Norwegians - Indigenous People in Norway?The Sami people were, before the recent waves of immigration, the most significant ethnic minority in Scandinavia. They inhabit parts of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and northwestern Russia, the region sometimes called Lapland. In the 1980s, they were granted a Constitutional right to preserve their culture in Norway. Earlier this year the Norwegian parliament, Stortinget, passed a law that went further than that, granting the Sami people special property rights in the northernmost province of Finmmark, over that of Norwegian citizens of non-Sami origin. Carl I. Hagen, leader of the right-wing Progress Party, has argued that the law is racist, in effect creating an apartheid regime in Finnmark. I tend to agree with him. What's more interesting is that the parliament this spring also passed, with the support of all parties except the Progress Party, a new Discrimination Act saying in pretty clear words that in cases of suspected direct or indirect discrimination due to religion or ethnicity, Norwegians are guilty until proven otherwise. In other words, if any Somali or Pakistani claims that I have discriminated against him, I have to bend over backwards to prove my innocence. In the same year as Norway celebrates 100 years as an independent nation, my leaders make me de facto a second-rate citizen of my own country.
My first thought about the law regarding Finnmark is that it should be repealed. It sets a very dangerous precedent to give a special legal status to a particular ethnic group, at a time when this country is rapidly becoming the home of people from all around the world. It is the road to Balkanization, and yet another indication that our leaders have completely lost their grip on reality. Groups don't have rights. Only individuals do.
On the other hand: When I look at how this country is, I notice that everybody should "keep their culture". Everybody except me, that is. If you ask people how native Norwegians are supposed to keep our culture when we may soon be a minority in our own country, many quickly reply that "there is no such thing as Norwegian culture". We eat Italian pasta and Chinese food and are otherwise "Americanized", which is of course bad. This is exactly the same reply you will get in Sweden, even more vehemently. So, everybody is supposed to keep their culture, except people of European origins? Is that it? All cultures are equal, but some are more equal than others? Why is colonialism always bad, but not when my country, which has no colonial history, gets colonized by Muslims?
The special status granted to the Sami people is based on the logic behind the UN Convention concerning Indigenous Peoples. The interesting question, which nobody in our intellectual establishment has asked, is what legal ramifications this law has for the rest of Norway. If the Sami people can be given status as indigenous people in the northernmost regions of Norway, why can't Norwegians be given the same status in the rest of the country? After all, we have stayed here for centuries, probably even for thousands of years. And we belong to a small "tribe" of only 4 million people, a drop in the sea of humanity. Again, I am as a matter of principle skeptical of granting rights to groups within a country. But it is an intriguing question. I have no illusions about the UN, but I find it difficult to see how our politicians could deny us this when they just gave it to others.
A multicultural society implies that all cultures are granted equal status. Isn't it then by definition an encroachment on the rights of the native population if they have to subdue their cultural identity to please people who just moved there out of their own, free will? In Norway, our authorities seem to solve this dilemma by simply stating that this is a terra nullis, a land without people or at least a land without culture. The rights of the Norwegian people don't count because the Norwegian people doesn't exist. Perhaps the time has come to challenge this assertion?