Norwegians want their own flag on top of town halls

As the Norwegian flag celebrates its 200th anniversary, the government is proposing a law more adapted to the life with Covid-19 by giving more flexibility to hoist various flags on the top of public buildings regardless of physical events happening at the same time. But a public consultation showed that Norwegians seemed to reject this flag liberalization.

The Norwegian flag may be flying next to unofficial ones on top of public buildings soon
The Norwegian flag may be flying next to unofficial ones on top of public buildings soon

Today, only the Norwegian flag, the Sami flag – of a Nordic indigenous community- or the local official flags can be hoisted on public buildings. But the government proposes to let municipalities and counties decide on flying a different flag during celebrations, anniversaries or events of general interest. It could be the coat-of-arms of the local sport team for an important game, the United Nations on the UN day, or the rainbow flag during the gay pride parade.

The original law was passed in 1933 when red flags, as symbols of communism, were hoisted on townhalls during May 1 celebrations. Since then, municipalities received the right to hoist different flags since 2014 with the condition that it is related to an event happening inside the building. But with Covid-19, a gathering in the town hall is unlikely to occur in real life, making it impossible to change flags or show a symbolic support. As such, the government aims to adapt its legislation and provide more flexibility to municipalities.

A consultation was already made back in 2016 to the municipalities but the government didn’t pursue with an amendment. The more recent consultation launched in 2020 showed that the position between public representatives and the general population differ. Out of the 50 municipalities that gave their opinion, 62% of them were in favor of providing the flexibility to hoist a flag with no connection to an event occurring in the building. However, out of the 3,000 private individuals, of which 1,600 have given their names, only 21 persons support the same position as the municipalities. More than 2,000 of them actually want the law to remain the same.

Norwegians fear divisive flags flying over public buildings

Individuals who expressed their point of view are yet more conservative and fear unnecessary debate, controversy, frustration or a lack of unity in the country. As a private individual mentions, “those who are refused to hoist their flag are likely to feel discriminated against and treated unfairly“. Another individual points out that a new regulation can make it “very demanding to set boundaries locally. […] I believe that it is very important that in a time of growing opposition in many democratic countries, the public authorities’ buildings and symbol of local authority must be maintained as unifying.

A major concern for municipalities or organizations is the definition of general interest, so that it does not bring division among the population. The Fredrikstad municipality, home to 80,000 people, states that “an extended access to flagging can lead to situations of conflict and division among the inhabitants“.  Similarly, the Human-Ethical Association considers that “flags that can be interpreted as a support for controversial movements or divisive organizations and values ​​that are not in the public interest should not be allowed“.

Are the public consultations skewed towards receiving opinions of those who reject the propositions? The government anyway decided to propose the amendment of the law.

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