Jane Jacobs: The Secession of Norway from Sweden (part 2)

Please see the Contents and chapter one.

Chapter 3, The Secession of Norway from Sweden . Part 2 (pages 38 to 43)

From The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty (Jane Jacobs, Random House, New York, 1980)

For discussion purposes as allowed under the fair dealing exception of the Copyright Act.

Thus, in the middle of the ninetieth century, Norwegians were finding that they had a history in which it was possible for them to take pride, a language that it was possible to use and enjoy, and the beginnings of a literature of their own. The excitement all this generated was a bit exaggerated, if anything, then and later. According to an English historian of modern Norway, "anything done by a Norwegian in the arts and sciences, commerce and even sport had always to be vociferously acclaimed as the triumph of a specifically Norwegian culture..."
But alongside the cultural and nationalist ferment, another movement had been arising which ran counter to Norway's aspirations for independence. Called Scandinavianization, the object of that movement was the unification of Denmark, Norway and Sweden into a single nation.
Unifications and territorial expansions were in the air everywhere. The German principalities were uniting into the North German Federation, which became the German Empire. Russia was in the process of unifying Siberia under the rule of the czar. The United States, expanding westward to the Pacific, had engulfed territories seized in the Mexican War and was on the threshold of the Civil War, which so decisively would settle the issue of American unity. In Canada the time was approaching for Confederation under the British North America Act, and in Italy schemes for unification were beginning to germinate. Austria and Hungary were sealing the union that was to hold their empire for another half-century. In the wake of the Sepoy Mutiny, Britain was joining together under the British raj a bewildering variety of Indian states and principalities; and at the same moment French administrators of what is now Vietnam were concluding that Cambodia , too, must be united into their Indochinese holdings for protection of their position. Everywhere, at home and abroad, great powers and would-be great powers were getting their ducks in a row: readying themselves for the rivalries and slaughters of our own century.
As for Scandinavization, one of its many European enthusiasts, Louis Napoleon of France, said in 1856, "The North must become one unit, one strong power, a counterweight both to Russia and to Germany."
At the time, of course, unification was widely thought of as progress in the art of government, and aggrandizement as the way to spread civilization. In Scandinavia, as elsewhere, political unification appealed strongly to those who conceived of it as a means of transcending differences and erasing conflicts in favor of cooperation, harmony and mutual aid. The chief stronghold of the Scandinavian movement for unification was in the universities. The importance of this lay in the fact that the students, who were a tiny minority of youth at the time, could be expected in due course to make up the civil services and other educated leadership of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The Swedish king favored the movement, as did many of the larger landholders in all three countries. Throughout the 1850s and early 1860s, when the movement was at its height, its success appeared all but inevitable.
But when Germany went to war against Denmark in 1864 to seize the province of Schleswig-Holstein, the Scandinavian movement was abruptly put to the test. Those in Norway who favored it insisted that Norwegians must enlist on Denmark's side; Norwegians overwhelmingly refused to do any such thing. The whole movement collapsed, never to rise again. Among those who were outraged was Ibsen, and idealistic and dedicated proponent of Scandinavianization. Some say his disillusionment and anger at what he considered his fellow Norwegians' blindness, and his bitterness at the movement's collapse because of their provincialism, as he saw it, were among the reasons he then exiled himself from his country.
The movement, however, had long and lingering consequences in Norway after its collapse. It continued to divided the population, with those who had favored Scandinavianization tending to lean toward closer union with Sweden, against those who preferred greater Norwegian autonomy.
Now let us get back to the Storting, which was where the battle was to be waged, and which we left in 1859 when the Storting's proposal to abolish the governor general was turned down by Sweden. The Swedish government had remained placatory and patient with the cantankerous Norwegians. When the Sorting chose to make an issues of the governor-generalship, immediately after rejecting Sweden's plans for customs and legal union, the king and his advisers remained patient, even sympathetic. They were prepares to accede to the Storting's request and abolish the governor general's post
But when word of this intention became known, an angry wave of Swedish public opinion prevented the government from proceeding. One can understand this Swedish reaction. After all, Sweden had consistently behaved decently toward Norway within the framework of the fact that Noway was a Swedish possession. Yet the Norwegians obdurately refused to take pleasure or pride in their association with Sweden. They would not even meet the Swedes halfway, and made no bones about it. Concessions, it seemed, were always being made by Sweden, never by Norway.
Instead of backing off in the face of this evidence of Swedish hostility, the Storting obstinately continued to press the issue of the governor-generalship. Session after session it passed the same resolution over and over again, and over again presented it to the king. Finally, after fourteen years of what must have come to seem to Sweden a case of monomania, Norway got its way.
In place of the governor-generalship, with its connotations of colonial rule, Sweden created a new office, Minister of State for Norway. The position was analogous to that of prime minister in the sense that the new official was the highest-ranking Norwegian minister, but unlike a prime minister under a parliamentary system he was appointed in Stockholm and was still responsible to the government there. The immediate gain for Norway was symbolical: the implication that the center of authority had moved from Stockholm to Oslo.
But this change was only the first step in a more ambitious scheme the Storting's leadership had in mind -attainment of responsible government under a true parliamentary system. Now that Norway had a quasi prime minister, the Storting passed a bill demanding that the Ministers for Norway, those aloof civil servants in Stockholm, come to Oslo and sit in the Storting as ministers would do under a parliamentary system, and become responsible to the Storting. The bill outraged Swedish public opinion again, and it was promptly vetoed in Sweden. Hostility between the two peoples mounted. These reactions were to increase to the point where, during the next thirty years, until separation, on at least three occasions it appeared that either country might take up arms against the other.
In the Storting itself a situation now existed that was tailormade for conflict and crisis. The membership had formed into two political parties. The larger, representing separatist sentiment, was led by Johan Sverdrup, a brilliantly resourceful lawyer, chief strategist of the scheme for attaining respondible government. This faction, although it constituted a majority, held no de facto power. The minority party, representing the unionists, was formally in charge because its leader was the appointed quasi prime minister in whom authority resided. In addition, the government civil service -which exerted most of the real power- was composed of unionists. In election after election the separatists were returned to the Storting with decisive majorities, yet in effect remained the minority party.
Their one effective from of strength was their ability to win issues put to a vote in the Storting, and they proceeded to use this asset with rather breath-taking boldness. What they did was vote in the Storting, and they proceeded to use this asset with rather breath-taking boldness. What they did was vote to amend the Norwegian constitution in a way specifically required the Ministers for Norway to come sit in the Storting, respond to its questions and act under its directions. Tactically, this was not a mere repetition of the previous resolution asking the same thing; it was a constitutional amendment. Naturally, the amendment was vetoed in Sweden. But the Storting then proceeded to pass it twice more, each time after elections that returned larger and larger separatist majorities, and to announce -after the third passage, in 1880- that it was now law regardless of vetoes because it fulfilled the Norwegian constitution's own provisions for amendment. Thereupon the Storting ordered the Ministers for Norway to obey the constitution and submit to the Storting. Of course they refused.
A four-year legal wrangle of stupendous complexity followed. Overruling a decision of the Rigsret (Supreme Court of Norway) and an opinion from the law faculty of the University of Oslo, the Storting then proceeded to impeach the ministers, convict them, levy fines against them and declare they offices forfeit and vacant. Through all this, tempers in Sweden rose and so did tempers in Norway. This was one of the occasions when violence appeared probable. The Norwegians feared a royal military coup, which had been rumored. Volunteer rifle began organizing in Norway to resist such a takeover.
The Swedish government and king, who throughout the crisis had continued to speak in voices of moderation and to do their best to calm down the hotheads on both sides, now were faced with only two choices: either Sweden must enforce its rule over Norway by military means, which clearly meant civil war, or else it must accede to the Storting's demand for responsible government.
Sweden chose the peaceful course. The king asked Sverdrup to form a cabinet. Government of Norway by Norway, the grand and pitiful public fantasy of Eidsvold, seventy years before, had finally become reality.
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