Monday, 16 March 2009

The Dream of a Nordic Alliance

Much is often talked about the rivalries and divisions between the Nordic nations, based on differences that are seen nowhere so clearly as in the field of culture. Yet it's hard to find written discussions of the subject - as though it were something to be hidden away rather than given a public airing. I recently came across an interesting and in-depth study of the topic, not by a literary figure but by a Danish musicologist, Anders Beyer, who has written extensively about the music of Per Nørgård, among other composers. In his essay, Beyer considers the changing face of the North as it comes, rather uneasily, into contact with the "mainland" of Europe. Although the essay was written some time ago, back in 2002, it still has contemporary relevance, and could perhaps form the basis for further debate. Excerpt:
We now see the outlines of an alliance shaping up between Norway, Iceland, the Faroes and Greenland as opposed to Denmark, Sweden and Finland who belong to the EU. We are seeing a new North, comprising the non-EU Western North and the EU Eastern North. In the case of Iceland, it has with a some justification been suggested that as a result of external influences the Icelanders have more in common with the Celtic temperament than the Nordic mentalilty. This illustrates the fact that in our enthusiasm to examine the Norse traditions we should not overlook other influences, for example from the British Isles.

Taking the birds' eye view of history, so to speak, we must at this point state that the euphoric Scandinavianism of the mid-nineteenth century has been eroded away. Back then, one could truly speak of a common goal which averted the rise of nationalist movements witnessed on the Continent. But strong interests in terms of realpolitik behind Scandinavianism as an alliance no longer exist. The contrary is rather the case, succumbing to temptations in the form of offers of new partnerships in the major central European movements.
Read it all.

3 comments:

  1. I note Beyer's groupings of Norway-Iceland-Faroes-Greenland as opposed to EU countries Denmark-Sweden-Finland. Finland is a bit of an odd man out in the second group, as the other two were, for centuries, imperial powers. Iceland is likely to join the EU soonish, because of its temporary lack of an economy. Norway still has its oil.

    There are other splits, both military and alcoholic.

    Starting with cocktail parties and receptions, I have heard that when it comes to chat and gossip, once three or four glasses have been downed, the centre of Sweden-Norway-Denmark forms one axis of chat, whilst the Icelanders and Finns get on like a house on fire. Most curiously, when you hear an Icelander and a Finn speak English, there are some similarities, hinging on voiced and voiceless consonants.

    And militarily. Sweden has always claimed neutrality, a painful gesture at times, because during the Cold War everyone knew which side the Swedes would be on, once the chips were down, in a real emergency. However, there is now a bit of an odd situation, with ex-Soviet republics joining NATO, and Finland and Sweden keeping their respective noses clean. Denmark is in NATO, as is Norway. So here we have another configuration.

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  3. >>Most curiously, when you hear an Icelander and a Finn speak English, there are some similarities, hinging on voiced and voiceless consonants.<<

    I sometimes think it may also be connected with the fact that in both languages the stress falls almost invariably on the first syllable of each word. This feature somehow carries over into the English pronunciation of many Icelanders and Finns.

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