Paradox of the monarchy lives on

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Many a paradox in Norway has been pointed out of late, not least  the country’s conflicting roles as both oil producer and environmental advocate. Its constitutional monarchy in a country that otherwise prides itself on being egalitarian, however, makes all others pale, especially given the monarchy’s huge public support.

Despite being what Norwegians readily admit is an anachronism and a paradox, Norway’s monarchy enjoys strong public support. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The monarchy’s role was highly visible once again on Tuesday, as Queen Sonja celebrated her 80th birthday at the end of what’s traditionally high season for royal activities. From Veterans Day, Liberation Day and Constitution Day festivities in May through the busy pre-summer season of state visits and other official events, the royals are front and center with a full program of public appearances. They play other important roles at ceremonial events through the autumn and winter.

Yet commentators have noted in recent weeks how the celebrations, also of both King Harald’s and Queen Sonja’s 80th birthdays, are “bittersweet.” That’s because Norwegian society is otherwise strongly opposed to anyone being born into a job or a position. It defies Norwegian principles of equal opportunity and their distaste for elitism. Everyone is theoretically supposed to be on equal footing in a largely informal society.

The monarchy and Norway’s royal family nonetheless continue to have strong support among Norwegians. A survey conducted earlier this year by research firm Norstat showed that fully 80 percent of the population supports the monarchy, even after months of stories in local media that revealed messy royal finances and a lack of openness.

Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Crown Prince Haakon will carry Norway’s monarchy into the next generation. They’re shown here on an official visit to the Orkney Islands last month. PHOTO: Kongehuset/NTB Scanpix

Both the royal staff and the royals themselves, editorialized newspaper Dagsavisen recently, have clearly felt the pressure they’ve been under and tried to deal with it, for better or worse. Newspaper Dagbladet reported how the palace’s communications chief actually called the paper’s sources who were critical of the royals, in an apparent attempt to enlighten them or get them to change their opinions. That set off howls of protests, and rare criticism from within the palace’s own ranks that their bosses were far too authoritarian and outdated. Shortly before that PR blunder, Crown Princess Mette-Marit wrote an open letter to the established media asking them to leave her son Marius Høiby alone. She ignored how her son from a previous relationship before she med Crown Prince Haakon posted photos and updates himself on social media and had reported to anyone interested that he was moving to California with his girlfriend.

Despite the criticism that often swirls around the royal family, or perhaps because of it, the monarchy as such remains solid as a rock. As the canons roared at noon from the Akershus Fortress on Tuesday in honour of Queen Sonja’s birthday, the salute signified how she and King Harald have won respect and manage to present themselves as a reassuring couple who win the confidence of Norwegians. King Harald’s speech at last year’s royal garden party, on the occasion of his reign’s silver jubilee, struck a nerve and was warmly and wildly received for its tribute to growing diversity in Norway. It proved how Norway’s monarch was in step with his times, and that alone was reassuring.

The royals will likely face more stormy weather in the years ahead, but currently have the people behind them. PHOTO: Kongehuset/NTB Scanpix

Even though the royals stumble now and then, like most others, they represent a sense of solidarity among Norwegians. Politicians come and go while the royals are literally above political bickering and have a unique potential to represent all Norwegians. “The royal family’s ability to unify and promote such common values as tolerance and respect for differences is something we need more and more,” wrote Dagsavisen, a left-leaning publication not known for being royal promoters, in May.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg put it another way, commenting around the same time that “5 million Norwegians all feel they own a little bit of the royal couple.” It’s also the royals whom many look to for comfort in times of national crises and grief, and in times of celebration.

No one knows how the next generation to be led by Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit will do when they take over as king and queen. They’re getting hands-on training by Haakon’s still highly active parents, and then must shape their own roles and change with the times. At a time of what’s been called “strange” leadership in many parts of the world including the US, Norway’s system seems to work and provide important continuity despite its inherent paradox. It’s likely to continue for years to come.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund