Speech by Mr. Ole Øveraas, Chargé d’affairs a.i. on the occasion on Norway’s National Day reception on 16th of May 2019.
Dear President Rüütel, dear friends, kjære venner.
I am delighted to welcome you all to this celebration of Norway’s National day, which is tomorrow 17th of May.
First of all let me introduce Veronika Portsmuth Choral Academy Concert Choir.
The national anthems of Norway and Estonia.
Thank you for your performance and lifting our spirits.
Tomorrow, in cities, towns and communities across Norway, people put on their finest clothes, many our traditional costumes which we have some beautiful examples of here today.
We take to the streets and roads - the children will participate in parades and wave flags, cheer, sing the national anthem as we have just done, and listen to speeches as you are doing right now.
In short,17th of May is in many ways the most joyful day of the year for Norwegians. It is a celebration of freedom – as a nation and as individuals. It is a celebration of the privilege of living in a peaceful society.
It is a celebration of the values upon which our country is founded. And sometimes, when the sun is shining, like it is today, it is also a celebration of the start of summer.
But, what we are in fact celebrating is the adoption of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814. It is said to be the oldest Constitution in Europe still in use, although it has been amended quite a few times.
I will to refer to a couple of the 112 paragraphs that make the constitution.
Article 1 states that The Kingdom of Norway is a free, independent, indivisible and inalienable Realm.
A similar wording is actually used in Article 1 of the Estonian Constitution; “The independence and sovereignty of Estonia are timeless and inalienable”.
“Inalienable”? May be not the most common word. It means a relationship that cannot be broken. An ownership that cannot be cancelled. That the country belongs to the people, even if the country is occupied and ruled by a foreign power.
Norway and Estonia both have an experience of being under foreign rule – although with at least one major difference; Norway was lucky to regain its freedom 74 years ago, while Estonia had to wait another 46 years to regain your freedom. But the point is that people in both countries know the true value of freedom and the value of living in an inalienable country.
Article 96 states the following; “No one shall be judged but by law, nor be punished but by sentence”. One elegant and precise sentence describing the principle of the rule of law – the fundamental principle of all civilized societies.
Article 12 of the Estonian Constitution applies some of the same short sharpness in the formulation “Everyone is equal before the law.”
As simple as that, but with an addition making it crystal clear what this means in practice;
“No one may be discriminated against on the basis of nationality, race, color, sex, language, origin, religion, political or other views, property or social status, or on other grounds.”
Let me in this context note that 17th of May also happens to be the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. This is definitely one area where we – as societies and in a global context - still have a way to go in order to ensure that no one is discriminated against.
Another important aspect of both constitutions is the freedom of speech, the freedom to say your opinion without fear of being punished. It is of utmost importance that we defend the freedom of speech and the freedom to criticize the government, to criticize us without fear of reprisals. Without freedom of speech, there can be no democracy or real freedom.
May 17 is therefore a day of reminding ourselves of the values that are defining our society. And most importantly reminding ourselves not to take these values for granted.
Our freedom, our nation’s inalienability, the rule of law, our democracy and principles of human rights and non-discrimination must never, ever, be taken for granted. We have to defend them against all challenges, whether they come from within our societies or from outside.
Music is something that unites us and brings us joy, and also reminds us of where we come from and who we are and I would like to ask Katariin Raska from Tallinn Music Academy to play a traditional Norwegian folk tune.
And now I would like to finish with a Gratulerer med dagen to all Norwegians present.
And to all of you - thank you for celebrating this beautiful day with us! Please enjoy the food, the drinks and the company of each other.
Skål – Terviseks! .