstad von Hall, leader of this year’s 17th of May Committee in Oslo, told NRK on Wednesday that she was still hoping for “a fun and worthy 17th of May,” but hinted that the traditional parade of marching bands and children from Oslo’s more than 100 currently closed schools was unlikely.

Justice Minister Monica Mæland said at her daily press conference on the Corona crisis situation Wednesday afternoon that the government knows a decision must be made soon, “but first we need to know a bit more.” She stressed how 17th of May celebrations are important for the entire country but also noted they would likely “be different.” Officials in Bergen, for example, have proposed some sort of celebrations online.

“We won’t be influenced by what other cities decide to do, but will of course follow regulations from both the city and central authorities,” Erik Næsgaard, leader of Bergen’s 17th of May Committee, told NRK.

Norway’s strict measures to control the spread of the Corona virus have already forced cancellation of all cultural and sporting events, conferences, festivals and, on Thursday, the annual Gay Pride events in late June. All schools, day care centers, colleges and universities, most businesses, restaurants, bars, hotels and museums remain closed.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund