Who are the Nordics and is it fair to claim that we are in any way special?
The Nordic countries are Iceland, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden. Together some 25 million people, each country having a population of approximately: Iceland 0.3 million, Norway 5.2 million, Finland 5.5 million, Denmark 5.7 million, and Sweden 9.8 million. Greenland and the Faroe Islands are autonomous regions of Denmark, and together the Nordic countries are bordering Canada to the west, Russia to the east and Germany to the south. To the north, Greenland and Norway circle the waters and the ice caps around the North Pole together with Canada, the United States and Russia.
Norway, Denmark and Sweden are also known as Scandinavia and the three languages are so similar that linguists are tempted to call them dialects. Especially Norwegian and Danish are close enough that reading each other’s’ languages is no problem, if we speak slowly enough we can engage in conversation. To the Swedes, both languages are a bit of a challenge, and so is Swedish to Norwegians and Danes. No more so, though, than with a little effort, some accommodation and maybe a couple of days’ focused work, we can read each other’s’ newspapers and follow the day-to-day debates in each other’s’ media.
Historically, the three countries have been united in the Kalmar Union 1397-1523, in a monetary union 1875-1914, and in a passport union (including Iceland and Finland) since 1952. The latter has been temporarily dissolved by Sweden as of January 4th 2016 due to the European migration crisis. Since the Viking Age, Sweden and Denmark have very often been at war with each other and until its modern independence in 1905, Norway has been independent as well as under the Danish crown and under the Swedish crown. All three countries are to this day constitutional monarchies.
The ties are not quite that close with Iceland and Finland, unless something really important comes up. When Iceland was about to collapse completely in the financial crisis 2008, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden stepped in and loaned Iceland 2.5 billion USD , and the Faroe Islands (population 0.05 million) loaned them 53 million USD. All five countries also collaborate extensively on defense, even though Iceland, Norway and Denmark are NATO members, and Finland and Sweden are not. We also collaborate through The Nordic Council and The Nordic Council of Ministers, which are made up by parliamentarians from Iceland, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden plus representatives from the local governments in Greenland, Faroe Islands and Åland (autonomous region of Finland), and the three Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The language barriers between Iceland, Finland and Scandinavia are considerable and neither of us can just pick up the two other languages. However, since Iceland was Danish until 1948, Danish is mandatory as the second foreign language in Icelandic schools, and Swedish is an official language in Finland and mandatory in Finnish schools. Whenever Fins and Icelanders participate in Nordic collaboration, though, we tend to speak English together, and when Scandinavians meet among themselves, unless participants are experienced with the other Scandinavian languages, even we tend to speak English too (everybody finds this embarrassing, but it is a fact).
For the sake of clarity and the length of this book – and, let’s be honest, due to the language barrier – beyond this first chapter we will focus on Denmark, Norway and Sweden only (and hope that the Icelanders and Fins will forgive us). We also have to admit that given our Danish and Swedish backgrounds, the historical development in Norway is new to both of us and neither of us has a deep sense of knowing where to look for the right sources. On the other hand, it has been an eye-opener for both of us to discover how the conversation among Nordic intellectuals has waxed and waned for more than 200 years and how this conversation has been of great importance to the development of the Nordic countries. There actually is such a thing as The Nordics in much more than a geographical sense.
The picture featured above is from an October morning, 2014, when the Nordic Council assembled in the Parliament in Stockholm. The Council does not have legislative power but it was fascinating attending a meeting never the less.