Denmark’s two main national holidays celebrate completely contradictory principles. One celebrates the birthday of the monarch (April 16) while the other celebrates the anniversary of the taking of power away from the monarch, on June 5, 1849.
To understand the importance of the 1849 Constitution, we have to delve into the histories of the Danes and Swedes, which are hopelessly incestuous until 1523. Don’t even try telling the two apart before then. But Sweden’s breakaway in 1523 led to a new relationship between the two. Namely, one of war, a hobby the two nations pursued with abandon for the next century and a half.
Finally along came a Danish king in the mid 17th century, Frederick III, who somehow managed to win over the hearts and minds of the Danish people by leading them to utter defeat at the hands of the Swedish in 1658—and then by staging an unprecedented comeback in Game 7 of the Dano-Swedish War (1658-1660), defending the city of Copenhagen from destruction and forcing Sweden to relinquish territory.
The crowds went wild. The conqueror Frederick III became the Lakers of Denmark, and his popularity grew to such an extent that the First Estate was persuaded to disband the legislative assembly and concede all power to Frederick. This was accomplished by the Lex Regia Perpetua / Kongelov (King’s Law), a document which…
The king’s word was the law of the land for nearly two centuries. It wasn’t until 1849 that King Frederick VII peacefully overturned the principles of the Kongelov, relinquishing absolute power and establishing the constitutional monarchy of Denmark.
The last revision to the Constitution was in 1953, also on June 5.
How to celebrate Constitution Day? Or Grundlovsdag as it’s called…
According to wikipedia.org,
“Some people attend political meetings, though many – especially the elderly – meet at the sites of the political meetings to drink beer and other alcoholic beverages.” (Public Holidays in Denmark)
In 1814 the four-century union between Denmark and Norway abruptly ended when Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden following the Napoleonic Wars. Norway also lost what had once been its own. Iceland and Greenland, settled by the Norse in the 9th and 10th centuries, would remain in Denmark’s possession.
With the emergence of a national ‘farm culture’ in Norway, and a growing awareness of the French and American Revolutions, a movement for Norwegian sovereignty gained momentum. Crown Prince Christian Frederik assembled a congress of Norwegian leaders in Eidsvoll to draft a Norwegian Constitution, which was signed on May 17, 1814. To this day Norway celebrates May 17, Constitution Day, as its most important national holiday.
The road to independence was not that easy though. The Swedes attacked Norway in July (The last war the Swedes have ever fought) leading to a ceasefire agreement in August. The treaty establish a ‘personal union’ with Sweden, in which Norway recognized the authority of the Swedish King.
Ninety years later the Norwegian parliament declared its independence as a constitutional monarchy, backed by a united populace, and the Swedish parliament voted to accept the dissolution a few months later.
It wasn’t until 1991 that Harald V, the present King of Norway, became the first native-born Norwegian monarch since Queen Margaret’s 17 year-old son King Olaf died in 1387.
At 16 I traveled to Norway as a foreign exchange student. Aside from a week in Canada, I had never left the United States. Before I left, a friend from Spain made fun of me for wanting to go to Norway. He assured me I would be surrounded by cows.
I stayed in a tiny sea-side town (they’re just about all sea-side, or fjord-side, towns) near Molde, between Bergen and Trondheim. The town’s population was smaller than my high school back in the States. I remember my host family’s TV. It had one TV station, and it went off the air each night to be replaced by a static signal. The signal was more intriguing to me than the actual programming. I had never seen dead air:
Traveling from Long Beach, California (alma mater of Snoop Dogg) to Elnesvågen, Norway was a shock. I had always been taught I lived in the greatest country on earth, yet here I was in a near social utopia. A land where crime had, relatively speaking, disappeared and poverty was a non-issue. Norway was years ahead of us even in issues like gender equality. And it didn’t hurt that the Norwegian landscape was pristine and picture perfect. I still believe it’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
One week my host siblings took me in a tiny motorboat to an island off the coast, named Bjornsund. There we caught crabs (the edible kind) and had to pump our own water. It was like traveling to another world, another century.
Of all my travels since, perhaps none has affected me like that first journey to Norway. It showed me that there are alternative ways of living, of governing. That the wide divide between rich and poor and the persistence of crime are not absolutes. Yes, the tax rate was high, but Norwegians got a lot in return, health care included.
The question was–I could never be sure–was the U.S. behind Norway, or was Norway behind the U.S.?
I mean, hopefully it was the former. That America was on the path to making equality a reality instead of a mantra. That by emulating countries like Norway we would reduce crime, improve our social services, and increase our standard of living for all citizens.
But more and more I feared it was the other way around. As Norway dealt with new immigration from other parts of Europe and the Middle East, for example, I could see the beginnings of racism where homogeneity had long been the norm. Was Norway ahead of the world, our was it destined to lose its sense of community and follow in the footsteps of other modern countries plagued by urban violence and disparity in the mass media-crazed 21st century?
I returned six years later to Norway, to that same house with the one TV station. It was still too early to tell what was in store for Norway’s social future. But I did notice that my host family in Elnesvågen now had 200 channels.
There was another way Norway affected me. Just as my Spanish friend predicted, the house I lived in was sandwiched between two farms. Being a city boy I couldn’t help but notice the ever-present aroma of cow manure. Though I eventually got used to it, the memories of that summer were woven indelibly into my olfactory lobes.
To this day, when we pass a farm on the highway and smell the fertilizer, others may plug their noses.
May 3 is Constitution Day in two countries on opposite sides of the globe.
Poland’s most recent constitution dates only to 1997, but it stems from the Constitution of May 3, 1791, one of the oldest codified constitutions in the world. Only the Constitution of the United States is older. [The Constitution of San Marino dates to 1600, but apparently is not codified enough to compete with the big boys. — Ed.]
The 1997 Constitution was a response to Poland’s changing position in the world, from a one-party socialist state under the control of its powerful neighbor, the Soviet Union, to a multi-party independent state.
The Japanese Constitution was put into effect on May 3, 1947. Its creation dealt with Japan’s changing role in the world after World War II. The Constitution altered not only the government—a government in which the Emperor would have less say in matters of state—but also the Japanese way of life. The Constitution protects standard basic freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, but goes one step further. Article 19, for example, proclaims:
“Freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated.”
One of the most long-reaching impacts of the Constitution is Article 9, which deals with the renunciation of warfare:
“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
So you’re probably thinking, No military? I could go over there with a dinghy and a BB gun and take over the country!
You would be met with a surprisingly powerful defense force. Japan still maintains its ability to defend its homeland, and…
“By 1990 estimates of Japan’s defense budget were that it was either the third or fourth largest in the world and Japan’s SDF was a high technology fighting force.”