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'Nationalism' in the Nordics

David Bartal · 18 May 2008, 11:51

Published: 18 May 2008 11:51 GMT+02:00

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I almost choked on my toast on Saturday morning when I read the caption below a photo of a dark-skinned child in a shawl beating on a drum on the front page of Dagens Nyheter newspaper. Regardless of the intention of the editors, the photo caption could be interpreted as xenophobic, or even racist. That is not a good thing.

The headline below the photo of what appeared to be a Muslim child predicts "A toned-down nationalism when Norway celebrates its National Day."

The caption went on to explain that Maymona, the 12-year-old in the photo, "will beat on her drum in front of the Royal Palace today in Oslo on the National Day, May 17. She is proof that nationalism has been toned down in Norway in recent years. Upwards of a third of the children in the "children's parade" are the children of immigrants."

But why should the participation of children with a different ethnic background somehow "tone down" Norwegian nationalism? Does Maymona represent a threat to Nordic purity? I can't imagine that this was what the editors of DN meant to suggest.

In fact, the article linked to the front page photo and caption conveys a nearly opposite message. It suggests that the enthusiastic participation of large numbers of immigrants in national day celebrations is viewed by many Norwegians as a positive change. But the caption on the front page of Sweden's largest daily is still hard for me to swallow.

Why, I wonder, should national pride be lessened or reduced by cultural diversity?

One reason for the unfortunate caption below the front-page photo could be linguistic. In English, we have a special word, patriotism, to convey a heartfelt love of the motherland, and a separate word, chauvinism, to describe a close-minded, bigoted sort of national pride.

When a Swede speaks of "nationalism," the word has mainly negative connotations. One associates nationalism here with the Nazi or fascist regimes of the WWII era. Therefore, a reduction of nationalism from a traditional Swedish point of view is desirable.

In neighbouring Norway, Denmark and Finland, nationalism is not regarded in that manner, but there is a reason for that: Those countries have in living memory been forced to fight to maintain or reclaim their independence. Sweden hasn't fought a war in 200 years.

Story continues below…

Many Swedes envy the colourful expressions of national pride exhibited each year on May 17th in Norway, when the crowds throng Karl Johan Boulevard. That is part of the reason that the Swedish parliament three years made June 6th, formerly known as Flag Day, into an official public holiday and renamed it National Day.

Significantly, many Swedes are not sure exactly how they should celebrate their own National Day. Fly the flag, sure, but what else should one do? The photo caption on the front page of DN on Saturday suggests that much remains to be clarified in regards to Sweden's own modern identity before the whole country can get out and party on June 6th.

David Bartal (news@thelocal.se)

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