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Mon, 17 May 2004 13:00:00 GMT

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My 17th of May speech

Yesterday I held the yearly 17th of May speech here in Canberra in celebration of Norways national day, and since the topics addressed are highly on-topic for the happenings of the world, I thought I'd publish it here.

Ladies and gentlemen, fellow countrymen and our scandinavian friends, sheilas and blokes,

My name is Alexander Johannesen, and I am a believer in modern democratic rule and the freedom of the individual. Oh, and I'm a Norwegian, too. I came to this land of dry promise in persuit of love and happiness, and somehow ended up in Canberra, and today, in Corrobeeree Park here in Ainsley. It is with great pleasure that I've been given this oppertunity to speak about two things that stand very close and important to me; the wet and the dry; Norway, and Australia.

The Caledonian rock on which Norway sits on is millions of years old. The area on which it stands was laid bare by ice-caps just 10.000 years ago. Norway as the country I know from history is about a thousand years old. Norway as the modern nation I know today is 100 years old next year. The Norway I just recently left is that of a modern socialist democracy. Once we were peasants and vikings. Now we are international democratic individuals. This contrast between the old and the new lives strong in norwegian society and culture; we don't take for granted that we are free and that we are part of a collaborative democratic system, and our history tells us the tale so far with certain milestones that stand out a little more than others. Let us have a quick look.

The year 872 AD, the first gathering of all the little kingdoms of a geographical area called "Norway", the way north. Then the year 1030 AD - The battle of Stiklestad; Norway becomes one kingdom. The year 1380 - The union with Denmark. Then a 400 year period of Danish rule, until the year 1814 when we declared ourselves our own nation, a short-lived but massivly important independance, on the 17th of May that year. Then 100 years of Swedish rule, until the year 1905 when Norway as we know it today was truly born.

Norway was never a nation to hold a grudge, and our new nation of 1905 needed a king, and he was found in the brother of the King of Denmark (hello, Denmark) and the grandson of the King of Sweden (hello, Sweden), who married - for convinience sake - the youngest daughter of the king of England (hello, Australia and the Commonwealth). The king was the perfect royal flush that was to carry on our thousand-year old tradition of waving to the people from high balconies. A thousand years. That is a long time. Many ages.

There is one common theme through all of these ages; the belief in democratic rule and the freedom of the individual. It stretches all the way back to its creation in 9th century Iceland, the Tingrett system, probably the first democratic system in modern terminology. In the old times, those very rights were respected by the kings and queens. Our history tells us tales where the will of democratic forces fought stronger than any single king with his threats and armies. Our tales even tells us that the great thinkers and politicians that created and continued to evolve these crude democratic systems, were in fact often the kings and queens themselves. Oh sure, they were most often brutal, but they respected and evolved the freedom and the rights of their people, against all European better knowledge.

Now, it has to be said that the biggest probable reason Norwegians always have enjoyed their freedom is that no one really cared much about what they were doing up there - even less going all the way up there to find out! - isolated from the rest of the world in a cold, wet and harsh environment. Maybe that harshness is the very thing that kept the spirit of freedom alive. Maybe it is that harshness and our survival in it that stand as a red thread that guided us from the dawn of the land up till the nation of 1905, kept on guiding us through two world wars and their after-math, through times of oil and riches, up till our present day, and will quite possibly continue to guide us in the future. The harshness that left us to our own devices, left alone to ponder and evolve, to discover modern democracy and the freedom of the individual to say, mean and act in open ways without percecution.

I see modern Australia in much the same way, and as such a country of modern reality, albeit hot and dry instead of cold and wet. The common dominator between these two nations, the harshness and the isolation, created very unique societies with a strong sense of identity and sharing of both the cries and the laughters, the wet and the dry. If you don't like the wet, you won't be happy in Norway. And if you don't like the dry, you won't be happy in Australia. Both countries are stuffed with a challenging nature that man has found many and various ways of coping with it. In Norway, for example, we invented the cheese slicer and the paper clip, and in Australia they invented the hills hoist and washable bank notes, all great inventions that made sure that we were able to cope in environments from the Simpson deserts +50 to the Kautokeino plains -40, or such as today, the +16 degrees of Canberra.

As cliches go; sufference lead to great art, harshness lead to great thought. The current thought and practice of democratic rule and liberal freedoms must not be taken for granted; it has taken a long harsh time to come to this. Many people have fought for it, and many people have died for it. We all now appreciate it, continue to evolve it and we celebrate it, be it on the 26th of January or the 17th of May.

When I celebrate 17th of May, I celebrate the evolution and practice of modern democratic and humanist thought, the right to freedom and justice for all, just as much as the birth of our nation itself. The symbol of modern democratic birth is there for all to enjoy, just like the national celebration of any other modern democratic country. As such all of Scandinavia and Australia - and all of us here today - are runners on the same team, in essence celebrating the very same thing. So, congratulations Norway on this 17th of May, "gratulerer med dagen", and congratulations everybody else, where ever or whoever you are. Ha en riktig hyggelig dag.

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