Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Dissolution of the Union

Today marks the 104th anniversary of modern Norway's independence. On June 7th, 1905, Parliament declared the union between Sweden and Norway dissolved, due to the failure of King Oscar II to provide Norway with a government. The union was a personal one with the monarch the only tie, and after years of strife between the 'brother peoples', this situation had been actively created by Norway's political leaders - a situation in which it was impossible for the king to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities. And thus we were free. :-)

Not without struggle, though - during the summer of 1905 the threat of war (perceived or real :-) hung over us constantly. In some ways we had been transported back to 1814. Then, too, we had thought that we were free ... that we had succeeded in throwing off the shackles of union ... only to be forced into them anew. In 1814 we had had two choices - surrender to Sweden willingly and be treated with leniency, or resist and be taken by force. A denial of the Swedish claim would have led to an invasion, which we would have been powerless to fight off. Europe had little interest in our affairs and less in helping us. So there was really not much to choose from ... and we surrendered. 91 years later, however, the situation had changed. We were much stronger, we had everything we needed to claim our independence ... and in Europe the climate had changed, there was a much greater sensitivity to the rights of small nations. Any threat of a Swedish invasion now would certainly not be overlooked or even favored.

In the union with Sweden, we had a great deal of independence, even our own constitution. The one thing we did not have was the right to determine our own foreign affairs policies. Foreign affairs was a matter for Swedes. All our consulates abroad were controlled from Stockholm. This became a bone of contention for two reasons. Partly because Norwegian foreign affairs interests differed a great deal from those of Sweden; partly because as Norway became a force to be reckoned with in international shipping, it was primarily Norwegians who required help from the consulates ... help that Sweden was a great deal less than capable of rendering. Norwegian politicians began to demand true Norwegian consulates - Swedish politicians opposed their efforts from very real fears that this would bring about the end of the union. For this and other reasons there was a great deal of friction between Kristiania (now Oslo) and Stockholm. Our Parliament passed a Consulate Bill without the sanction of the latter; this was vetoed by the king, first once, then twice. But that is as far as the royal veto goes. When the bill was passed for the third time, the king refused to accept it. Our government resigned in protest. King Oscar refused to accept their resignations, knowing full well that he would not be able to find anyone to take part in a new cabinet. On May 27th he met with three of his ministers, demanding that they sign his refusal of the Consulate Bill. They absolutely would not, adding that any Norwegian who signs his name to that paper, will thenceforth have no country. And King Oscar slammed his fist on the table and said ... you know. :-) It was not entirely untrue, either - Oscar II was very fond of us, he travelled here extensively, he knew the country well and he spoke perfect Norwegian. Which is very rare in a Swede. ;-) But events had moved far beyond his control.

On this day 104 years ago, Parliament declared the union with Sweden under one king to be null and void because the king has ceased to function as Norway's king. It took months for Sweden to accept this fait accompli - months of negotiations and bickering and rumors. On August 13th a national vote was held here to determine popular agreement with the dissolution, which to Norwegian minds was already an established fact. Male citizens 25 years of age or older could vote, and the results were what you might call extremely conclusive: 368,208 in favor, 184 against. Although women could not vote at that time, signatures were collected in support of the dissolution, and 244,765 signatures were gathered in only two weeks. Pretty impressive back then. :-)

There is good reason to be skeptical of these numbers, since the polling was both disorganized and biased. But there is no reason to doubt the strong wish of the Norwegian people to finally be truly free. Hence, the Dissolution of the Union and an independent Norway - a new royal family and a new chapter in our history. May our independence never end. :-)


Paz said...

interesting thanks, but how F#cking old are you really :P
'1905 the threat of war (perceived or real :-) hung over us constantly'
'In some ways we had been transported back to 1814'

raagraaum said...

Actually, from the royalist p.o.w., Norway returned to the (proper) royal family, the Danish, as the Danish prince Christian Frederik Carl Georg Valdemar Axel. This was more what was tried in 1814, when the Danish prince Christian Frederik was elected king of Norway from May 17 to October 10 1814. As he later became the king of Denmark, his plan obviously was a reunion.

The fact that he was married to the British princess Maud Charlotte Mary Victoria av Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha, was probably also a vital "qualification". The Danish king used to be called "Europe's father in law".

While democracy was somewhat influential at that time, the rights of the royal families was still very important, and for many the idea of republics replacing monarchy was threatening.

Margo said...

Interesting summary, and happy anniversary to independent Norway!

raag raaum said...

Whatever happened yesterday - what I wrote is more or less impossible to understand -
1. The Danish prince Christian Frederik Carl Georg Valdemar Axel was elected king of Norway (Haakon VII)in 1905.

2. It was the prince to become Haakon VII that was married to the British princess Maud Charlotte Mary Victoria of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha.

Leisha Camden said...

raagraum: Just out of curiosity, are you aware that I have a Master's degree in history ... ? :-)

(I'll be back to add another comment later. :-)

Guillaume said...

Interesting. Leisha, thanks for stopping and commenting on my blog, I was wondering where you discovered it. I hope you show up again. I will come back here...