It wasn’t quite a fun. Just newly established, democratic state, coerced into uneasy union with Sweden, had to share major partner’s burdens and fate. From outside, Norway may have looked like another dependent state, practically colonized by the mightier neighbour.
But within, the work continued. Every May 17th Norwegians celebrated their Constitution. Meanwhile they started changes in the state structure. More conscious use of parliamentary game rules led to more participation. Till 1850, Norway saw the surge of industrialisation, great rise in hygiene and nutrition quality, major shift in internal politics, the latter being strongly community oriented.
Abolition of nobility; introduction of the municipalities, with elected officials; waiver of many trade privileges, making domestic economy more vivid; trade unions. All of that, under the common standard of anti-Swedish resistance, made Norway a country progressive way beyond the standards of these days.
One of resulting problems, however, was relative overpopulation. Better food, better health and more space due to cleared land brought more of the young generation than the economy could bear. The emigration started around 1825, peaked up from 1860′ and lasted practically non stop till after the second War. By the 1930, over 800 000 people left the country, mostly for the American Dream in the US Midwest. This – in turn – made another imbalance. Lack of the workers shifted Norwegian economy towards mechanisation and larger use of capital, efficiently improving it’s quality and social situation of workers as well.
Nineteenth century also brought the wave of “romantic nationalism” – quite popular in Europe, while fuelled mostly by the upper class amateur fancies, trend toward retrieving (and sometimes confabulating) “ethnic roots” of newly born nation-states. Norway built it’s identity upon the beauty of nature and – again – local customs. This was another way to preserve the community identity.
Into the 20th century, Norway entered full speed ahead. Before the WWI it became fully independent, progressive country, with substantial political, infrastructural and commercial power. During the war, while formally neutral, Norway’s merchant fleet supported British war effort, loosing half of it’s tonnage and 2000 seamen.
The inter-war period, as it was typical in Europe, brought political instability and growing social divisions. It also brought the state of Norway some territorial acquisitions. It seemed that Norway became “regular” state, with some expansionist ambitions, chaotic political trends and problems like all other countries.
The Second World War, however, put Norway into special position again.
Initially neutral, Norway was attacked and occupied by Germany, as many other countries. However, significant number of citizens got involved both in the resistance movement (mostly various ways of transferring people to and from the country) and in the collaborationist party (and government) led by Vidkun Quisling. Some of them also volunteered into Waffen SS forces. One of Norwegian peculiarities was great number of Lebensborn houses, where Norwegian women had to give birth to “racially correct” children of SS soldiers and officers.
While outside of Norway thousands of its citizens fought either in armed forces, or – even more heroically – in merchant fleet, serving convoy routes, inside there was apparently a tension of silent hate amassing. Not “grounded” properly during brief and limited liberation military campaign, it finally discharged, hitting every man and woman of Norway, that could be somehow labelled as “traitor”. It also included obvious victims: Lebensborn children.
From today’s safe distance, we may watch and judge easily. We can say that sanctions, stigmatization and discrimination, lasting decades, were uncivil and too harsh. But it has to be told, that “the popular demand” went even further. People – full of pain, frustration, and perhaps guilt – asked for lynches and deportations. Norwegian Army used German POWs for clearing Wehrmacht-laid minefields, with extreme amount of fatalities. That tells us about the level of hidden aggression, accumulated these days – and finally never properly discharged.
After loosing half of it’s economical potential, half of the tonnage and seamen in the merchant fleet (doubling WWI losses), with the deep crack in the core of the community, Norway entered uncertain era of the Cold War. No more neutral – the founding member of NATO, all poised to build and keep army strong enough to defeat any possible invasion.