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ROYAL VISIT: Norway's king and queen travel Upper Midwest following footsteps of ancestors

The country that Norway's King Harald V and Queen Sonja will represent this week as they visit the Upper Midwest has changed substantially since Norwegian emigrants left for America in great numbers in the late 1800s.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg
Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, in his new office in central Oslo. His old office was destroyed in the bomb attack July 22. (AP Photo/Scanpix, Lise Aserud) NORWAY OUT

The country that Norway's King Harald V and Queen Sonja will represent this week as they visit the Upper Midwest has changed substantially since Norwegian emigrants left for America in great numbers in the late 1800s.

It is a different Norway from the nation Harald's father, King Olav V, represented when he last toured "Norwegian America" in 1987, just four years before his death.

It is a different Norway, too, from the nation that lost some of its innocence in July, when Anders Behring Breivik massacred 69 people at a youth camp and eight people with a car bomb outside the prime minister's office in central Oslo.

"Everybody is still talking about it," said Alf Ole Ask, the U.S. correspondent of Aftenposten, one of Norway's leading newspapers, who recently spent several days at home before returning to his post in New York.

Ask has been to the American Midwest many times, and in the past year visited North Dakota to write about politics and oil development.


"It shocked the country and it made people start to think more about the values in their lives," he said of the July attacks. "I think it's a little too early to see how it's changed the country, except that it certainly has changed the political climate."

In nationwide local elections Sept. 12, Norwegian voters turned primarily to two traditional parties, the Conservatives and the Labor Party, shunning the right-wing, anti-immigration Progress Party -- which had counted Breivik as a member.

The Progress Party is second-largest in the Storting, the national parliament. It saw its support tumble by a third in the local voting. The Labor Party of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg had its best election result in 24 years.

"The extreme parties were the losers," Ask said, as the Socialist Left Party also lost support.

He said the country and its leaders have "reacted very responsibly" to the violence. Stoltenberg, whom Ask has known since they were teenagers, "took a real step toward statesmanship during this period."

A deeply emotional Stoltenberg spoke at a memorial service for the victims shortly after the July attacks. "The Norwegian response to terror is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation," he said. "We need to talk together much more than before and to express our views and opinions."

Nobody, he said, should feel left out. "An open political dialogue is the best insurance against any form of violence."

In the 1,500-page manifesto he posted on the Internet just hours before his rampage, Breivik had raged against what he called the "Islamization" of Norway and Europe. But in an August poll conducted by Verdens Gang, another leading Oslo newspaper, a growing number of Norwegians said they embrace multiculturalism.


King Harald cried, for all the country to see, at one of the memorial gatherings.

"He gave some good speeches, too," Ask said. "His popularity has increased. I think the royal family today is quite strong."

Connections old and modern

When King Olav spoke to 1,300 people at a banquet in Minneapolis on Nov. 27, 1987, he celebrated the sentimental links that continued to bind the two peoples.

"We have found that you still love the nation of your parents and grandparents," he said. "It warms the hearts of all Norwegians to know that the customs and traditions of the old country still hold an attraction for Americans of Norwegian descent."

Harald is likely to make similar observations as he visits colleges, churches and other institutions founded and sustained by Norwegian Americans in Minnesota and Iowa, including Vesterheim, the Norwegian American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. Exhibits there include a Norwegian immigrant home and church donated by people of Northwood, N.D. (North Dakota isn't on the itinerary for this visit.)

But like Olav, this king also is likely to focus on more modern connections in business, technology, research, trade and education. He will tour the Mayo Clinic in Rochester while in Minnesota, and he will participate with other Scandinavian heads of state at the opening of a Nordic art exhibition in New York.

"This is not our grandfather's Norway anymore," said Bruce Gjovig, director and entrepreneur coach of the UND Center for Innovation and chairman of Nordic Initiative.


Gjovig was knighted by King Harald in October 2008.

"Norway's economic transformation over the last century is transformational, and dramatic," he said. "When Norway became an independent country in 1905, it was among the poorest nations in the world. A century later, Norway is among the richest nations with the highest per capita income in Europe."

Ask echoed that. "Norway has become a very high-tech country, one of the best in the world for technology," he said.

"Norwegians today are a little concerned that, for Americans in the Midwest, Norway is like a little folk museum. But the picture is wrong on both sides. A lot of people in Norway only go to the coasts or to Houston (oil country) if they come to America, and they may think Americans in the Midwest are all eating lefse and wearing funny hats."

In his travels and reporting in the region, "I found Americans in the Midwest to be much more advanced than people in Norway realize," Ask said.

This region offers ready-made and eager markets for Norwegian goods, he said, and not just goat cheese and sweaters. For that reason, Ask wonders about the Norwegian Foreign Ministry's decision in 2007 to convert its diplomat-staffed consulate general in Minneapolis to an honorary consulate the following summer.

Visiting the Twin Cities three years later, "It surprised me to see how strong the feelings about that still are, especially among business people," he said.

Still beautiful, but now also rich


Norway, the poor, rustic but beautiful country that nearly 1 million people left for America between 1870 and the 1920s, is still beautiful but now rich.

For some time, it's been said that in Norway few have too much and fewer have too little. While disparities have grown recently, "it's still an egalitarian country," Ask said. "I tell people here that in Norway even the poor people are rich."

Oil and natural gas have contributed mightily to economic growth in Norway and to the financing of the Norwegian welfare state, according to the country's Ministry of Petroleum and Energy.

Forty years since production began in the North Sea, petroleum now accounts for about a fifth of value created in Norway. The country has socked away more than $300 billion in government pension funds and invested huge sums in exploration, field development, transportation infrastructure and land facilities. Industry investments in 2009 were just more than a quarter of Norway's total real investments.

About 40 percent of the total expected resources on the Norwegian Continental Shelf have been produced, again according to the energy ministry, and Norwegian oil production has slowly declined over the past decade after reaching a peak of 3.4 million barrels per day. But with increasing gas production, total petroleum production is likely to grow.

Norway today ranks as the world's 15th largest oil producer at 2.14 million barrels per day, and because it uses just a small percentage of the oil produced it has become a major oil exporter. (The U.S. is third in production at 8.85 million barrels per day, while Saudi Arabia leads with 10.3 million barrels per day.)

Oil doesn't deserve all or even most of the credit for Norway's transformation, Gjovig said.

"Along with investments in oil and gas exploration technologies, Norway invested in education, engineering, technology, innovation and shipping," he said. "They compete with the best.


"Norway first sent us their people, which helped build our country, and now they export their expertise, which is helping the world."

Men and women in modern Norway

One of modern Norway's core social values has been gender equality, and the government web site Statistics Norway provides some indication of how close they've come:

- About as many women as men have higher education, but choice of studies still follows traditional patterns: Women tend to choose careers in teaching and health care, while men predominate in technical subjects and natural sciences.

- Employment of women has risen dramatically since the mid-1970s, and today almost as many women as men are engaged in paid work. But as in higher education, clear traditional distinctions remain between predominantly female and male occupations. Also, women are much more likely to work part-time.

- More women are becoming managers, especially in teaching, health and social services, but only a fifth of top-level managers are women.

- The pay that women receive was 85 percent of men's in 2008. (In the U.S., women earn on average 23 percent less than men, according to research results published in April by the American Association of University Women.)

- As their presence in higher education and the workforce has grown since the 1960s, women are having children later in life. Since 1986, the average age of women giving birth for the first time has risen from 25 to 28.


- It hasn't evened out yet, but women in Norway spend less time -- and men more -- on domestic work today than in the early 1970s.


- Tuesday: Arrive Minneapolis-St. Paul.

- Thursday: Decorah, Iowa.

- Friday: Northfield, Minn., Rochester, Minn.

- Oct. 16: Minneapolis.

- Oct. 17: Duluth.

- Oct. 18-22: New York.

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send email to chaga@gfherald.com .

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