Remembering the Brave – Photographic Collection of Oslo’s Memorials

Today I am not going to speak much. I am no warfare specialist as you all know, that is an honour reserved to Alex and Michael in here. However, my work involves a lot of work in the field of memory studies. And if I came out of Oslo with a particularly strong image of something in my head, it was that of all the memorials, plaques and monuments erected to honour those who serve their country, and those who fell. I think it shocked me because I did not expect to see so many – after all Norway was a neutral faction during the Second World War, right? But it is clear that the Norwegians feel differently about their history. I learnt a lot about how war has affected Norway through history while visiting the Forsvarsmuseet (Norwegian Armed Forces Museum) and the Resistance Museum at Akershus fortress and it made me reflect on other examples. Living so close to London, anywhere you go in the city you can find great war memorials. And even in our cosy, tiny Winchester their presence is not something you can hide. However, Oslo left me with the feeling that the losses suffered in Norway were noticeable, but there was no grandeur about them. The memorials were rather solemn and simple, but dignified. In many ways, I think they represent more the ideals that were protected rather than highlight the victims of the fight; it is not about the lingering feeling of sadness and grief perpetrated by the war, but it is about respect. Or at least that is how I perceived it. Perhaps this has to do with the role of Norway in the war – neither a winner, nor a loser, but a casualty nonetheless. Perhaps it is related to their own ideas of nationalism, which were felt in a much different way than elsewhere in Europe, particularly if you compare them with the UK. Or maybe, this is Norway’s way of acknowledging but not vigorously remembering a painful part of their history – after all the act of collective memory is just as much about the intentional remembrance as it is about the forgetting.

Any further information on the subject that you would like to share would be more than welcome – but until then, I hope you can share a moment of silence while educating ourselves in the pain of others, while remembering that there is always more to war than losing and winning factions, and that when the world rages, no nation suffers on their own.

*Please keep in mind these are not all Second World War Memorials – although the majority are*

This is outside St.Olav's church (Oslo).
This is outside St.Olav’s church (Oslo).
Memorial outside of Oslo's central station.
Memorial outside of Oslo’s central station.
This one is at Bygdoy by the maritime museums.
This one is at Bygdoy by the maritime museums.

The following were all outside the Forsvarsmuseet.

IMAG1560_BURST002 IMAG1561_BURST002 IMAG1562_BURST002_1 IMAG1556_BURST002_1 IMAG1558_BURST002_1 IMAG1559_BURST002_1 IMAG1557_BURST002_1

Memorial plaques inside the Forsvarsmuseet.
Memorial plaques inside the Forsvarsmuseet.
Outside the Resistance Museum.
Outside the Resistance Museum.
Memorial plaque outside the Resistance Museum.
Memorial plaque outside the Resistance Museum.
Final display inside the Resistance Museum - "Never again".
Final display inside the Resistance Museum – “Never again”.

Collett, Wenche and Holberg: Figures of Norwegian Socialism

Please allow me to say that Oslo is a very artistic city and it is full of statues. Now I think I would have to spend a life time to take a picture of every single one. However, the city has commemorated in fine bronze casting some of the most influential cultural figures of Norwegian history, and I felt it my duty to dedicate this blog to three figures who I feel deserve recognition, and whose statues compelled me to photograph them. So today goes to these Norwegians who throve and worked towards making their society a better place.

Statue of Camilla Collett at the Royl Palace grounds in Oslo.
Statue of Camilla Collett at the Royal Palace grounds in Oslo.

The history of Norway comes across as one deeply influenced by artists and writers, at least in modern times. This woman, however was not only a famous and influential writer; she is often considered as the first Norwegian feminist. Camilla came from  family with a huge artistic background: one of her brothers Henrik Wergeland was a famous author, and her father Nicolai Wergeland was a theologian but also a composer. After marrying to Peter Jonas Collett, who was not only a politician but also a literary critic, she found the support she required to start publishing her work. Her pieces were echoes of political and social criticism and realism, where she addressed the difficulties of being a woman in modern society. She was a polemic author, who wrote in a fairly casual tone, which many of her readers appreciated and empathise with. However, Camilla’s story ends on a sad note. After her husband died suddenly, her sons were sent away to be taken care of by their relatives, she was forced to sell their house and suffered severe financial difficulty until her death in 1895. Despite all the stigma and hardship that she undertook, her work has not been forgotten, and it certainly helped waking up the minds of many in the era Nationalism and Romanticism. Camilla was a pioneer, and like many she was and still somehow is undermined – hence why I could not stop myself from bringing her to the spot light.

Statue of Wenche Foss by the National Theatre.
Statue of Wenche Foss by the National Theatre.

Another special woman in the history of the Norwegian arts – the beloved actress Eva Wenche Steenfeldt Stang (5 December 1917 – 28 March 2011). This woman rocked the stage, television, and any place where she could act. The piece that brought such a star to the centre of the Norwegian arts was her performance in To Tråder by Carl Erik Soya. Since then she became a regular of the National Theatre, with almost constant appearances from 1952 onwards. Foss was also gifted with a great voice, which expanded her shores performing in operettas, as well as doing soe voice acting in her later life – Foss was the voice for the animated character Enkefru Stengelføhn-Glad. But the reason why the Norwegians always have a soft spot for this woman is due to her activism and social support. Foss was mother to a child with Down Syndrome who unfortunately died, and in 1971 she suffered from breast cancer and endured it. She did not let these traumatic experiences to bring her down: she became an active supporter of raising awareness for the disabled members of society, to the point of founding the holiday resort Solgården (Alicante, Spain). After her experience with cancer she spoke publicly about this once again to raise awareness and to give hope to those who may share her fate. Moreover, Foss was supportive of gay rights and gay marriage and often confronted the Christian Democratic Party for their position against homosexuals. This remarkable woman earned in his life the title of Star of the Order of St. Olav (1988) as one of the few civilians who received this knightly title from the king, as well as a number of other awards for her artistic and personal contributions. Her death brought so much grief to the Norwegian population that she was granted an honoured funeral at the expense of this state – making her the firth woman in Norwegian history to receive such privilege. Her funeral was broadcasted on national television and attended by the king, queen and prime minister of the country.

I want to end this post on a completely different note though, because I have a lot of respect for this man, and as a historian, I could not miss him.

Ludvig Holberg - by the National Theatre.
Ludvig Holberg – by the National Theatre.

Holberg, the man who bridges my Norwegian and Danish adventure together. Baron Holberg, born in Bergen in 1684 shined in so many areas I could write endless posts about him, so I will try to keep it brief, but interesting. Holberg started as a theologian and then diverged into the fields of law, linguistic and history out of his own curiosity. What original made him famous, however and the importance of his statue at Oslo, was his contribution to Norwegian and Danish literature with his emblematic series of comedies. Ditching his theological background, he made it to the university of Copenhagen to develop his study in law. Holberg was a great student and soon his knowledge elevated him to the position of assistant professor for the law school, and shortly after  moving to metaphysics, rhetoric and Latin, and finally history – which he seemed to have valued most amongst his acquired disciplines. Nonetheless it was his satiric pieces that brought him to fame, and which he wrote in the period between 1719 to 1731. However, the great fire of Copenhagen of 1728 changed the mood of his audience – a public ridden by misery and despair was not all that keen on is comedies, so he moved onto writing philosophy and history again. Holberg was deeply influences by Humanism and Enlightenment, and devoted his work to urge people to build a better society, awaken their minds and educate themselves accordingly. Despite his wealth and fame he was a man who lived in a moderate manner and did not indulge in the eccentricity of Baroque society. He was a practical man and thought his money would be better of invested. This is best reflected in his physical legacy, for he did not marry or had children: Sorø Academy. Holberg bought this estate to create this institution for the education of the children of the nobility. it was this donation that earned him the title of baron, and the reason for which the king excluded him from paying taxes as his donation was far larger than he could ever pay in taxes.

And thus my brief biographical triptych of Oslo’s statues ends. I hope you join us on the next update 🙂 .

Oslo’s Artistic Highlights: featuring Vigeland and Munch

Welcome to a post inspired by our recent trip to Oslo! Just like a few months back after my expedition to Denmark, we will be featuring a series of blog posts created from the material collected from the trip – And I say we as Alex was my partner in crime this time. I have decided to open with this post as it was one of the features of this Norwegian capital that striked me most. Oslo is full, ridden almost with art galleries and collections of all sorts! In the short span of time we had, there was only so much we could see  (and as you all know Alex and art are not an expected combo). However, I could not leave without seeing works on these 2 iconic artists. From one side of the city to the other – quite literally – I bring you this post, including photos of my own, a couple of videos (excuse my terrible pulse!) as well as reviews when appropriate. I hope you enjoy it!

Vigeland Park

Vigeland Park - at the Monolith
Vigeland Park – at the Monolith

Originally known as Frogner park, this site now is the living work of Gustav Vigeland, dare I say one of the most influential (if not the most) Norwegian sculptors of the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries. Vigeland’s amazing creativity birthed hundreds of creations, including the design for the Nobel Peace Prize. We ought the existence of the park in it current due to the demolishing of Vigeland’s house by the city of Olso in 1921 – after the confrontation between the artist and the city council they provided him with a new building where to work and live. In exchanged he promised that he will donate all his works from there on to the city. Shortly afterwards, Vigeland decided to relocate to the borough of Frogner, where he envisioned the perfect spot for his fountain. He had been thinking for a while on the exhibition of his work in public and out in the open, and so his wishes were granted.

Vigeland's fountain at the centre of the park
Vigeland’s fountain at the centre of the park


However his installation at Frogner was perhaps his most controversial piece of work. Many of his contemporaries compared his work to that of the Nazis monumental art and aesthetic Arian values. It probably did not help that he did proclaim himself quite happy of the Nazi puppet government in Oslo during the Third Reich.

Walk over the bridge from the fountain to the monumental doors
Walk over the bridge from the fountain to the monumental doors
Statue by the doors of Frogner park of Gustav Vigeland
Statue by the doors of Frogner park of Gustav Vigeland

His old studio and apartment became the Vigeland museum – right next to the park – at the time of his death. That was, after all, the agreement he had reached with the City of Oslo. If you are in Oslo, at any point, the park is really worth a visit – this is just a sample of my pictures there, it is truly otherworldly and such a feat – if I did not know better, I’d say it’s the work of giants.

Nasjonalgalleriet – ascending to Vigeland and Munch

This stop is compulsory – you must visit the National Gallery at Oslo. The National Gallery is part of the huge complex known as the Nasjonalmuseet, which encompasses several buildings, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, all part of the concept behind the National Museum. The permanent exhibition at the National Gallery is called the Dance of Life (after Munch’s work), and also it is not massive, it includes pieces that you’d struggle to find elsewhere. In addition, I would like to say that the conceptualization of the pieces was very well achieved, just like I felt at the National Gallery in Copenhagen. The exhibition is divided in 4 sections: art from the antiquity to the baroque, Romanticism, from impressionism to Munch, culminating with modernism until the 1950s. I will give you a brief look of the pieces I found that I appreciated most – after all, art is personal.

The amazing icons from the Novgorod School! Was not expecting them here. they were absolutly beautiful. This one is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
The amazing icons from the Novgorod School! Was not expecting them here. they were absolutely beautiful. This one is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

Compulsory multiple shots at the “Masters Room” – this are all the pieces donated to the gallery by Christian Langaard, who was an important art collector without whose contribution, the gallery would have not been able to obtain some of these pieces. He died in 1922, and the room was constitutes in 1924.

Tapestry from the master tapestry makers of this time period – the Gobelins (France).


I would recognise this anywhere even possibly with my eyes closed – if it’s something I appreciate of my Spanish heritage is the great art produced in Iberia, and this is from El Greco (or someone in his school). Produced 1541-164. Jesus Christ Stripped of his Garments. The art style is something unique, and difficult to reproduce – the man had an issue with his eye sight so his paintings are certainly quirky.

Moving on to the Romanticism, here is a selection of my photographs.
You may recognised this guy from my trip to Denmark - Peder Balke. 6 months later, I am still in love with these landscapes.
You may recognise this guy from my trip to Denmark – Peder Balke. 6 months later, I am still in love with these landscapes.
IMAG1721_BURST002 Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857): the hero of Norwegian painting. He was the first Norwegian painter to reach international fame for his work. The smaller piece really got me – the cracks in the paint kind of add to the somber, gothic landscape, like if it was intentional. Age has only helped this painting even more. Dresden by Moonlight (1838).

Now, on to Impressionism and Modernism.

I brought a print of the painting on the right home - it is by Harald Sohlberg: Winter night in the mountains (1914).
I brought a print of the painting on the right home – it is by Harald Sohlberg: Winter night in the mountains (1914).
This requires no words of course – it is what I came for.

This is a short video at Munch’s room – I know the comment is rather superfluous but it was so quiet, I felt bad just talking normally.

Leaving the museum, I could not skip the Picasso’s and abstract paintings…

Picasso - Guitar and glass 1911.
Picasso – Guitar and glass 1911.


Figurative painting would still be strong in Norwegian art even during the period of abstraction - cubism and symbolism would, nonetheless, creep into the hearts of many artists.
Figurative painting would still be strong in Norwegian art even during the period of abstraction – cubism and symbolism would, nonetheless, creep into the hearts of many artists.

 Munch Museum

It saddens me to say that this was the most disappointing visit of the entire trip. And I will explain you why. As you have seen above, the National Gallery is in ownership of Munch’s most famous pieces – he did after all leave all his work to the city of Oslo as part of his testament, so it is the city’s right to dis play the pieces as they may. But Munch was a very prolific artists. He did not only paint, but also practiced wood carvings, print making, and indulged in sketching. He also experimented with photography. So I was aware, there would be a repository for all the rest, at Munch museum. However it appears that the way the gallery there works is the following: they use Munch’s pieces as permanent exhibit, and display them usually in correlation to another artist, highlighting thematic, concepts and evolution – which is wonderful. However, it seems I was unlucky, for the composition during my visit was Mapplethorpe + Munch. Unfortunately for Mr Mapplethorpe, I am not a huge fan, and although I appreciate his work, I failed to agree with the comparisons produced by the gallery. They tried to compare a 1980s photographer with a serious agenda on sexuality, and more precisely homosexuality, with a man who talked about life, and the world around us, and people – and of course touched on the subject of nudity, bodies and sexuality, but nowhere near in the same degree or with the same intention! To my disappointment there was a lot of Mapplethorpe’s work, and little Munch in contrast – Mapplethorpe as a photographer has a huge portfolio, regardless of how many Munch pieces exist. But it was not all bad. I got to see some very interesting pieces – see the photos and video below.

Dance of Death - Munch's lithograph, 1916.
Dance of Death – Munch’s lithograph, 1916.


Munch - Mystical Shore print (1897).
Munch – Mystical Shore print (1897).

*I am afraid the video is interrupted as my phone run out of battery! However I thought you ought to see what I could film*

One last thing to show you before I sign off, is the last pieces of Munch’s art which I was hoping to see here. Munch made a series of monumental friezes for the University of Oslo. I thought they would be exposed out in the open – what was my surprised that I had to get in and out of the exhibition twice to realise they were locked behind doors in a conference room! But, in any case, I managed to take a couple of pictures – despite there is a bit of reflection, they are so worth it.

Alma Mater
Alma Mater


The Sun - like nothing I've ever seen before.
The Sun – like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

I tried hard to take a good shot of History, but from that angle is was very difficult. I suspect the reason why they are locked has to do with preservation issues, which is a shame because those beauties deserve an entire audience just for themselves.

And with this we come to an end of this first piece on Oslo’s interesting history and heritage. Drop by for some more shortly!

World War One’s impact on Scandinavia

In 1918, the first world war ended in Europe, and it had claimed millions of casualties, the war also changed the face of the European map from being dominated by three big empires in the East, to a Europe with new states such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Finland and The Kingdom of Yugoslavia (which before the War had been consisting of Serbia alone, but now included Montenegro, Slovenia and Croatia as well as Bosnia.)Although these developments and consequences of the First World War are fairly well-known, this paper will look at the impact of the first world war in Northern Europe, and by this we’re not talking about the impact it had on Germany or Poland, but on the three kingdoms Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and what became the republics Iceland and Finland.

Between 1800 and 1914 the map of Northern Europe and Scandinavia changed drastically, with the states of Norway appearing, and Finland shifting from being a part of Sweden to becoming an integrated part of the Russian Empire. In 1914, the independent kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden were all facing the question how to deal with the military conflict developing elsewhere in Europe. Scandinavia had over the course of the late nineteenth century grown more and more used to a certain element of imported goods to feed its populations. The Norwegian, Danish and Finnish Merchant navies were all heavily involved with the shopping of goods throughout the world. This meant that when the First World War broke out, the three Scandinavian kingdoms were faced with a problem of how to stay out of the war, and still maintain their economic interests. The three kingdoms Denmark, Sweden and Norway joined in a neutrality union, and attempted to maintain their neutrality throughout the conflict. This neutrality was not without complications, Norway and Denmark were heavily dependent on Britain and USA for most of its shipping orders, and to supply them with grain as well as being their main markets for some products. However, Denmark also faced another challenge, with a shared border with Germany, and a considerable Danish minority in the then German South Jutland, Denmark knew that it could not afford a repetition of the 1864 war against Prussia and Austria. Sweden, like Norway exported enormous amount of iron, steel and copper to Germany, which meant that these countries could not afford to cut its financial links with the German Empire. Sweden and Norway also shared borders with Russia, and had good economic links with the Romanov Empire. Norway could for example not afford to oppose Russia, as the Russian Pomor trade from Archangelsk kept the North Norwegian fishing villages alive through bringing grain to the Northern Norwegian counties who were unable to sustain themselves with corn, and the Russian traders bought some of the fish products which were produces along the coast of Troms and Finnmark County. With these important connections, Norway, Sweden and Denmark could not afford to go into the conflict on either side of the war, especially as the outcome of a war could have dramatic impact on the territories of these kingdoms, just like the Napoleonic wars had 100 years earlier. The Scandinavian kingdoms stayed neutral throughout the war, although external pressure caused Norway to lean more and more towards the British and American cause. This sympathy led to the mining of the Norwegian waters and a blockage of trade with Germany. Sweden on the other hand turned favourable to Germany b 1918, but this did not jeopardise the Swedish neutrality.

Even though the neutrality were maintained for all there kingdoms throughout the war, all the kingdoms experienced lack of resources, and increasing cost of living for the population and social unrest based on these things. The main impact of the First World War on Scandinavia did however come on the eastern and southern borders of it. Finland which since the Napoleonic war had been a part of the Russian Empire, were in 1914 drawn into the First World War against Germany. The Finnish navy and Merchant navy were damaged and its troops took part in the conflict on behalf of the Russian Empire. But as the war turned into revolution in Russia, the Finnish parliament first established a degree of extended autonomy in the spring of 1917, followed by full Independence in the fall of 1917. The Soviet takeover of Russian government initially was favourable towards an independent Finland, and the Finnish parliament declared it independent and elected a German Prince as its King. The outcome of the First World War in Europe, and the abdication of the German Emperor caused the German prince that was appointed king of Finland to withdraw, and the Finnish parliament declared the state a republic. Yet, the growth of Communism in Russia also impacted the working classes in Finland, and soon after the War a civil war broke out between the Whites (landowning farmers, educated middle class and the elite) and the Reds (the workers and landless farmers) this conflict resulted in open war and thousands of dead on both sided, and is still a taboo in Finnish society. The Finland soon became an internationally recognised state, and became a 1920 a member of the League of Nations.

When the war was over, a clause was added to the Treaty of Versailles, that Southern Jutland should be divided into two sections, which both should be allowed to vote over their future, to stay as a part of Germany, or to return to Denmark as they had been prior to 1864. The northern section of south Jutland, which had a Danish speaking majority, said yes to return to Denmark. Whereas in the southern section, although it contained the Danish speaking city of Flensburg, the majority vote were in favour of a continuous relationship with Germany. This created the current borders between Denmark and Germany. And still to this day, there is a German minority on the Danish side of the Denmark-Germany border, and a Danish minority on the German side of the same border.

The submarine attacks by German submarines on British and American ships lead to a massive destruction of the Norwegian Merchant Navy, and the loss of over 2000 civilian seamen, the loss of these ships gave the shipping companies the financial capacity to renew their fleet of ships, which would be instrumental in the battle against Nazism under the Second World War as it would help to deliver supplies to both the UK and the Soviet Union.

For Iceland, the years of War had given a slow economic growth as they could sell the fishing products to reasonable prices. Iceland regained its ‘independence’ in 1918. Iceland was with this a fully sovereign state which only shared its king with Denmark. Thus Scandinavia in 1918 had consisted of 5 different kingdoms, although the Finnish and Icelandic kingdoms did not survive long. Iceland became a republic as a consequence of the Second World War, and Finland following the German defeat in the First World War. Thus after the First World War, Scandinavia had, like much of Europe, seen its borders shift and new states appear. But most significantly did the Soviet Communism in Russia inspire the Socialist movements in Scandinavia which started years of social unrest leading up to the Second World War.


Norwegian Encyclopedia online, The History of Denmark,

Norwegian Encyclopedia online, World War One,

Norwegian Encyclopedia online, The History of Sweden,

Norwegian Encyclopedia online, Norwegian History from 1905-1939,

What are minorities? (And the story of two minorities in Norway)

When we decided that April should be minorities’ month, I was thrilled, cause then I could write about a minority of any kind. However, I have the last few weeks been thinking: how can I choose one minority in history and write about it? Or shall I look at a set of minorities? Or shall I write about why a minority became a minority? These thoughts have been bothering me for a while, because I wanted to get it all right. However, what does seem to stand clear in front of me is that no matter what I do, I will have to determine what a minority is, and why it is a minority. (As I will be referring to the Sami and the Kvens in this text, will I also be adding a brief account of their history at the end of this update, but if you find them interesting, then please go ahead and read more.) 

Based on common sense can minorities be seen as a group of people who are different from the majority population within its society, and at the same time must this minority to some extent recognize its own members as a part of this minority. So far, so good, but what kind of minorities are there out there? And who are they? Too many to count will be the easiest answer, but in general can minorities be divided in a set of groups; 1 ethnic minorities, 2 religious minorities, and 3 sexual minorities. The 3rd group will always be present in any kind of society, no matter how homogeneous the population is ethnically and culturally. So this blog post will focus on the two other types of minorities, and two very specific examples of them in Norwegian history, after all this is a history blog.

Traditionally have Norway only had a small number of national minorities, or so I was told while I was in school, these were the Sami, the Kvens, the Jews and the Gypsies. Of these 3 of them came into Norway, after the reformation, and the Jews did not gain access to the country until the second half of the nineteenth century, and that after a long public debate if they should be let in. But all of them have become minorities in Norway due to migration, and the search for a living and a better life.  Minorities become minorities due to migration in two ways: firstly by migrating into an area already populated by a different ethnic group, this applies to the Kvens, Jews and Gypsies. (Although, the Jews might also be seen as a religious minority as they are defined to some extent more by religion, than ethnicity.) Secondly, by being the original inhabitants in an area settled by groups that over time evolve into a majority and that bring the territory into a greater political unit. This is the story of the Sami, a group of indigenous peoples in Northern Scandinavia that over the last thousand years have gone from being a nomadic majority population in regions, to become a minority split between 4 states: Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Due to the history of forced assimilation directed against the Sami and other minorities in Norway, have some of them received more attention than others. The idea in the years prior to the Second World War was that the Norwegian society should be Norwegian through and through, and that any minority languages and cultures should be rooted out and corrected so that these minorities could be integrated into the majority as full members of a Norwegian state. This assimilation process was supported by the idea of eugenics, and race studies, but in the beginning it started as a ‘crusade’ to convert the pagans living in the wilderness of the north. These processes destroyed the original Sami culture and its traditional religion. The policies of assimilation went so far, that for a period in the twentieth century were there children who were raised that was not taught the traditional Sami language, and the languages was dying. Furthermore did it develop a stigma of shame to be Sami, so many chose not to mention that they had Sami blood, for who wanted to be part of the ‘inferior’ people? All this changed after the Second World War, and during the 1970’s the Sami people started to wake up and claim respect and acceptance for who they are within the nation, and that they had been there longer than the state itself. Today the Sami have a separate parliament within the Norwegian state, and the languages that once was dying are now in active use. This is a total shift from what the life of this ethnic minority was like only 70 years ago.

The second type of minority I mentioned is one that for many nations and states might be the most problematic, the religious minority. Britain itself suppressed its religious minorities, and in so many states throughout the world have religious minorities been discriminated and prosecuted against. I can think of a few just on the top of my head: Huguenots in France, Catholics in England, Protestants, Jews and Muslims in Imperial Spain, among others. Religious divisions have in some conflicts given the rise to the same frictions as ethnic minorities within empires can create. The Kurds in Turkey or the Albanians within former Yugoslavia, are both ethnic groups that are/have been minorities within the states they once lived in. In Norwegian history was the Sami  the only religious minority for a long time, until during the course of the nineteenth century, first Catholics and then Jews were welcomed into the nation. Over the years have most Sami’s converted to Christianity, but the traditional religion is still practiced by some. But this have taken an ethnic minority into the religious majority, and equally have ethnic Norwegians converted to Catholicism or Islam, and through that are both a majority and a minority. It all depends on where you draw the lines within which we count the members.

Although minorities, and majorities have existed as long as written records, and even longer, I have a feeling that it is impossible to fully study a minority or majority in a given society, for there will always be members of each group that overlap with the other. In fact I’m personally both a part of minorities and a majority at the same time in my everyday life, it all depends on who I choose to be, and which identity I feel is most suitable at any given time. Although I’m white and European, this makes me in the Ethnic majority on campus at the University of Winchester, I am also male, which makes me a minority, furthermore am I gay, and foreign, both which are minorities both at the University and in the world in general. So depending on how we look at minorities, will determine who we are examining, and in some cases will our minorities and majorities be the same persons.

So as we have seen is a minority a group of people who are different from the majority of the population within a society, and often have these become so because of migration, and the longing for a better life.

A brief story about the Kvens and the Sami, a case study for minority assimilation.

Some of the first references to the ethnic diversity of Northern Scandinavia, and maybe also a good source for how the relationship between the ethnic groups were in those regions, can be found in the text known as Ohthere’s journey. A story added on to Alfred the Great’s translations of Orosius, that not only is about the journey of Ohthere, a Norseman who travels to Alfred’s court, but also about the society he lives in, and the lands he traveled through to get there.

                The text mentions several groups of people, but especially how the relationship is between the Norse settlers in Northern Norway and the Sami living inland from them. A relationship marked by taxation and domination by one group over the other. In addition to outline the trade and taxation practices of Northern Norway both in the early middle ages, but also trends that continued for many hundred years later, the text also mentions another ethnic group that together with the Sami have shaped Northern Norway since the seventeenth century, the Kvens. The Kvens, is an ethnic group originally from areas that today is part of Finland, but migrated to Norway in two waves. Firstly, during the seventeenth and eighteenth century to find more agricultural land, due to population growth in their homelands, secondly, during the nineteenth century when the population again was rising in, but this time it was combined with famine and failed harvests in the Torneo Valley on the border between Finland and Sweden. Both the first and the second wave of Kven migration to Northern Norway brought a new work force to the region, whereas the first migration settled and took up agriculture as a way of life, mixed with fishing and forestry, did the second settle in fishing villages or mining villages as they were both skilled and hard-working labourers. But why did this group that migrated from today’s Finland become so significant for the region? Well the answer is in the share numbers of the migration, it is estimated that at the beginning of the Twentieth century there were about 25% of the population of Finnmark that were of Kven origin. In some regions there was not only the dominant ethnic group, but also a significant minority to take account of.  If there is one-act in the history of Norway that can be seen as the formal starting point of the nationalization of the minorities, then it is the law of 1902 about purchasing land from the state. The law stated that only Norwegian speakers could purchase land from the state, this was to prevent foreign business interests to buy up Norwegian resources, and above all to make sure that the land would stay on Norwegian hands. This did not only prevent Kvens, who spoke a language related to Finnish, but also the Sami from buying land for agriculture or for other reasons. This law can stand as a monument for all the actions that followed which forcefully attempted to assimilate the Kven and Sami population into the majority population.

Some have suggested that these actions of Norwegianisation of the Kvens were an attempt to prevent a Finnish rebellion among the Kvens in support of Finland, the cultural mother-land of the Kvens. And there have, as far as I can tell, not been many large-scale rebellions against this Norwegianisation of the Kvens or the Sami, well maybe with one exception. What I have in mind is an episode known as the Kautokeino rebellion, a short episode were a small group of Sami led an attack on the local authorities and trade center. As far as I am aware, is this the only incident were violence was used by members of either ethnic group, in what some choose to see as an attempt to fight back against the settlements and oppression. However, there are more elements to this one case than just this one,  for those that have the possibility is the sources, which are published in a collected volume, available in Norwegian. And there is also made a film about this event, although it is not very accurate, it is a free interpretation of a series of events which till this day is not fully understood. For the theories range about everything from religious fanatics acting against the selling of alcohol, to a reaction against the exploitation of the  Sami among the local Norwegian population, or as desperate act in response to the loss of the grazing areas east of the Finno-Russian border, after it got closed in the middle of the nineteenth century. However, this is not the place or time to debate the origins for the rebellion, but what this rebellion suggest alongside its sources, is that the Sami population and their culture was changing as a result of the Nationalization of the nation.

As a part of the Norwegianization policies applied by the Norwegian government during the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, were the teaching of Sami and Kven/Finnish slowly abolished in schools. In some areas were these languages taught until 1936, this abolition was a part of the ideas of ‘one nation- one people- one language’ that formed the base note of the assimilation policies prior to the Second World War.

In the years after the Second World War, were these policies re-examined in relation to the Human Rights and Norway’s relationship with the UN. It lead to an re-establishment of teaching in Sami and Finnish in schools, and the establishment of a Sami Parliament to safeguard Sami interests in relation to their rights as an indigenous people. Whereas the Sami have gained recognition of their status as Indigenous people, and have a Parliament guiding the state on Sami related issues, the Kvens have been integrated into Norwegian society, although their cultural and linguistic heritage is now safeguarded from extinction due to the legal protection of these traditional elements in Kven culture.

In comparison to other minorities around the world, the story of the Sami and Kvens is not as gruesome as it perhaps could have been. Thanks to a strong political and cultural awareness among these groups they have survived and developed within the Norwegian state into what they are today. It is believed to live between 40-60 000 Sami and 15-25 000 Kvens in Norway, so these groups are not easily dismissed in the wider national context. Although minorities exist, and come into existence due to migration, and although it sometimes seems easier to assimilate minorities into one culture, where everyone speak the same and have the same culture, we as citizens of the World should remember that it is the diversity of these culture that makes life exciting to live. So please let us not go backwards and force minorities into the closed, where they will hide in shame and die, but let us celebrate them and accept them. For who knows, we might need their knowledge one day. So let’s have the Sami Parliament in Norway stand as a monument for the rights indigenous people have, and the respect minorities, both those forgotten and extinct, and those living today, deserve to have. After all, you who read should remember that you might also be a minority from time to time, depending on time and space.




Christian II of Denmark, Sweden and Norway

When one learns about the history of Scandinavia there are many names, dates, kings and politicians that one learn about, just like in all other histories, but today I am writing to you about a man who was a king. In fact he was the King in Scandinavia, ruling areas stretching from Finland in the East to Iceland in the west, from the Barents Sea in the north to North Germany.  He was the last king to unify these areas under one rule, but also the one man to cause its breaking apart.

So who was he? Well as you who have read out blog for a while know that we this month are doing a: Monarch’s you don’t often hear about month. And I’ve already written to you about Kristina of Sweden. As the Scandinavian history so rarely are brought to the attention of the World, well with the exception of the Vikings, and a few battles and kings from the 15thcentury onwards, then I feel it should be right to outline to you what happened to the once Unified Kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark and Norway that caused it to break apart.

The answer is simple, well it’s not simple at all like in all history, for there are many factors taking part in these events, but in this article I’ll do the one thing that I hate, I’ll follow the bigger lines… I apologize in advance.

The key to the end of the Scandinavian commonwealth is the son of King Hans (John in English) and Queen Christine of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, namely Christian II. Christian were born in 1481 as a Prince of the three Kingdoms which formed the Kalmar Union (Denmark, Sweden and Norway). And he died in 1559 imprisoned at Kalundborg Castle; his crime was attempting to re-establish himself as King of Norway in 1531-2, after years in exile at his sister in law’s court in the Netherlands. But why exile? What had Christian done? And what were the consequences of his actions. Well we have already swiftly mentioned the consequences; for his actions and policies during his short reign and prior to his coronation, especially the act that followed his Swedish coronation caused his kingdom to fall apart, and the individual countries to reestablish themselves independently.

Christian’s actions were his policies towards the governing powers in the three countries, for instance he favored Danes in the most important political and administration positions in Norway, contradictory to his promise when he were elected King, a policy that lead to tension between him and the Local nobility. He inherited from his ancestors a political problem in Sweden, with the country’s nobility not being easily pleased, and as all the three countries were de facto electoral kingdoms the nobility and the estate assemblies of the three countries had to elect the king separately. This allowed each of the three countries to separately establish its own relation to the King, and negotiate the basis for his reign in that specific country. Christian inherited the Crown to the Kalmar union after his dad in 1513, yet Sweden which his dad had lost in 1501 were outside his reach until 1520. It is Christian’s actions to regain control over Sweden that gives him his most significant mark upon history. His policies in Norway and Denmark were all financial preparations for the big campaign to become king of Sweden, but his actions against the Norwegian nobles in the late years of his father’s reign had given him a reputation of being ruthless.

It is not his champagne that’s vital, it was a normal late medieval campaign, but when the widow of his opponent, the steward of Sweden, surrendered Stockholm in 1520, he was finally made king of Sweden. Although his revenge sparked another uprising, not only in Sweden, but it also sparked what is later known as the Count’s feud. A war about the Kalmar crown and Swedish independence, and all this due to Christian breaking his promise to hold an Estate assembly, but rather to hold the ‘Bloodbath of Stockholm’, which was a series of executions of about a hundred leading Swedish nobles and clergymen between the 7th and the 9th of November 1520 as a punishment for their revolts against his dad many years earlier. This sparked as mentioned above a new conflict, one that ended in Christian II going into exile and all the three counties converting from Catholicism to Lutheran Protestantism.

Although Christian’s legacy in history is mostly bound to ordering the Bloodbath in Stockholm, but we should remember that he like so many other monarchs ruled according to their geopolitical surroundings. I am by no means defending his attacks on the Swedish leaders, but I am saying that his actions were not that different from those by the Spanish during the Dutch revolts. And just think about it; what would the world have looked like if he had not done it? Well that is something I’ll leave for your imagination. Take care and keep on reading! 🙂