Norway, the oil-rich nation on the coast of the Scandinavian Peninsula is but one of an ever-shrinking handful of countries and the only Scandinavian state that holds a policy of singular citizenship over its people.
“Citizenship is an important symbol of belonging, and demonstrates a loyalty to the Norwegian political community and the principles on which it is founded, and this ought to be where the primary loyalty lies”, states Solveig Horne, the Norwegian Progress Parties incumbent Minister for Children, Inclusion and Equality last November. Although holding multiple citizenships is possible in Norway under certain circumstances, the insistence on loyalty to the state is so strong that even innocent indigenous children have, in the past, had their identities stripped from them. But now well-organized lobby groups and growing factions within both government and opposition are putting the status quo under pressure. This month, Norway will begin to discuss the possibility of following in the other Nordic nations footsteps, of discarding its one citizenship policy.
“I felt violated. And my parents felt the same as they felt several times before in our history – removed from their families and put in educational institutions to be Norwegianized. Previously they had been removed from their parents and their children removed from them for schooling. Now their grandchildren were removed. I felt like the state had once stolen my right to be Sami, erased my identity, and made me into nothing, left in-between, not fitting into either of the two worlds. Now they did the same to my children – took away their right to be Sami and to know who they are.”
These were the emotions evoked when Nina Sivertsen, a proud mother of Sami (Indigenous Scandinavian) heritage and a PhD in indigenous identity when reflecting on seeing her twin daughters stripped of their Norwegian Citizenship. Nina gave birth to her first of three children in 2007 whilst living abroad in Australia, which under the obvious complexities of international arrangements was provided with both Australian and Norwegian citizenships. Several years later, she and her family moved back to Norway and gave birth to baby twins, whom they registered with Australian Authorities in order to obtain citizenship by descent. When an overly curious Norwegian embassy worker discovered that the twins possessed Australian citizenship, the blunt butter knife of Norway’s one-citizenship policy cut a jagged slice straight through the family, seizing the twins passports, dividing the identities of the children and leaving Nina and her husband crushed.
In practice, the Norwegian state is somewhat restricted by international norms to how far it can enforce its one-citizenship policy in an ever-internationalising world. A world in which, an acceptance of dual or even multiple citizenships has mostly become the norm. For its people, the core of the issue lay in how the Norwegian authorities decide to legally interpret the citizenship laws of the state in which the second citizenship is obtained. Essentially if the state believes that any form of “expressed consent” is given by application rather than automatic citizenship via birth, then that person will lose their Norwegian citizenship upon acquiring a second. This firmly applies even to the youngest of Norwegian children that have been born into multinational families and who are far below any legally recognised age of consent. This occurs despite, when in many instances, only the parent from the foreign nation is required to sign the registering documents. A point that stands in stark contradiction to claims by proponents of one citizenship, that dual citizenship would reduce the state’s ability to assist in child abduction cases, which in many instances involve a relationship break down.
“We are most worried that Bjørn will have limited rights to decide the future citizenship and movements of our child. Since Australia only requires my signature on the application, I can decide to apply (and thereby strip the child of their Norwegian citizenship) without Bjørn having any say in the matter”, says Anna Shepherd, a 36-year-old Australian women living in Norway. Anna intends to travel to Australia for the birth of their first child rather than put her Norwegian partner in such a legally insecure position. “We have been contacted by many couples, which have or are planning to travel away when they give birth for the same reason. The feeling among some, that have not made the trip abroad, is that they now feel trapped inside Norway,” she continues. Birth tourism is becoming somewhat a trend among multi-national couples like Anna and her partner, as they try to avoid their children’s identity’s coming under constant threat, should they dare allow them to embrace the foreign parents national origins.
According to the Norwegian advocacy group, Dual citizenship for our kids, “Norway is the only country in the world that explicitly targets the rights of minors in this way. Other countries with similar singlecitizenship policies to Norway allow that children who acquire an additional citizenship from another country will not lose their original citizenship so long as one parent, who remains a legal guardian, remains a citizen of that country. Norway has explicitly revoked the rights of the child in this case.” This clash of heads between what seems nonsensical on the atomic family level but an issue of national loyalty to the state is something that has not been lost on several of Norway’s politicians that have differing views on the matter.
Sveinung Rotevatn and Iselin Nybø are just two members of the Norwegian opposition Liberal Party who have become outspoken against the existing laws and have pushed for parliamentary discussion. With Iselin Nybø taking a strong position on its effect on young children and their family’s. “The prohibition of dual citizenship makes it particularly difficult for children of parents with citizenship in different countries. Children can get one or two citizenships depending on which country they were born in. We cannot accept that children in the same family have different rights depending on where they are born”, states Nybø. Today, Norway is the only Nordic state with restrictions on dual citizenship and with only a handful of other European Nations placing such restriction on their citizens, they are being left out in the cold. “A number of countries have opened dual citizenship in the past 15 years, most recently Denmark last year. It is time that Norway will follow suit”, says Rotevatn.
Conservative forces within the country still prevail however and traditional arguments such a military service, diplomatic protection and fear of foreign espionage still dominate, with some happy to cut right to the chase. A recent email correspondence between the young student, Anita Stadven Van der Staal (22) and the Norwegian parliament left her feeling insulted. In conjunction with the advocacy group ‘Yes to dual citizenship‘ she launched a mass email campaign in an attempt to challenge why she can’t take advantage of Australian citizenship (her father’s country) for study opportunities. “Citizenship gives rights and obligations. Not to get into loyalty conflicts, I believe in principle that citizenship should be linked to one country. It is prudent in a changing world ;)”, replied the centre party politician Per Lundteigen. “I think it was very unfair. He answered me in an arrogant way and I felt very disrespected” claims Anita who feels a sense of national identity split between both her mother and fathers nations, despite them being on opposing sides of the world.
But as the world becomes more globalised and Norway’s people become more international it is not only the young that are feeling their national identity threatened. Some of Norway most exemplary citizens feel they are being put in an impossible position. In a recent letter written to King Harold of Norway, Dr Geir P. Frivold, an internationally respected Cardiologist who has spent his life working in both Norway and the United States pleaded for a resolution to what has become a critical issue as his career develops. He emotionally writes, “The reason I’m writing this letter to your Majesty today is that you, as King of my country, are the Norwegian laws supreme authority. I have come into the sad and upsetting situation that I am about to be deprived of my Norwegian citizenship – not because I have participated in the war for ISIS in Syria (for they can the still retain their Norwegian citizenship – even if they have two), but because I must now apply for United States citizenship in order to keep my job as a doctor and heart specialist at a university owned by the US government.”
Although many of the fear-based arguments for maintaining a one-citizenship policy are seen as relics of an old and more nationalistic Europe, modern issues such as the continuing migration crisis and Islamic terrorism are the elephant in the room when pertaining to any matter related to the freer movement of peoples. Paradoxically, the Norwegian Progress Party (FRP) who is viewed as the resident right-wing populist and anti-immigration force inside Norway and one of the party’s that officially maintains a firm position against dual citizenship is rumoured to be internally conflicted on this matter. During recent municipal elections, Progress Party campaigners stood on the streets outside the Norwegian Parliament and openly advocated the abolishment of the one citizenship policy in the interest of enhancing the state’s ability to expel, what they saw as unwanted foreigners from the country. According to current international law arrangements, a government cannot leave one stateless – a situation certain to arise if one is classed as having only the one citizenship. This is a dilemma of much debate across many western countries as fear in the consequences of radicalised and trained fighters returning from Syria grows.
As the Norwegian Parliament prepares to discuss the potential removal of its one-citizenship policy it seems that the political winds both bright and dark are blowing in favour of joining a dominant and international community of nations that are seeing citizenship as a positive rather than a negative force in international relations. As Lars Gule, one of Norway’s most well-known public intellectuals on all forms of political and religious extremism puts it, “Dual (or even multiple) citizenship(s) increases our freedom. That’s what the state should help us all in achieving.”
Shane Alexander Caldwel
Shane Alexander Caldwell is the Editor of Circus Bazaar Magazine, host of the Big Tent Podcast and CEO of CB Media & Publishing.