Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Norway is located on the western side of the Scandinavian peninsula, and shares a land boundary with Sweden, Finland and Russia. It has an extensive coastline and is famous for its numerous fjords. The Kingdom of Norway also includes the arctic island archipelago of Svalbard and Jan.
Harald Fairhair united hitherto separate fiefdoms into a single Norwegian kingdom in 872. From the eighth to the eleventh centuries, Norwegians established Viking settlements on Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and parts of the British Isles. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, the Norwegian crown was united in a personal union with Denmark and Sweden. Following the defeat of Napoleon, with whom Denmark had allied, in 1814 Norway was able to declare independence and adopt its own Constitution under crown prince Christian Fredrik. This new-found independence did not last long and Sweden soon forced Norway into establishing Charles XIII of Sweden as king of Norway. A formal separation with Sweden took place in 1905, and since then Norway has been an independent constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. Norway was a neutral country during the First World War but was occupied by Germany during the Second World War. Since then, the Norwegians have been keen supporters of collective security arrangements. Norway was one of the signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 and a founding member of the United Nations.
Main languages: Norwegian (two official forms: Bokmaal and Nynorsk), Sami
Main religions: Evangelical Lutheran Christianity (86%); other Christian denominations including the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Methodist (combined total about 4.5%); Islam (between 55,000 and 65,000 adherents), Buddhists 6000 (Vietnamese descent), Judaism roughly 1,000.
Minority groups include Sami, the Kvens, the Roma, as well as various immigrant groups from, among others, Bosnia Herzegovina, Pakistan, Somalia and Turkey. Norway has two standard forms of the same language: Bokmaal (‘Book language’, or Dano-Norwegian) and Nynorsk (‘New Norwegian’); they have equal official and educational status.
Sami are the indigenous inhabitants of northern Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the far north of Russia. The official estimate of the Sami population in Norway is around 40,000 (data: Statistics Norway, 2006). They are concentrated mainly in Finnmark County.
The Kvens are a historic ethnic group in northern Norway, descended from Finnish-speaking fishing communities. Their history is closely interlinked with the history of the Sami, through intermarriage. In some early documents, the Kvens were believed to be a part of the Sami people, but today Kvens consider themselves a distinct community. An estimate from a 2001 parliamentary inquiry put the number of Kven people figure at 10,000-15,000 – but exact figures are difficult to estimate as there is no official definition of the Kvens.
After the Second World War, Norway began to experience the immigration of foreign workers, a trend that accelerated with the development of North Sea oil in the late 1960s. In the 2005 Census, the highest number of immigrants was from Asian countries, including Turkey (149,000) and Eastern European nations (65,000), as well as refugees from former Yugoslavia and a sizeable Somali community. (Statistics Norway). 
Under Norwegian law, the Forest Finns, Jews, Kvens, Roma and Skogfinn (people of Finnish descent in South Norway) are officially recognized as national minorities. Norway has assumed legal obligations for these groups as part of its commitments arising under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM). At the same time, Norway has accorded the Sami status as an ‘indigenous people’ and acceded to ILO Convention 169 on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Norwegian policy directed at these various recognized groups is thus subject to regular review and appraisal by international monitoring bodies.
Minority based and advocacy organisations
Tel: +47 22 40 22 00
Norwegian Anti-Racist Centre (Antirasistisk Senter)
Tel: +47 23 13 90 00
Norwegian Helsinki Committee (Den norske Helsingforskomité)
Tel: +47 22 47 92 02
Norwegian Institute of Human Rights
Tel: +47 22 84 20 01
Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS)
[Non-governmental human rights organization providing information and legal assistance to asylum seekers]
Tel: +47 22 36 56 60
Norwegian People’s Aid
Tel: +47 22 03 77 00
Sami Parliament Norway
Tel: +47 78 47 40 00
Norwegian Sami Association
Tel: +47 784 86 955
Samiraddi/Saamelaisneuvosto (Sami Council)
Tel: +358 9697 677351
Taiga Rescue Network
[International network of non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples and individuals working to defend the world’s boreal forests]
Tel: +46 971 17039
Sources and further reading
Beach, H., The Sami of Lapland, London, MRG, 1988.
Beach, H., ‘The Sami of Lapland’, in MRG (ed.), Polar Peoples: Self-Determination and Development, London, MRG, 1994.
Brenna, W., ‘The Sami of Norway’, 30 Jan. 1998, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, retrieved 8 Dec. 2006, http://odin.dep.no/odin/engelsk/norway/history/032005- 990463/index-dok000-b-n-a.html
Minde, H., ‘The Saami movement, the Norwegian Labour Party, and Saami rights’, 3 Sept. 1996, Centre for Saami Studies, retrieved 8 Dec. 2006, http://www.uit.no/ssweb/dok/Minde/Henry/84.htm
Saami Online: http://www.same.net/
BÁIKI: The International Sámi Journal: http://www.baiki.org/
1. Norway Government official site, www.norway.org/
2. Statistics Norway, www.ssb.no/english/subjects/02/01/10/innvbef_en/
3. Norwegian government, www.regjeringen.no/en/topics/Indigenous-peoples-and-minorities.html?id=929
Minorities and indigenous peoples in