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Progress: A Noose for Norse Identity?

September 10, 2014
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Norway’s oil and gas reserves have helped put the country at the top of global rankings for wealth and wellbeing for several years now. Unlike most other countries rich in oil supplies, Norway has taken caution not to squander its resources by being parsimonious in its spending and investing its oil and gas money in a sovereign wealth fund. This has helped put Norway on a very sturdy economic footing, the preservation of which has been made possible by Norwegians’ work ethic and trust in their national government and fellow citizens. The high level of trust in Norwegian society—made more problematic by issues of discrimination and racism directed at many of the country’s immigrants, but nevertheless impressive when compared with rampant distrust in other advanced economies—has made Norway a nation in which income disparities are purposely kept low and many citizens are able to comfortably afford vacation homes and $10 cappuccinos.

The wealth and happiness that has come with responsible spending does seem, however, to have a downside. Oslo, Norway’s largest city and Europe’s fastest-growing capital, is undergoing rapid demographic growth and drastic redevelopment. The capital’s skyline continues to expand upwards with skyscrapers and contemporary glass high-rise apartments, and these changes in the townscape have spurred an identity crisis among some Norwegians, as well as apprehensions about growing wealth gaps and problems of assimilation. As regards the first of these trepidations, BBC reports that a number of Norwegians are beginning to worry that all the progress and modernization that their society has been undergoing have led to a diminishing sense of ‘traditional’ Norwegian identity. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Norway’s identity seems to be becoming more and more disassociated from its Viking origins and its idealization of nature—and proud Norwegians wish they could turn back the clock. In addition, those opposed to Oslo’s redevelopment are concerned that the new constructions are not designed for the average inhabitant and that they will just serve to increase wealth gaps and to push Oslo’s large immigrant population even further to the sidelines. This last concern is for some particularly distressing, as it could further impede immigrant assimilation and lead to race riots of the like of those of Paris and Stockholm. Time (and Norwegians’ developing reactions) will tell whether Norway’s economic progress will continue to increase Norwegians’ trust and communal cohesion, or whether it will serve to further aggravate the existing fault lines in Norwegian society.

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