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Norway and 1905

Stuart Burch considers the significance to Norway – both in terms of the past and the present – of the anniversary of 1905, when the country at last won its independence from Sweden.

Exactly one hundred years ago the people of Norway were going through a momentous period in their history. The dramatic events pivoted around June 7th, 1905. On that day the parliament in Kristiana (Oslo) instigated what might be termed a revolution when they voted to dissolve the union with Sweden that had been forced upon Norway by the Treaty of Kiel (1814). A plebiscite later that summer confirmed massive public support for independence and, following successful negotiations in the Swedish town of Karlstad, military conflict was averted. When a rueful Oscar II abdicated the throne on October 26th, Norway was able to fully savour complete independence for the first time in four centuries of almost unbroken foreign influence, firstly from Denmark and then Sweden.

For a few months in 1814, as the Napoleonic wars neared their end, Norway had experienced autonomy and on May 17th a constitution was ratified. Although a swift and decisive military campaign by Sweden put paid to hopes of sovereignty, this constitution was subsequently used as the basis for Swedish rule. Norway enjoyed a large measure of self-governance, but at the international level it felt constrained. Calls for a separate consular service were the catalyst for the withdrawal from the union in 1905. And it is the passing of one hundred years since Norway gained ‘a voice of its own’ in the international community that is one of the principal themes of this year’s centenary.

Under the title, ‘A Voice of Our Own’, a wealth of events have been commissioned that aim to analyse Norway and the Norwegians of both the past and the present – and to debate their future. The organizers avoided the word ‘celebration’, preferring to say that they are ‘marking’ the anniversary. In this they are mindful of the sensibilities of their Swedish neighbours, for whom the events of 1905 have slightly different connotations.

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