What does it mean to be Nordic? Is it having a keen sense of rationality, a desire for peace, a willingness to shell out 40-60% of your gross income to the state? Or, is it having the strength of Pippi Longstocking whilst splitting the head of your foe with a battleaxe during a Viking raid?
For Ole Weaver, “[T]he essence of ‘Norden’, its identity, was based on its difference from Europe.” Weaver goes on to define Nordic identity by a ‘Third Way,’ an alternative to ideals exemplified by a conflicted Europe, fractured by liberal Western and communist Eastern ideologies. The Norden aloofness from the rest of Europe has allowed the region to develop sustainable welfare states, exhibiting socialist ideologies yet driven by capitalism.
When Weaver published his article in 1992, the future of the Nordic welfare states was uncertain in the wake of the fall of the Iron Curtain. Weaver questioned whether the Nordic countries would remain autonomous and protective of their identity, or whether they would opt to join an increasingly powerful European Union – with the risk of potentially being drawn into international conflicts with which they would have formerly abstained.
However, the Nordic countries seem to be heading towards stronger European integration throughout the two decades after Weaver’s article. Today Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are members of the EU, and Iceland is sure to follow suit. Norway, an economic powerhouse driven by oil, is the only Nordic country who has opted not to participate, arguably because it has the resources to do so. Despite increased cooperation and integration with the southern continent, Nordic identity remains strong – contradicting Weaver’s speculative hypothesis.
Nordic identity goes deeper than Weaver’s notion of a construct formed as a contrast to Europe. It is not the ‘other’ that defines the ‘self identity’ of Nordic peoples, but rather it is the Nordic people who have created their own culture. Their values have been framed not only by economic and political interactions with other nations; the Nordic countries have brooded a distinct cultural heritage stemming from their geographical position and collective historical memory.
Isolated in the north, Nordic peoples have traditionally bred a homogenous culture of blonde-haired, blue-eyed people. This notion, coupled with a similar climate across the five Nordic nations, has led to a community structure – concretely through politics and banally through ideology – which aids in facilitating the mindset necessary for a successful welfare system. Through the centuries, such a cooperative mentality has slowly evolved into a collective consciousness of ‘leaving no man or woman behind.’
Certainly Weaver is correct in assessing that an aggressive and war-torn Europe has had its historical effect on Nordic consciousness. Looking down at their seemingly barbaric neighbors in the South, the Nordic people have preferred to strengthen their own communities instead of joining the ruthless notion of what it was (in the 19th century) to be ‘European.’ This isolation, we argue, has bred the Nordic conceptions of peace, rationality, and pragmatic alternatives to conflict. While Weaver focuses on these current factors of Nordic identity, we feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg – underneath the surface lies the frozen foundation of collective memory upon which Nordic values were built.
As what it means to be ‘European’ changes – from militant nations to a cooperative continent – the visible part of the Nordic iceberg will be molded and sculpted for the international community to see. However, even if the EU breaks apart and the ice above the water melts, deep below the surface there will always be an enormous collective consciousness among the Nordic peoples – as solid and impregnable as permafrost.
- Ahmet, Lina, and Michael