After two years of Corona cancellations, millions of Norwegians were ready to celebrate their cherished Constitution Day on the 17th of May again. Record numbers of Norwegian children have been practicing to march in the annual parades that hail freedom and democracy, but the Ukrainian ambassador’s request to join them in Oslo was politely turned down.
Ukraine’s ambassador, Viacheslav Yatsiuk, ranks high on the diplomatic tenure list in Norway, since he arrived in Oslo in September 2016. He’s seen lots of 17th of May parades, known for featuring children and marching bands instead of the military might showcased in many other countries’ national day parades.
Yatsiuk’s boss, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, even made note of Norway’s 17th of May parades when he addressed the Norwegian Parliament after Ukraine was invaded by Russia on February 24. Zelensky said he hoped Ukraine would be able to arrange similar parades, and he noted that “this year you will also have Ukrainian children in these parades, children who had to flee (the war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin) and who have sought refuge in Norway.”
Newspaper Aftenposten reported late last month that Yatsiuk had asked to take part in the huge parade through downtown Oslo, which ranks as the largest in the country. This year’s parade is record long, with children from around 130 Oslo schools participating in between marching bands and folk dancers, as they head for the Royal Palace where the royal family will once again gather on its balcony.
Yatsiuk wanted to assemble a group of Ukrainian children and march together with them. After consulting Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen, however, the 17th of May Committee in Oslo declined the request. Committee leader Anna Dåsnes said she could understand Yatsiuk’s wishes, but the committee decided that the best way to include Ukrainian children is for them to march with their own schools and classmates.
“The parades are for children, they’re not a political arrangement,” Dåsnes told newspaper Aftenposten. “We don’t want them to be a venue for adults’ needs to mark their views.” She also noted that the parade guidelines stress that schools march in the parades.
The committee has thus invited all Ukrainian refugee children who already are attending Norwegian schools to march with their classmates. “That’s a fine way to show their solidarity,” Dåsnes said. Refugee children who have not yet been registered in Norwegian schools were invited to march with classmates in the classes they’re in at asylum centers.
Dåsnes admitted that it was difficult to turn down the ambassador’s request: “We all want to show support for Ukraine, but we must respect that these parades are for the children, not for adults (apart from their teachers who march with them).”
Others agreed, with the rest of Oslo’s city council including the main opposition Conservative Party, contending that it’s important to hang on to 17th of May traditions. Dåsnes stressed that all Ukrainian children are welcome, and she said on NRK’s national radio Monday morning that they’ll be allowed to wave Ukrainian flags along with Norwegian flags. That’s in line with how many public buildings and thousands of private ones all over Norway have mounted the Ukrainian flag since the Putin’s war began. Several other cities around Norway, including Rana in Nordland, are also encouraging foreign-born residents to carry the flags of their homelands or wear their national costumes “to reflect the colourful community we have become.”
NRK, meanwhile, was preparing what news bureau NTB called “marathon coverage” of 17th of May events that start early in the morning. Wreaths are traditionally laid at monuments and statues of national heroes and heroines around the country, speeches are held and folk dancers perform even before parades start, in Oslo at 10am. Those leading the parade in Oslo represent schools celebrating special anniversaries, Høybråten and Slemdal this year.
Special church services are held (this year at 9am at the Akershus Fortress and at 1pm in the Cathedral in Oslo) and there are lots of band concerts on the streets along with other local events around the country. In Haugesund, there are traditional boat races, while a Corona-inspired boat parade in Bergen was so popular that it will held again. In Vik in Vestland, meanwhile, holiday organizers are dropping a traditional military salute with gunpowder out of consideration to newly arrived Ukrainian refugees traumatized by the war they fled.
Various concerts are held throughout the afternoon, along with countless private parties that often begin with early morning Champagne breakfasts. Weather forecasts were poor in the northern part of the country, where more winter weather is causing traffic problems, but good in the south, with blue skies and temperatures near 20C (70F).