Earlier today, in cities, towns and communities across Norway, people put on their finest clothes and took to the streets and roads - some participating in parades, some watching parades, waving flags, cheering, singing the national anthem as we have just done, and listening to speeches as you are doing right now.
At this time of the day, most parades are over, but festivities continue, and many kids are starting to feel a bit awkward in their stomachs after having had too much ice cream, hot dogs, soda and candy.
In short,17th of May is 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, it is also a celebration of the start of summer.
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 not go through all 112 paragraphs, but permit me to refer to a couple of them.
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. In Norwegian “uavhendelig”. In Estonian a bit more difficult for me, so please forgive me; “võõrandamatu”.
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 have a similar experience of being under foreign rule – although with at least one major difference; Norway was lucky to regain its freedom 72 years ago, while Estonia had to wait another 46 years. 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 additon making it crystal clear what this means in practice;
“No one may be discriminated against on the basis of nationality, race, colour, 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.
May 17is 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 the outside.
This is also why Constitution Day is first and foremost a children’s day. May 17 in Norway will always be associated with children playing, laughing, parading, cheering and singing. We celebrate the future generations who will inherit the country, its Constitution and its values.
The similarities between our Constitutions and the commonality of values constitute an excellent basis for our relationship - a relationship that continues to grow deeper and broader.
Over the last years, we have achieved wonderful things together:
- in business and trade, research and innovation
- in adressing public health, mental health and children at risk
- adressing environmental issues and climate change
- adressing domestic violence, gender equality and decent work
- supporting civil society and protecting cultural heritage
- in cultural exchange and people-to-people contact
- in deepening nordic-baltic cooperation, including as digital frontrunners
- and working together to make sure that this region of ours is a secure place to live.
You are our partners in these efforts, and I would like to thank you and congratulate you for what you have achieved. I hope that you will continue to work with us in the years ahead.
In that context allow me to briefly mention the agreement signed last week on how the EEA and Norway Grants will support Estonia’s ambitions over the next seven years.
We have agreed to make business development, innovation and research our most important priority. Local development and social inclusion will be another major area of cooperation.
Our joint efforts related to the environment and climate will continue, and our support for civil society will increase.
I am delighted that we have this instrument in place that will continue to stimulate our friendship and partnership also in the years to come.
I know that some of the people we have invited are very busy on Toompea right now, and some of them have sent their regrets for not being able to be here with us. As we raise our glasses, let us send some warm thoughts in their direction.
To all Norwegians present: Gratulerer med dagen! To all others - thank you for celebrating this joyful day with us! Please enjoy the food, the drinks and the company of each other.
Skål – Terviseks.