Today, 17 May, is Norway’s Constitution Day. We are commemorating the signing of the Constitution of Norway on this very date in 1814. Ours is the second oldest written Constitution in the world still in existence.
More than two centuries ago, our Constitution was founded on the principles of sovereignty of the people, the separation of powers, and human rights. It was inspired by both the French and American Constitutions. At that time, in the early 19th century, it was considered to be one of the most radical Constitutions in the world. Our Constitution has since been amended several times, but after a full linguistic revision in 1903, the language of the Constitution basically remained unaltered until as recently as May 2014. So, it is this progressive document that governs all Norwegians, from the king to the average citizen, and its equal application to all, that we celebrate today.
The Constitution Day is also our National Day and it is marked with a countrywide celebration. It is a national holiday, and Norwegians both young and old, wave our red, white, and blue flag. All around the country, children will march in parades led by marching bands. Tens of thousands of people shout “hurra!” and we eat copious amounts of hot dogs and ice cream. It is also (almost) the beginning of summer, so there is always a sense of hope for warmer, brighter days ahead in the air.
A global challenge
This year, however, we are marking our National Day at a difficult time for the whole world. As a global community, we are just emerging from a two-year-long pandemic, which is far from over. Even before we could revive our economies and societies from the devastating effects of the pandemic, now we are faced with a war on our doorsteps, in Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine has sent shockwaves around the world. It has shaken all of us. While in South Asia, the war in Ukraine is something that is happening in a far corner in Europe, for Norway, which shares an almost 200-kilometer-long border with Russia, the war in Ukraine is close to home.
The war in Ukraine is a test of our ideals and values. We believe that conflicts are resolved by peaceful means, not with military force. When the Ukrainian people are fighting heroically to defend their country, they are not only fighting for their country. They are also fighting to defend our ideals and values: Peace, democracy, and to protect a rules-based international order.
It is not only in Ukraine that we experience trying times. All around the world, and especially here in Sri Lanka, we are seeing the effects of the war play out in front of us. We are already seeing higher prices for food, medicine, fuel, and energy. This, along with the domestic economic woes, lead to higher inflation and affect the economies of households in Sri Lanka.
The war in Ukraine teaches us the importance of defending our values from external threats. Around the world, there are leaders who act in breach of democratic principles, embrace corruption and disregard human rights. This threat is often amplified by disinformation. Let us remember that without a vibrant civil society, democracy dies. Therefore, democratic participation must be inclusive, safe, and non-discriminatory.
Freedoms of expression, association and assembly are cornerstones of a democracy. It is also important that we do not underestimate the need for trust between citizens and their elected representatives. When politicians place themselves above the law, people’s confidence in democracy erodes.
However, most importantly, we should keep in mind that the months and years ahead will be defined by transitions: Politically, economically, and socially, not only in Sri Lanka, but around the world. Add to these the climate challenge. That is the single most important task we are all up against. It is truly a stress test for our political systems, but also for all of us as individuals.
However, let us keep in mind that all these transitions come with opportunities and room for growth. So, in these trying times, let us commit ourselves to build a better society. As we mark our national day, we are committed to work to strengthen and protect democracy, in Norway and around the world. As Sri Lanka is in the process of putting in place its new government, it is important to bring everyone along, irrespective of their differences, to find solutions to the current challenges. In order to build a society that is more equitable – a society where opportunity and prosperity are not limited to a few, but available for all – there needs to be political will, as well as leadership. It requires a political system with legitimate institutions and processes where people have a say.
On this Norwegian Constitution Day, I hope Norway’s ties with Sri Lanka, which span more than seven decades, goes from strength to strength, and I express our commitment as a consistent partner to work with the government and the people of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka!
H.E. Trine Jøranli Eskedal
Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives