Some ways to explain the Norwegian democracy is liberal, antagonistic, protective, unselfish, selfish, open, closed, free press, complacent press, etc. By this it is possible to assume that this tiny rich nation beside the north pole is behaving double moralistic, and have also done it in the past. The answer is YES! When the Norwegian people is marking the 200 anniversary of the constitution this year, some “higher people” (ruling elite, bureaucracy, kingdom, etc.) opened the show in Eidsvoll (the place where the constitution was written and finished the 17th of May 1814), 16th of February. Equal the elite who came together that year and put the new constitution on paper. They were in quite a smaller number of course, but still..
Many things have been written about the so called liberal Norwegian democracy through the years. Not everything could be said have been done with accuracy on facts which regards the “shadows” in this story telling.
To start with the constitution which is regarded as one of the most radical at the time and inspired by both the US and the French constitution. Firstly, § 2 in the constitution said that the state religion was evangelical-lutheran, the commitment to raise the children in this, Jesuits and monks should not be tolerated and Jews not allowed into the nation. No other country had this ban against Jews. This paragraph has been changed several times since then and consists no longer these bans. But not until 2012 the “protestant” part was changed into “Christian and humanist heritage”, still no totally religion free nation in the constitution § 2. “Freedom of religion” is to be found in § 16.
|§ 2. Den evangelisk-lutherske Religion forbliver Statens offentlige Religion. De Indvaanere, der bekjende seg til den, ere forpligtede til at opdrage sine Børn i samme. Jesuitter og Munkeordener maae ikke taales. Jøder ere fremdeles udelukkede fra Adgang til Riget.|
To be able to vote in the period 1814–1884 it was required 25 years of age, belong to a privileged group of occupation and possess a certain property. At the time it was obvious that women had no suffrage. Workers and women were to groups fighting for suffrage. It was no way they could fight for this in the Parliament so they fought for their cause outside the power base. In 1898 every men passed 25 got suffrage. Not until 1913 did every women get their full rights of voting. In comparison with the French constitution the share of the population with suffrage was higher than the Norwegian. The first time all men got suffrage was in 1792. Despite several setbacks later, in 1848 all men over 21 got suffrage, but not until 100 years later (1944) did all women get this.
Power, the people and bureaucracy
Experts on power, law, sovereignty and bureaucracy are not so sure that the last 200 years have widened the democracy or people’s power. Are we back into the nation of bureaucracy and elites, or have we been there all along? Let us take the issue ”sovereignty”. Many will argue that politicians too many times have breached the constitution. In § 1 it says: Norway is a free, independent, undivided and sovereign nation. Is it as simple as it sound? No, says a lawyer from The University of Bergen, Norway. During the last 20 years the Parliament has voted in favour of ceding sovereignty to European Union through EEA (European Economic Area). New EEA laws have been adopted with simple majority. But when EU institutions get direct influence on f. ex. Norwegian companies and state institutions this should be decided with 2/3 majority. In any case, is this a real democracy where the people have the vote? No, it is indirect democracy where we the people vote through the ballot box every 4th year that is all! Very seldom do we have direct democracy. Only the votes for or against Norwegian membership in EEC (1972) and EU (1994) was done by referendum. Never have the Norwegian people been asked on the participation in wars. The government’s involvement in f. ex. Afghanistan and Libya was never challenged by peoples vote. Norway was and still is “the nice boy” in the US classroom of atrocities and imperialism!
The undemocratic tin can of oil
Neither have we been asked how to manage our own money, the huge petroleum fund which contains around 4.3 trillion NOK ($717 billion). This revenue which comes from the large surplus generated by the Norwegian petroleum sector, also have ethical implications. One thing is the climate issue. Where we the nation is getting richer and richer from revenues mostly from non-sustainable energy recourses. The issue of using parts of the fund in science and development in renewable energy future has never been discussed properly in parliament. Another thing is economic footprints. The high level of exposure (around 60 percent) to the highly volatile, and therefore risky, stock market is financially unsafe. F. ex. in the beginning of global economic crisis in 2007/8 the fund lost around 633 billion NOK ($104 billion) in 2008 and 86 billion NOK ($14 billion) in 2011. That year the national revision found out one manciple in the fund, alone got half a billion NOK in bonuses. Is this democracy to the benefit for the so called sovereign people? The economic elite is just not only capitalists in private sector, they are gaining ground in our collective economy too!
Part of the investment policy debate in Norway is related to the discovery of several cases of investment by The Petroleum Fund in highly controversial companies, involved in businesses such as arms production, mining industry, biogems, pharmaceutical industry and tobacco. According to its ethical guidelines, the Petroleum Fund cannot invest money in companies that directly or indirectly contribute to killing, torture, deprivation of freedom, or other violations of human rights in conflict situations or wars. Contrary to popular belief, the fund is allowed to invest in a number of arms-producing companies. Only some kind of weapons such as nuclear arms, are banned by the ethical guidelines as investment objects. An investigation by the Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv in February 2012 (wikipedia) showed that Norway has invested more than $2 billion in 15 technology companies producing technology that can and has been used for either filtering, wiretapping, or surveillance of communication in various countries, among them Iran, Syria, Burma, Israel and USA. Although surveillance tech is not the primary activity of all these 15 companies, they have all had, or still have some kind of connection to such technology. The Ministry of Finance in Norway stated that it would not withdraw investing in these companies, nor would it discuss an eventual exclusion of surveillance industry companies from its investments. So here we are. In an example among others from our nice democratic, transparent and equal society! Money and capitalism rules!
Back to square one – the power of the people
This brings the argument back to the Norwegian constitution and in what way the lack of democracy works in our time and much in the same way as it did 200 years ago. In 1814 the small elite who made the constitution was very afraid of letting the people participate in elections, they thought it would be chaos. The same way of thinking, but in modern terms, f. ex. is to avoid many big issues to properly be decided democratically. We have, according to the indirect democracy system, always had democratic deficit compare with a direct power of the people system. Of course we can here talk about real socialism. Ideas that were very much alive in the beginning of 20th century, but they never came to power. In fact the whole idea of representative democracy shows a great mistrust in the people. The entire system has some mechanisms that subdue initiatives from the people. An example is the slow process in constitutional changes – it is just not enough with one election or two. Another example is that it is almost impossible with inhabitant initiatives, because the standard right never want to allow this. The right-wing have always been about strengthen the power of the market against the public power. In turn that means to restrict the area of decision making. The politicians will do less while the capitalists and big corporations rules. One good example is the eager of the right-wing, but also social democrats, to manoeuvre Norway into EU without too much protest. The more we are engulfed in the four liberties of EU (free movement of capital, labour, services and goods) the more the economic elite rules both Europe and Norway. At the same time the difference between masses and elite increases. It is about classes. The class struggle is concealed behind consumerism and alienation. I wonder when the struggle will start. Many things depend on this, but we see signs on “going back” to a more elitist and authoritarian way of ruling. The so called “free market” is not democratic. When will the people see this and what will we do with it?