Yesterday, it was Norway’s National Day, usually just called the 17th of May. I am a patriotic Norwegian, where I was born – and also, a patriotic friend of Pakistan, where I have lived a lot for many years. I take special pleasure in writing today’s article, and I want to share something I believe is fine and good from my homeland, with someone I think are fine and good – notably you. Whenever I hear the Norwegian national anthem, it is always a bit moving; and when I hear Pakistan’s national anthem, as I often do when I attend diplomatic events in Islamabad, it is also moving, and a handkerchief may come in handy to discretely wipe off a tear.

In Norway, Norwegians, including immigrants, refugees, and guests, yesterday celebrated the uniquely beautiful Norwegian National Day – in not very warm and sunny weather this year in most places, but with plenty of daylight; that is how the land is as we recall that one third of the area is north of the Polar Circle, and some towns in the far north and in Svalbard Island had snow in the streets.

It is a day when teachers and local government officials play their roles as leaders and organisers, doing their best for everyone, and showing their authority, too, as custodians of traditions and values, indeed of inclusiveness and multiculturalism, with some uniquely Norwegian flavours to it all: the feeling of freedom – not of arrogance, power, right-wing nationalism, or world leadership. Just that good feeling of being masters in own country, doing well at home and the international community, being ourselves and being thankful for it – to forefathers and mothers, to God and to leaders over generations and centuries. The Norwegian National Day is when everyone must feel good – knowing that freedom cannot be taken for granted, and that it is we all, the indigenous citizens and the newcomers who make it possible and real.

Norway has had its own constitution for 200 years and has been totally independent just for just over 100 years, excluding five years of occupation during the Second World War. Thus, the freedom is relatively newfound. The country was built by smallholder farmers, coastal fishermen, owners of trawlers, seamen and ship owners, industrial workers and factory owners, civil servants, and many more. In recent generations, the Norwegians have become rich being one of the ten largest oil and gas producing countries in the world, and no longer is the land just inhabited by blue-eyed and blond Norwegians, well, if it really ever was, but today the immigrants make up over half a million of the five million people in the land – and all celebrated the country’s national day yesterday.

It is always moving to see Pakistanis, yes, especially Pakistani children, but also Afghans, Somalis, Iraqis and other immigrant school children from far and near taking part in the celebrations on the Norwegian National Day, shouting from the bottom of their lungs: ‘Gratulerer med dagen’, waving to King Harald and Queen Sonja on the Royal Palace balcony, in respect and with smiles and good feelings, almost as if they knew them personally. And the country’s first family waves back as cheerful; the King tips his hat; the younger family members do the same, or they misbehave a bit and make some fun shakes and faces. After all, they have to stand on that balcony for some three hours, which for children is not much fun after the first ten minutes; they too would certainly have liked to be down on the yard rather than stand on the balcony as little tin soldiers.

Good that the monarchy, the roles of the country’s head of state and first family, changes over time. The Norwegian royals have changed their roles and behaviour quite a bit in the last generation. The current king celebrated his 25 years on the throne a few years back, and last week, he and Queen Sonja celebrated their 80th birthdays, both born the same year. The queen came from an ordinary middle class background, and when they got married in 1968, that was questionable; it was expected that the then crown prince would marry from another royal family or within the nobility at least, but in Norway there is no nobility, so he would have had to marry from another country as his father and grandfather had done.

Now when they are both 80, the King said jokingly in an interview that he thought the Queen might well have saved the Norwegian monarchy, hinting that if his father and the cabinet wouldn’t have sanctioned the marriage, he wouldn’t have married at all, and then there would have be no children to inherit the throne and continue the institution. Their son, too, Crown Prince Haakon married an ordinary young beauty, Crown Princess Mette Marit, and she is doing as well as any with ‘blue blood’ would have done; women usual do well, I should add. They have beautiful children and one, the daughter actually this time, as the first borne, will eventually shoulder the duty of head of state – that is, if the institution will indeed live on in democratic Norway, yes, because it is an anachronism in such a land in our time to have a head of state who inherits the position.

Many of the symbols that make us feel we belong to a land and a people are often old-fashioned, illogical and sentimental. That 80 percent of Norwegians according to a recent opinion poll say they would like Norway to remain a monarchy is not very rational. But I believe it is a good symbol for unity and inclusiveness, especially since the current leaders have had the ability to continue with old traditions and have added new dimensions, not the least included in the King’s speeches in recent years, where he advocates modern, liberal attitudes on religions, values, work and everyday life; he shows an openness and inclusiveness that goes far beyond what most ‘stubborn old men’ often would have. When the King says that his family was also an immigrant family, and that he lived as a refugee (in England and USA) during the Second World War, he becomes quite like many of the New Norwegians – either they came from abroad or from rural areas ending up in the capital or another big city.

I believe that the symbolic role of a King can be very important – along with great writers, politicians and other great men and women we like to look up to, appeal to, and maybe even identify with. We know they are not faultless, not even the Pope is – and not presidents and prime ministers, although there are some great people among them, too – made great together with the people.

In any country, we should cherish great and wise people, either they are leaders or just quite ordinary people in the neighbourhood, who become great thanks to the opportunities they get and how they do their work and live their lives. The Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in her speech to the Norwegian King and Queen last week that they were quite ordinary people in extraordinary jobs – and one could add, having fulfilled their duties uniquely well, being symbols of openness and inclusiveness in a modern land in changing times.