The Great Norwegian Encyclopedia, which is one of Norway's most-read sites, with more than 2 million unique visitors per month, defines “ethnic Norwegian” as a controversial and exclusionary term.
According to the article, the notion of ethnicity implies a community “based on common ancestry”.
The reason why the term is controversial is that it may seem exclusive to people with an immigrant background in recent generations, the encyclopedia explained.
“When the term ethnic Norwegian is used about some of the inhabitants of Norway, the majority population is singled out as an ethnic group as opposed to other groups among Norwegian citizens. Who falls within and outside the ethnic Norwegian category is often unclear or debated”, the article penned by professor of social anthropology Jon Schackt at the University of Tromsø said.
At nearly 190,000 articles, the Great Norwegian Encyclopedia or SNL is the most complete modern encyclopedia in the Norwegian language, bar Norwegian Wikipedia. Before the advent of digital encyclopedias it appeared in print and had several editions.
In 2018, the publishing company's revenues were NOK 17.9 million (nearly $2 million), of which 65 percent came from membership fees, mainly from state universities, and 30 percent was given in direct state subsidies.
In 2006, a similar discussion over the acceptance of the term “ethnic Norwegian” erupted, as the country's Language Council declared that “Norwegian” basically means “a person of ethnic Norwegian origin”.
“We believe that there is no need to replace 'ethnic Norwegians' with another designation. The term 'ethnic Norwegians' has arisen due to large immigration in recent decades. Prior to that, one used only the term 'Norwegians', and it means the same thing as what some now call 'ethnic Norwegians'”, the Language Council wrote.
Among others, Conservative Party leader and present-day Prime Minister Erna Solberg, suggested that defining “ethnic Norwegian” was no longer important, whereas Labour Party leader and then-Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre stressed the need of “expanding the Norwegian 'we'" to reflect the country's population change. According to him, a Norwegian is simply a Norwegian citizen.
Following the heated discussion, the Language Council later moderated the view, apologised for the statement, and announced that the word “Norwegian” had several meanings.
In the ensuing years, many have shied away from using the term “ethnic” out of caution. Among others, the music festival Oslo World has ditched the term “ethnic music”, explaining that for many it has become “a code word for the white race”.
In recent decades, the share of Norway's immigrant population has risen to 18 percent of the country's 5.4 million. In its 2017 report, Statistics Norway estimated that 52 percent of the population will have an immigrant background by 2100 in a likely immigration scenario. Among younger age groups, the share of immigrants already exceeds 30 percent.