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The lacklustre successor to 1994

Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Norway Now, January 1995

1994 was a year saturated with large-scale public rituals and spectacles - from the Winter Olympics through to the EU referendum. But what - if anything - does 1995 have in store for us Norwegians?

It is going to be difficult, and probably impossible, for 1995 even to approach last year's record regarding dramatic public events engaging the majority of the Norwegian population. Even those who felt that the Winter Olympics became too selv-indulgent, too expensive or too cold, were inevitably pulled in by its sheer force of gravity; and even people who had never seen a soccer game in their life could not help learning the names and favourite colours of Norway's national players and substitutes, including the coach's dog. The rather sudden disappearance of Norway's team from the World Cup dampened collective emotions briefly, but as soon as Brazil had taken the trophy home, Norwegians were deeply engaged in the final stage of the EU debate, which lasted just until it was time to get ready for Christmas.

These major national events had something important in common. They all strengthened the integration of Norwegian society, even when, as in the case of the referendum, the population was divided. The Olympics, the World Cup and the EU issue gave virtually all Norwegians an occasion, rare in our day and age, to get immersed in issues of shared concern.

We are now well into 1995, which, it must be conceded, seems to hold much less promise. Let us take a look at the national agenda.

Prayers, hopes and silver linings notwithstanding, there will be no Winter Olympics this year. Moreover, as if commenting consciously on the lacklustre year of 1995, the national ski jumpers and ice skaters have so far given appallingly bad performances this season. As if this weren't enough, just after the New Year, the Norwegian soccer team was ranked nineteenth in Europe.

There won't be another referendum either. All we can wait for in terms of large political rituals this year are the local elections, where Norway's 400-odd municipalities and rural districts (kommuner) are going to elect a few thousand sturdy and committed local politicians discussing bicycle lanes and kindergartens. Ho hum.

Fortunately, there is a little bit more on the agenda. Notably, two large public rituals are scheduled, and they promise to engage at least a significant proportion of the chattering classes in Norway. For the coming spring, we may look forward to the fiftieth Second World War anniversary. There will be colourful processions, brass music, ice cream for the kids and solemn speeches in parks, town halls and squares where the great achievement of our resistance heroes will be spoken of at great length, and where the Norwegian love of country and liberty will be reiterated in the highly ritualised, and therefore repetitive, language of our politicians. This year's festivities will mark the last major war anniversary where people who actually remember the war will participate.

Fortunately, there is bound to be at least some controversy. After our ambivalent clinch with the European Union, nobody can mention the Norwegian nation without creating instant debate and bitter disagreement. At the very least, we may look forward to some juicy professorial quarrels about the nature of Norwegian resistance and the EU, about the very large number of Norwegians who were members of the Nazi party in 1945, or about the concept of sovereignty in a globalised era. This may not be a great deal, perhaps, but at least it is more than nothing.

For those who prefer good old religion to modern nationalism, 1995 can actually offer an authentic millennial demarcation. It was (have you forgotten?) exactly a thousand years ago that the first, unbelievably modest Christian congregation was founded hereabouts. There will presumably be church concerts, historical plays, and a few halfhearted newspaper debates on the continued importance of Christianity for the secularised Norwegians. I can, I am sorry to say, already hear my friends, Generation X'ers to a man, mumble above their trendy goatees: "Christianity? Does anybody still care?"

Well. Time will, inevitably, tell. In the meanwhile, let us for once consider the advantages of not having to cope with some monstrous public event noisily celebrating the virtues of Norway and its people. Some of us might even have time to read a book. Possibly even one written by a non-Norwegian, sorry, a foreigner, as the remaining 99.9 per cent of the world's population are commonly spoken of up here.

©Thomas Hylland Eriksen 1995