| The origin of the first
inhabitants of Norway is uncertain, but it is likely that they travelled
north from central Europe.
The known history of the country begins during the 9th century AD
and is based on the Viking sagas, supported by
archaeological evidence, and the explorations of Viking adventurers
who colonised the Scottish islands, parts of the Scottish and Irish
mainland's, Iceland and (for a short time) Greenland.
Norway itself was divided into a number of fiefdoms.
The unification process began with King Harald Fairhair,
who defeated the major northern tribes at The battle of
Hafrsfjord (near Stavanger) in 872. Over the next 2 centuries,
Christianity gradually spread into the country, supplanting traditional
beliefs in Norse gods and by 1060, the country
From 1200 onwards, the twin powers of crown and church took control
of the whole country. The arrival of bubonic plague, The
Black Death, in Norway in 1350 killed half the Norwegian
population and drastically weakened the power of its institutions.
The Norwegians and Swedes had already established a joint monarchical
structure and this lasted between 1319 and 1343.
Following the ravages of the Black Death, Norway
entered into a political union with Denmark in
1380 through intermarriage between the countries’ ruling families.
The alliance was cemented by a formal treaty in 1450, and was intended
to be one of equals but in practice, Denmark was the dominant partner,
and in 1536, Norway became formally subservient to the Danish crown.
Thus, when the 17th-century rivalry between Denmark and Sweden –
the 2 dominant powers in the Baltic – broke out into warfare,
the vanquished Danes handed parts of the Norwegian territory to
The link between Denmark and Norway was finally broken in 1815 at
the end of the Napoleonic wars. Denmark/Norway
had sided with France and after the defeat of Napoleon,
Norway was handed over to the Swedes – who had fought in the
opposing camp – effectively as one of the spoils of war.
The Norwegians were allowed their own parliament, the Storting,
which repeatedly clashed with the Swedish government throughout
the period of the union between both countries. This was officially
and peacefully dissolved in 1905 following a referendum at which
just two hundred people – from a franchise of about 400,000
– voted in favour of retaining the union. The Swedes accepted
the decision and Norway finally achieved true independence
in 1905 as a constitutional monarchy.
The country’s three main political parties, Labour,
Liberal and Christian Democrat,
were formed during the 1880s. The early 20th century was dominated
by the rivalry between the Labour and Liberal parties. 1935 was
the start of a period of continuous Labour government, excepting
the period of German occupation during World War II.
Norway had been neutral during the First World War
and intended to remain so during the Second World war.
The Germans, however, saw Norway as a potential strategic threat
and a valuable economic asset and occupied the country during 1940.
A puppet government was installed under Vidkun Quisling
(whose name subsequently entered the English language as a term
for ‘traitor’) and remained in power until the German
defeat during 1945.
After the war, Norway dispensed with its traditional neutrality
to join NATO. In 1965, a centre-right coalition
finally unseated the Labour party. Since then, Norway has been governed
alternately by Labour and the centre-right, usually in coalition
with the smaller parties. The most recent poll in September 2001
returned Labour as the largest party, but the real
winner was the second-placed Hoyre (Right) party
which, in alliance with the Liberals and Christian Democrats, constructed
a 3-party coalition with the incumbent Christian Democrat
premier Kjell Magne Bondevik remaining in office.
The election was significant in two ways first was the emergence
of the far right Progress Party which, although
excluded from office, made substantial headway in becoming the third
largest party in the Storting, this was in line
with the growth of anti-immigration nationalist parties through
most of Europe. Secondly, the result marked the nadir in the long-term
decline of the Labour party. Once the most powerful political force
in post-1945 Norway, its share of the vote has steadily fallen since
The most divisive issue in contemporary Norwegian politics has been
the country’s relationship within the rest of Europe. Norwegians
are fiercely protective of their independence and concerns about
the effect of European Union membership on the
country’s major industries, have meant that the electorate
has consistently voted in national referendums (1994 and 1998) to
stay outside the EU. Norway did join the European
Free Trade Area, the bloc representing most of the European
nations which are not members of the EU.
The Norwegians have established a considerable reputation for handling
delicate conflict negotiations further afield. The best known of
these initiatives was the role which they played in hosting and
mediating the negotiations leading up to the 1994 Israeli-Palestinian
peace accord – one of the major foreign policy coups
of recent times. In 2002, they played a similar role in bringing
the long-running Sri Lankan civil war to a negotiated