IN HIS 1961 New Year’s message, King Olav said Norway must make preparations to meet any military emergency. “We should remember,” His Majesty said, “that we human beings are hardly born to total security, and that as long as people have lived on earth it has been necessary to plow with the sword by one’s side.”
The King was making oblique reference to the Action for Atomic Disarmament, a snowballing combination of thirteen left-wing and labor organizations led by architect John Engh and cheered on by the liberal newspaper Morgenbladet. By a stroke of irony, Morgenbladet‘s editor, Helge Seip, also Oslo‘s Liberal Party representative to the Storting, was to lose his seat in the forthcoming September elections because of the atomic disarmament campaign.
The new Socialist People’s Party, a direct outgrowth of the A.F.A.D. campaign, was destined to attract voters who otherwise would surely have reelected both Seip and Emil Lovlien, chairman of the Norwegian Communist Party and the sole remaining Communist in the Storting. Both lost their elections, and both bitterly complained, with some justification, about the election system.
Lovlien pointed out that, whereas the Center Party had one representative in the Storting for every 11,000 votes, the Communist Party, which polled 53,400 votes, was left without a representative. The point was made in the Oslo press that under a “mathematically correct election system” the Labor Party would have won seventy seats; the nonsocialist parties, seventy-two; the Socialist People’s Party, three and one half; and the Communists, four or five. The Communist Party had been losing ground since 1945, when eleven Communists were elected to the Storting, and the victory of the Socialist People’s Party capped a long series of Communist disappointments.
What appeared more significant at the time of the elections, however, was the Labor Party’s loss of the majority it had held since 1945. Prime Minister Gerhardsen had made a pre-election promise to resign if the Labor Party did not retain its majority in the Storting, and many of his opponents were for keeping him to the promise. But in October it was decided that the Gerhardsen government should try to hold together a coalition.
Jitters over the Common Market
The decline in the Labor Party’s power comes at a time when unity is needed in policy decisions, particularly on NATO, and in Norway’s pending debate concerning the European Economic Community — whether to join or stay out of the Common Market. In a radio interview late in September, Prime Minister Gerhardsen came out positively for Norwegian membership in the European Economic Community, provided that Great Britain becomes a member.
A month later, Eric Brofoss, director of the Bank of Norway, said that Norway must join the Common Market. There is a good bit of solid opposition to Brofoss’ attitude. The prospect of entry into the Common Market has the Norwegian trade associations and home market industries very worried. They know there is small hope that the lowering of trade barriers can be gradual and gentle enough to prevent traditionally protected industries from suffering heavily.
In 1954 a Scandinavian Customs Union had been proposed. The plan, submitted in 1957, set forth a Scandinavian common market and a Scandinavian investment bank, among other things. The beauty of the plan, for Norway at least, lay in the careful arrangements for easing off customs and import regulations, in some cases over fiveand ten-year periods, for those home industries which stood to be hit hardest.
In Finland, Denmark, and Sweden, the plan met general approval, but in Norway it collided head on with the trade and industrial organizations, which killed it. If Great Britain enters the Common Market, as is expected, Norway will have to follow, home industries and trade associations aside, or suffer drastic consequences. In West Germany, for example, where there used to be no duty on fresh herring, the European Economic Community has already decided on a common tariff duty of 20 percent.
Boom in exports
The country‘s index of wholesale prices and cost of living remained virtually stable, experiencing only a slight rise in 1961. Even though a tightening in credit policy was carried out last July, the economy continued to boom.
Norway‘s increase in overall production for 1960 was about 6.5 percent, and it is estimated that half of this increase came from exports. In 1959 the increase in gross national product was 4.5 percent, and two thirds of this gain is credited to exports. From 1959 to 1960 ihe number of wage earners went up by 15,500, and the volume of imports increased by 20 percent.
The government’s long-term program for 1962 to 1965 anticipates an increase in production of 4 percent per annum. Economic planners believe that about half the total increase over the four years will be in manufacturing and shipping.
Norway entered the twentieth century with huge forests and rich fisheries, but in sixty-one years the nation has expanded both these resources for export to full capacity. Indeed, both forestry and fishing, as industries, are in decline. Norwegian forests cannot supply the paper and pulp industries even for their present capacity, and before World War II timber was being imported from Finland and the Baltic countries. Although reforestation is under way at last, seedlings planted now cannot be harvested before the turn of the century in this far-northern latitude. The herring catch, which went over a million tons for an all-time record in 1956, dropped to 70,000 tons in 1961. Herring fishermen last season reported vast Russian fishing fleets in the seas of Norway, “representing an obstacle to the operations of other herring fishers.”
Fish biologists predict a steady decline of cod in the coastal waters; the annual catch of sardines has reached its limit; and the whale catch has been limited for years to 14,500.
Norway appeared to be considering withdrawing from the whaling convention last year but has not yet done so. Employment in fishing since 1948 had shown a decrease of 1 29 percent, according to the November, 1960, Fishery Census, dropping from 85,500 to 61,000 in twelve years. Last year the Storting appropriated live million kroner (about $700,000) for unemployment-relief work, primarily for Norway’s idle fishermen.
Fish and forests are resources which accounted for about 70 percent of Norway’s exports before World War II. The government believes that if the Norwegian economy is to expand, the further development of cheap electric power is the answer. Of an estimated potential of 130 billion kilowatt-hours, Norway has so far developed only 31 billion kilowatt-hours. With more electric power, Norway can continue to expand production of strategic metals at a competitive price, even though some of the ores will have to be imported.
A second major industry in which substantial growth is hoped for is the more traditional one of shipping, in which Norway now ranks fourth in the world. By midyear 1961, Norway‘s merchant fleet had increased from less than three million tons in 1945 to well over eleven million tons. Contracts already placed by Norwegian shipowners for the next four years total another three million tons.
On December 19, a new three-year trade agreement was signed with the U.S.S.R., calling for increased import quotas of Soviet automobiles, machinery, and pulpwood. Because only 3 percent of Norway is under cultivation, bread grains are imported, including 75,000 tons of Russian wheat and 30,000 tons of rye annually.
Norway and the Soviet Union
Norway‘s relations with the Soviet Union underwent enormous strain last year after thirteen years of comparatively smooth sailing. The aggravating factors were Russia‘s attempts to reorganize the United Nations in opposition to Swedish Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjödld, Russia’s callous omission of any message of sympathy upon the occasion of the Secretary-General’s tragic death in September, the resumption of Soviet thermonuclear testing, and the Soviet note of October 30 calling for talks between Finland and the U.S.S.R. for a mutual defense pact. Great though the outcry was against the Soviet bomb tests, the Russian note to Finland proved the greater shock and caused the most concern, It served to stiffen Norway’s attitude of defense and to unify its people.
Said Morgenhladet, “The Soviet note to Finland has by one stroke flung Scandinavia into the cold war’s vortex.” Morgenposten grimly observed, “If the Soviet wants bases in Finland, it will take them. If it wants troops in Finland, it will have them there. Finland is alone. We can only hope the threats will not materialize, but if they do, our country’s position will be imperiled as well. Norway is not alone. We are a member of the NATO defense organization. This is reassuring, but it involves obligations too.”
The “obligations,” of course, referred to the possibility that NATO might stock atomic weapons and offer tactical warheads for the defense of Norway. Although 95 percent of the Norwegians supported the Labor government‘s policy to stock such weapons if attacked or threatened with attack, the vociferous 5 percent, representing the Socialist People‘s Party and the Communists, appeared certain to weaken Norway’s role in NATO by setting up roadblocks in the path of defensive policy decisions. More than any other segment of the Norwegian population, students from seventeen to twenty-four years of age appeared intimidated by the bomb tests and the note.
In spite of friction between Oslo and Moscow, Norwegians and Russians far to the north went briskly ahead with plans for a fence along thirty-five kilometers of the Russian border in order to stop reindeer from wandering over to the Russian side.
The shifting culture
Before Norway achieved independence from Sweden in 1905, the country had undergone centuries of domination, dating back to the black death, when the old royal dynasty became extinct. The language was greatly influenced by Danish during the four hundred years Norway was politically tied to Denmark, and the Norwegian written language gradually became completely Danish. Today Norway has two official written languages, “book tongue.” the idiom dominating literature, newspapers, and magazines; and “land tongue,” evolved by the nineteenth-century poet Ivar Aasen, which is taught in the schools but is not widely used, except in the rural areas.
The existence of two languages is only one sign of Norway’s long fight to preserve its national culture and to maintain independence from foreign domination. In spite of all, the foreign influence is mounting. American motion pictures and American rock-and-roll music have captured the teen-age psyche. With English now being taught in the public schools from the sixth grade on, there is no stemming the tide, no satisfying the demand for entertainment of the Elvis Presley and Debbie Reynolds order. From the North Cape to Lindesnes in the south, American films and pop music have grappled with the traditional culture and toppled it.
The legitimate theater, though active in Oslo and subsidized by the government, is not outstanding. The most successful of the plays are translations of American Broadway hits. There are no native dramatists to speak of, and the golden days of Ibsen and Björnson, of excitement in the theater, show no signs of reviving. Similarly, no living Norwegian novelist so far displays the power such as was found in the work of Knut Hamsun or Sigrid Undset. Perhaps the cold war has had its chilling effect on literature.
The graphic and plastic arts, on the other hand, are flourishing. Handicrafts have achieved new significance. Out of the Norse heritage there has come a new interest in the design, manufacture, and display of fine glass, jewelry, and furniture. These products find a ready market in a Norwegian public whose taste is becoming more and more highly refined. The Norwegian eye for beauty and utility was never more abundantly in evidence than in 1962.