In a few days, on May 17, my home country Norway will celebrate its Independence Day, or National Day, as I prefer to call it. Well, the correct term is apparently Constitution Day, as the day is actually in remembrance of Norway again becoming an independent country in 1814, after 400 years under Denmark, with its own Constitution and Parliament, Storting. Denmark was on the losing side in the Napoleonic Wars and had to cede Norway, which entered into a union with Sweden until 1905. And then the proud Norwegian Vikings were again free, saved for five years under the Nazi occupation 1940-45. The Norwegian Constitution is just a few years short of two centuries old, and it is said to be one of the oldest constitutions still in use, obviously with a number of amendments. Norwegian women got the right to vote only in 1913, and Norway was one of the first countries to introduce universal suffrage. After a few decades, the inheritance rule to the throne was changed so that women could also become the head of state. Yes, Norway is a constitutional monarchy, a contradiction for a country that prides itself on being one of the most democratic. And King Harald V is also head of the Norwegian State Church, again a contradiction because there are many other Christian denominations and other religions, including about 150,000 Muslims, with about 35,000 immigrants from Pakistan, who worship in the over 100 mosques. There is religious freedom and tolerance in Norway. Moral values are still often seen as part of religion, but then we discover that such values are as high among people from other religions as our own or, for that matter, non-believers. Some of them belong to the Humanistic-Ethical Society. But for a long time, religion, i.e. Christianity, was regulating much of the Norwegian society, inbuilt in the Constitution. The parish priest, for example, had an overseeing role of the schools and teachers, and all pupils had to pass a 'confirmation hearing in religious studies at the age of 14, and those who failed had to come back the next year, and the next year, and if they didnt pass, they were not permitted to marry. It is also interesting to note that the 1814 Norwegian Constitution had a clause barring Jews and Jesuits (an orthodox Christian denomination) from 'entering the realm. Eventually, that restriction had to be lifted. The Norwegian Constitution is a legal document, pertaining to secular rather than religious issues, and there is clear separation between the two. It was modelled on the American Constitution, the Declaration of Independence from 1776, and the French Constitution, following the French Revolution in 1789. These were radical times and those countries which had the opportunity to adopt a new constitution were lucky and wise, usually much against the will of the upper classes, the rulers and pillars of the 'ancient regimes and state order in those days. They were not interested in giving privileges to the broad masses in the lower classes, who they often despised as a breed much lower than themselves. Poverty was appalling, diseases and illnesses widespread, work conditions often close to bonding and slavery, including child labour, starvation and malnutrition an order of the day in most ramshackle homes, with large families and low life expectancy. In other words, characteristic features of most developing countries today. European countries, including Norway, 'exported much of its population surplus in the 19th century through emigration, mainly to America. It was the largest sending country only surpassed by Ireland. About 800,000 people out of a population of some two million that time emigrated. Remittances, i.e. dollars sent home in Amerikabrev, played a major role in meeting the needs of many poor Norwegian families and rural communities. Today, Norway is a net receiver of immigrants, no less than about half a million in a population which has grown to near five million. Pakistanis constitute 35,000, and other Muslim countries have sent large groups of refugees and immigrants, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Somalia. And they all send remittances home to Gujrat, Kabul and so on. The childrens processions on May 17 include ethnic Norwegians and immigrant children in a colourful and joyful mixture, with flags aloft and brass bands playing, and it is a matter of pride for a school to have a band. The childrens procession in Oslo, with about 300 schools in all, passes by the Royal Palace where the King and Queen wave to the children, teachers and parents from the balcony. Afterwards, there are friendly games and sports competitions, with prizes for winners and losers, and ice cream, hot dogs, and juice as much as little stomachs can take until the late evening. And dont you ever think that a beautiful brown eyed and black haired Pakistani child feels any different or less Norwegian than his or her school friends with blue eyes and fair hair. Parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, in all colours and types of national costumes, or just dressed up in early summer outfits, they cannot imagine a better day than this. It makes them all proud to feel that Norway is the best place on earth Even the Gujratis and Pathans there think so. And the ethnic Norwegians, too, can no longer remember a childrens procession without a large group of Pakistani-Norwegians and other immigrants. Some decades ago, the old Norwegian King Olva V said that he was also king for the immigrants, and besides, he was himself an immigrant, having come to the country from Denmark, as young child with an English mother. The National Day everywhere is a display of values. The Norwegians should be proud of the way their National Day has been shaped over the years, and all the time from the 1830s, it has been celebrated as a childrens day. Yes, there are some gunpowder cannons fired, and in early morning speeches at the city hall, the Mayor and head teachers talk about the importance of being free and independent from foreign military rule. That is timely, too, not least today when many new Norwegians have sought refuge in the new land because of conflict, war and extreme poverty in their lands of origin. If you had expected a military parade on the Norwegian National Day, you will be mistaken. The day is a celebration of peace, harmony and unity. Political parties are not allowed to propagate sectarian ideas on this day. It is a day when the Norwegians feel proud of who day are, where they came from, and also the values that the country stand for today. And then, it is early summer, too, with a beautiful warm season ahead, making Norwegians, of all colours and creeds, from all backgrounds and professions, feel satisfaction in the land God created so beautifully - for them to look after to the best of their abilities, reap the fruits and share with all. Norway has abundance of fish and oil resources. It has become a wealthy land, which has also given the Norwegians an opportunity to assist other less fortunate countries through the United Nations and through direct bilateral development aid. Norway is today one of the worlds largest donors of development aid counted as a percentage of GDP. Not bad for a land which was a poor country 100 years ago. In churches, mosques and other houses of worship, they thank God for the abundance of resources and opportunities given to them, reflecting on it especially on the Norwegian National Day. Norwegians, Pakistani-Norwegians, friends and relatives, Congratulations on the Day n The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist based in Islamabad.