Scandinavia--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland--is blessed with five distinct, yet related, cultures.

Learn about the stories behind the legends, about the countries, and most of all about the people.


"We sailed our ships to any shore that offered the best hope of booty; we feared no fellow on earth..."
Saga of Arrow-Odd

What is Gjetost?
A town in Sweden.
Brown goat cheese.
The word for "hello" in

Roasted fish.
The word for ghost in

Correct answer?
OSLO - Norway

Clustered around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.

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Feature: Stavanger
Featured City: Oslo
Food: The Great NordicDiet
          Swedish Semla
          Norwegian Cuisine
          Canned Sardines
History: The Round Tower
Arts:   Vigeland Park, Oslo
          Georg Jensen
People: Henrik Ibsen    
News: Happiest Countries          

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The Ombudsman Fights for
the Rights of Individuals

by Bob Brooke

The office of ombudsman is a Scandinavian institution that has received much attention in recent years. New Zealand and Canada and several states in the U.S. and some of the new countries of Africa have adopted the idea, and the name at least has been applied to officials in business concerns and on college campuses.

The concept of an ombudsman originated in its present form with the Swedish constitution of 1809, and it has been adopted and even extended in the other Scandinavian countries such as Finland (1919), Denmark (1953), and Norway (1962).

Bureaucracy sometimes rides brutally over the rights of the individual, either because of careless disregard, or because regulations cannot cover exceptional cases, or for other reasons having to do with the fallibility of laws or officials. Any society that seeks justice must provide channels for appeal and correction of mistakes, but too often the procedures of complaint go through the same governmental structure as the thing objected to. Therefore, the Swedes provided for a judicial agent, the Justitie Ombudsman (JO), acting under the authority of parliament to be a watchdog over administrative officials and acts.

With the expansion of bureaucracy the JO's task has grown in both complexity and importance. Out of 1,000 plus complaints filed each year, from 75 to 90 percent are rejected as petty or unjustified. But even in these cases the aggrieved party has had the psychological satisfaction of a means of protest and an explanation of why he or she was treated so. In scores of cases, Jos have discovered errors or derelictions of duty. In these instances, the JO ordinarily discusses the matter with the official concerned and tries by persuasion to get the wrong righted. If necessary, the JO can take the official to court, but this happens rarely because the prestige of a JO’s position is usually sufficient to obtain compliance.

However, the JO doesn’t have the power to change a law or a ruling. But, for example, if the JO finds that a murder has been committed because the law didn’t permit the police to detain an insane suspect, he or she can recommend a change in the law–and he or she will be heard. A JO can also publicly criticize a police chief who exceeds his authority by prohibiting an unsavory town character from appearing on a public street-and get a reversal of the ruling or castigate a priest for tearing down a poster announcing a Salvation Army meeting, thus preventing a recurrence.

The JO is a person respected in the community, with salary and position comparable to that of a Supreme Court judge. He or she has the right to see all relevant documents and access to whomever he wishes to consult. The press checks with the JO each day, so the power of publicity is at the JO’s disposal. The constitution of each country empowers the JO not only to accept complaints from individuals but also to initiate proceedings whenever he or she senses there may be injustice. Occasionally the JO makes inspection trips, visiting courts, hospitals, schools, smelling out little and big cases of wrongdoing, suggesting remedies.

The JO also makes an annual report to Parliament but is never ordered by Parliament to undertake a case or to desist from prosecution. Thus, the JO is a free agent, appointed for a several-year period and frequently reappointed.

The JO has a deputy and a staff of lawyers but still has difficulty handling the workload. The office of JO gives people confidence that there’s someone concerned not only with the welfare of society as a whole but with their own rights as individuals.

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Every year about 95 000 people die in Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the planning process.

Read more about Swedish burials

News from Norway
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News from Denmark
News from Sweden
from the SR International 
News from Finland
from Finnish News Agency STT
News from Iceland
from The Iceland Review
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In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.
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