UPDATED: King Harald’s approval of a royal service medal to a man who has expressed anti-democratic and, some say, anti-Semitic attitudes for years threatens the very authority of the monarchy, claim some royal experts. Blatant criticism of the king is rare in Norway, but he’s not immune from responsibility for the medal, and commentators seem to agree that at the very least, he received some very bad advice.
The presentation of the so-called Kongens fortjenstmedalje i sølv (The King’s service medal in silver) to Trond Ali Linstad was hastily postponed indefinitely on Tuesday, after palace officials were forced to admit that the award of royal recognition had become “complicated.” So complicated, that Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, otherwise known as a firm supporter of the royal family, had refused to make the presentation to Linstad, and that demonstrations were planned outside the National Theater where the award ceremony was to take place. Newspaper VG reported Wednesday that Stang’s staff had communicated the mayor’s concerns to palace staff several weeks ago, and questioned whether they’d really checked Linstad’s background. The mayor’s office wouldn’t say what response they got, but the palace clearly went ahead with the controversial award. Other local officials called the award a “scandal,” and top Norwegian politicians were put in the awkward position this week of feeling a need to denounce the royal recognition of Linstad while trying not to directly criticize King Harald and staff at the Royal Palace for poor judgment.
Most of the questions and challenges around the medal have been directed at the county officials who forwarded Linstad’s nomination to the Royal Palace, and at the palace staff who approved it. Proposals for the service medal, which is supposed to be awarded for special contributions to society or life-long work that sets a good example for others, are generally handled by a “medal council” set up by the king. It consists of the palace’s hoffsjef (chief of staff), the royal cabinet secretary (deputy chief of staff), the chief of the chancery and two officials in charge of royal orders.
They must have recommended approval of the award to Linstad in order for the king to give the royal nod necessary for the formal presentation that ended up getting postponed on Tuesday. They predictably refused comment despite the uproar over the medal, as did the palace’s communications chief Marianne Hagen until she finally confirmed the indefinite postponement just before an alternative awards ceremony was to begin. Harald Stanghelle, longtime commentator and editorial page editor in newspaper Aftenposten, wrote on Wednesday that Hagen appeared more like an “anti-communications chief” after she’d initially tried to avoid responsibility for addressing the conflict.
“We’re talking about the king’s authority here, that’s what’s at stake,” Carl-Erik Grimstad, a former palace official himself who now is a media researcher and author, told newspaper Dagsavisen. He called the uproar over Linstad’s medal “an awkward situation” for the king and palace staff, who also suddenly have found themselves in a “no-win situation:” If they go ahead with the award to Linstad (a converted Norwegian Muslim who has supported the regime in Iran, explained why fellow Muslims should ignore state authorities and written such things as “Beware the Jews” on his website), they’ll risk tarnishing the value of the medal in the eyes of Norwegians. If they withdraw the award, they’ll be admitting poor administration at the palace.
Historian and Professor Trond Nordby, an admitted republican who opposes the monarchy, seemed to be enjoying the conflict. He said the palace already has unwittingly politicized the medal.
“The award also makes the monarchy itself more politicized,” Nordby told Dagsavisen. “It’s now impossible for them (the king and his staff) to just walk away from all the conflicts they can get into.”
‘Sad and unfair’
While the county and palace officials responsible for the award refused to comment on it, and only confirmed that the written nomination had been withdrawn from public review, it’s believed they based the award on Linstad’s work in establishing Norway’s first Muslim day care centers and a school in Oslo. That work was viewed as aiding integration of Muslims into Norway’s system of education and early day care for children. Several Muslim parents and children who’d gathered to applaud his royal award called it “sad” and “unfair” that the medal ceremony was abruptly postponed.
Linstad himself admitted to being “a bit disappointed,” and told newspaper Dagbladet on Thursday that he’ll decline receipt of the medal if asked to do so by King Harald. He continues to claim his writings and attitudes have been “misunderstood.” He claims he’s not anti-democratic or anti-Semitic, despite writing on his website that readers “should be critical of Jews in the world” because of “the influence the have,” and calling such alleged influence “out of proportion” and “misused.” He’s also criticized “liberal democracy,” denounced gay marriage and wondered whether it’s “so very wrong” to impose death sentences on “those who smuggle and sell narcotics.”
The King’s service medal, according to Grimstad, is “royal recognition, not just of someone’s work but also what values they have.” Linstad has said he stands by what he’s written, “and then the medal’s backside comes forward,” Grimstad said.
Palace officials have scheduled a meeting with Linstad on Monday.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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