All three of the New Year speeches delivered by the monarch, the prime minister and the president of the Sami Parliament (Sametinget) during the weekend stressed a need for solidarity and empathy during the ongoing Corona crisis. They also attempted to raise hopes that 2022 has just got to be better than the last two years.
“Hope is a light that steers the direction of our lives,” declared Silje Karine Muotka in her first nationally televised address on New Year’s Day. She was elected president of the Sami Parliament in Karasjok last fall, and used her speech to stress how Sami traditions can help Norway’s indigenous people cope with the challenges they face. The New Year, she noted, traditionally marks “a transition to brighter times” for the Sami, many of whom live in Northern Norway where the sun won’t return for several more weeks.
She thanked all Sami who have “chosen to join in developing our community, our language and our values.” She urged more Sami to take care of the Sami language and culture, and to “move back to the Sami community.”
Royal words of support
Muotka won support from King Harald, who had already delivered his address to the nation on New Year’s Eve. He urged all Norwegians to spend more time listening to others, especially during the pandemic, and to listen with respect. He also noted that everyone’s cultural heritage can provide inner strength, because it’s rooted in “old wisdom that’s good to have when troubles pour down on us.”
King Harald said he’s always reminded of that in conversation with indigenous people, “whether it’s in Norway, Canada, Australia or the Amazon.” The 84-year-old monarch, who traveled into the Amazon and stayed with indigenous people there eight years ago, noted how they’ve “depended on living with nature and all other life in order to survive themselves. That’s valuable knowledge that means a lot to all of us.”
“Society in general and the indigenous people will both benefit from listening to one another and cooperating in reaching a common goal,” King Harald said, “to manage natural resources in a way that generations after us can also live a good life.”
His message as a monarch who’s not supposed to involve himself in politics carried a subtle message to those listening to him. Norwegian government officials haven’t always listened often enough themselves to those advocating better protection of the climate, the environment and culture. That became clear when Norway’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the state had violated the rights of the Sami people when permission was granted to build highly controversial wind energy turbines on mountain plateaus in Fosen that traditionally have been used for Sami reindeer grazing.
Hopes Støre was listening
Sami President Muotka, meanwhile, touched on the grazing issue directly when she mentioned how the reindeer owners in Fosen had fought against “enormous power in the form of political forces at all levels, wealthy investors and the state itself,” all of whom had supported wind energy development on the Samis’ Fovsen Njaarke grazing land. After the Supreme Court ruled that construction of the wind turbines has violated Sami human rights, Muotka said Norwegian authorities “must now accept and correct the serious injustice that was carried out. Sami at Fosen can’t suffer any longer. This case is about fundamental justice for us all.”
The new Labour-Center government has so far been reluctant to comment on how it will respond, and Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre steered clear of the issue in his own New Year’s speech that followed Muotka’s on New Year’s night. Støre was also delivering his first New Year’s address as prime minister, and dwelled on a need to strengthen Norwegian solidarity, which he thinks has weakened as the pandemic has dragged on.
He claimed the pandemic has made society “more unfair,” enabling some Norwegians “to save money, work from their hytter (holiday homes) and spend more time with their families. Others have lost jobs and income and now face a new, tough winter.” Such social differences hurt solidarity, Støre claimed, vowing to usher in a “more fair tax system, a stronger welfare state and more secure working conditions.”
Like the king, though, Støre stressed the importance of listening to one another. “It’s also about empathy, our ability to understand how others live, and about perspective,” Støre said. He also implored all Norwegians once again to become fully vaccinated, believing that’s the best means of finally getting infection under control and learning to live with the Corona virus. He thinks Norwegians have tackled the pandemic well by “standing together and following advice,” but he’s well-aware everyone is tired of all the rules now and growing impatient.
His comments about listening and empathy, along with those of the monarch, can be good news for Muotka and the Sami people, who still experience discrimination and harassment and were forced for decades to “become Norwegian” at the expense of their own language and culture. King Harald has officially apologized for that, and a state commission is soon due to issue a report and propose amends.
“Let the New Year give us new opportunities and a new hope,” Muotka said, calling on the New Year “transition” to “give us faith in better days and a new beginning.”