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17th of May even ‘more meaningful’

As Norwegians prepared for their annual, festive Constitution Day holiday on the 17th of May, a new public opinion poll indicated that it would be even “more meaningful” this year than it usually is. Last summer’s terrorist attacks on Norway’s democracy have given the Norwegians yet another reason to wave the flag.

The poll, conducted for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), showed that 30 percent believe the 17th of May will mean more for them this year. Among young persons responding to the poll, the number was even higher. Fully 40 percent said the holiday will have greater meaning for them this year.

“I feel that Norwegian solidarity has become much more important after what happened last summer,” Trond Ikdahl Anderson, an 18-year-old physics student at the University of Oslo, told NRK. “And the 17th of May is a day when everyone is more more together than ever.”

Asked whether the terrorist attacks, carried out by a Norwegian who claims he was attacking those who have allowed immigration to Norway, also were an attack on Norwegian values, Andersond respond, “Yes, clearly. We have always been proud of accepting all kinds of cultures and most like diversity. That’s exactly what (the confessed terrorist) opposed.”

A ‘special’ celebration
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also thinks this year’s 17th of May celebrations will be “special.” The prime minister often travels on the 17th of May to take part in celebrations abroad, and he’ll be spending Thursday in the Shetland Islands to mark the 70th anniversary of the Norwegian base established there during World War II, when Norway was under occupation. Stoltenberg stressed that the events of July 22 are another reminder that freedom and democracy can’t be taken for granted.

“Therefore it’s extra important to celebrate this 17th of May,” Stoltenberg said.

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang agreed, also using the words “ekstra viktig” (extra important). Bernt Hagtvet, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Oslo, said the terrorist “wanted to destroy the Norwegian constitutional democracy,” so celebration of Norway’s Constitution Day can be used for a direct public reaction from other Norwegians.

The celebration starts early
Traditional events begin early in the morning, with choirs singing outside many churches at 7:30am, followed by short speeches, song and wreath-layings at the graves of national heroes.

In Oslo, that includes ceremonies at the graves of Norwegian literary giants Henrik Wergeland, Henrik Ibsen and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (who wrote the lyrics to the Norwegian national anthem) at the national Vår Frelsers (Our Saviour’s) cemetery from 8am. Ceremonies are also held at the graves of, and memorials to, many war heroes, although Norway’s 17th of May is best-known for its children’s parades and a distinct lack of military presence.

Folk dancers will literally dance in the streets leading up to the Royal Palace from 9:15am and the parade featuring all of Oslo’s schools begins at 10am, as it does in villages, towns and cities all over the country. Events in Oslo will also include a “17. mai for alle” (17th of May for Everyone”) in the so-called “Cuba Park” along the Aker River near Grünerløkka. It’s been a multi-cultural event for nearly 30 years, featuring free live concerts and appeals against racism.

Immigrants included
“The 17th of May this year will be special,” Shoaib Sultan, a member of Oslo’s 17th of May Organizing Committee, told newspaper Aftenposten. “We will celebrate freedom and democracy but also show respect and sympathy to all those hit by the attacks of July 22.”

Sultan, an adviser for Oslo’s Anti-Racism Center, said he thinks the 17th of May has become a day when immigrants and visitors to Norway can feel included in the festivities. “That’s my impression,” he said.

Everyone, meanwhile, was advised to dress warmly and it looked likely that there would be rain on the Norwegians’ parades. State meteorologists predicted chilly temperatures, under 10C (in the 40sF) all over the country, and rain many places. In Oslo, showers were expected throughout the morning.

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