History of Norway The origin of the first inhabitants of Norway is uncertain, but it seems likely that they traveled north from central Europe. The known history of the country begins in the 9th century AD and is based on the Viking sagas, supported by archaeological evidence, and the explorations of Viking adventurers who colonized the Scottish islands, parts of the Scottish and Irish mainlands, Iceland and (for a while) Greenland. Norway itself was divided into a number of fiefdoms; the unification process began with King Harald Fairhair, who defeated the major northern tribes at the battle of Hafrsfjord (near Stavanger) in 872. Over the next two centuries, Christianity gradually spread into the country, supplanting traditional beliefs in Norse gods. By 1060, the country was unified. From 1200 onwards, the twin powers of church and crown took control of the whole country. The arrival of bubonic plague (The Black Death) in Norway in 1350 killed half the Norwegian population and drastically weakened the power of its institutions. The Norwegians and Swedes had already established a joint monarchical structure which lasted between 1319 and 1343. Following the ravages of the Black Death, Norway entered into a political union with Denmark in 1380 through intermarriage between the countries’ ruling families. The alliance, cemented by a formal treaty in 1450, was intended to be one of equals; in practice, Denmark was the dominant partner, and in 1536, Norway became formally subservient to the Danish crown. Thus, when the 17th-century rivalry between Denmark and Sweden – the two dominant powers in the Baltic – broke out into warfare, the vanquished Danes handed over parts of Norwegian territory to Sweden. The link between Denmark and Norway was finally broken in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Denmark/Norway had sided with France. After the defeat of Napoleon, Norway was handed over to the Swedes – who had fought in the opposing camp – effectively as one of the spoils of war. The Norwegians were allowed their own Parliament, the Storting, which repeatedly clashed with the Swedish Government throughout the period of the union between the two countries. This was officially and peacefully dissolved in 1905 following a referendum at which just 200 people – from a franchise of about 400,000 – voted in favor of retaining the union. The Swedes accepted the decision and Norway finally achieved true independence in 1905 as a constitutional monarchy. The country’s three main political parties, Labor, Liberal and Christian Democrat, were formed in the 1880s. The early 20th century was dominated by the rivalry between the Labor and Liberal parties. 1935 was the start of a period of continuous Labor Government, excepting the period of German occupation during World War II. Norway had been neutral during the First World War and intended to remain so upon the outbreak of the Second World war. The Germans, however, saw Norway as a potential strategic threat and a valuable economic asset and occupied the country in 1940. A puppet Government was installed under Vidkun Quisling (whose name subsequently entered the English language as a term for ‘traitor’) and remained in power until the German defeat in 1945. After the war, Norway dispensed with its traditional neutrality to join NATO. In 1965, a center-right coalition finally unseated Labor. Since then, Norway has been governed alternately by Labor and the center-right, usually in coalition with smaller parties. The most recent poll in September 2001 returned Labor as the largest party, but the real winner was the second-placed Hoyre (Right) party which, in alliance with the Liberals and Christian Democrats, constructed a three-party coalition with the incumbent Christian Democrat premier Kjell Magne Bondevik remaining in office. The election was significant in two ways. First was the emergence of the far right Progress Party which, although excluded from office, made substantial headway in becoming the third largest party in the Storting; this was in line with the growth of anti-immigration nationalist parties through much of Europe. Secondly, the result marked the nadir (so far) in the long-term decline of the Labor party. Once the most powerful political force in post-1945 Norway (and still closely tied to the trades union movement), its share of the vote has steadily fallen since the 1980s. The most divisive issue in contemporary Norwegian politics has been the country’s relationship with the rest of Europe. Norwegians are fiercely protective of their independence and concerns about the effect of European Union membership on the country’s major industries (see Economy section) have meant that the electorate has consistently voted in national referendums (1994 and 1998) to stay outside the EU. Norway did join the European Free Trade Area, the bloc representing most of the European nations which are not members of the EU.turkeyarena.com Further afield, the Norwegians have established a considerable reputation for handling delicate conflict negotiations. The best known of these initiatives was the role which they played in hosting and mediating the negotiations leading up to the 1994 Israeli-Palestinian peace accord (see Israel section) – one of the major foreign policy coups of recent times. In 2002, they played a similar role in bringing the long-running Sri Lankan civil war to a negotiated settlement. The minority center-right coalition (Christian Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals), which took office after the last election in 2001, and was led by Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, lost the general election on 12 September 2005. A new majority center-left "red-green" coalition made up of the Labor Party, Center Party and Socialist Left was formed on 17 October, led by Labor Party leader Jens Stoltenberg.