Support soars for the monarchy

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Fully 82 percent of Norwegians support their royal family and their constitutional monarchy as a form of government, according to a new public opinion poll. The high level of popularity has even surprised royal experts, and shows that recent efforts to stir up debate over the monarchy as a form of government have fallen flat.

King Harald and Queen Sonja have been playing highly visible roles in Norway's current bicentennial celebrations, a factor that likely helped propel their popularity in the new public opinion poll. They're shown here arriving at the Parliament in Oslo on Thursday for a special jubilee session. PHOTO: Erlend Aas/NTB Scanpix/Stortinget

King Harald and Queen Sonja have been playing highly visible roles in Norway’s current bicentennial celebrations, a factor that likely helped propel their popularity in the new public opinion poll. They’re shown here arriving at the Parliament in Oslo on Thursday for a special jubilee session. PHOTO: Erlend Aas/NTB Scanpix/Stortinget

It is perhaps one of Norway’s great ironies that a country so keen on championing democracy and an egalitarian society would choose and preserve a constitutional monarchy. The royal privilege that it implies in a country that otherwise shuns inherited wealth or power, all but defies logic in a social welfare state like Norway.

There is no question that members of the royal family, despite their best efforts to strike a balance between being regal and folksy at the same time, are privileged indeed. And there are occasional stirrings in the media that some members of the family exploit that privilege and even sidestep Norwegian regulations.

The next generations of royals also got red-carpet treatment upon arrival at the Parliament for the special session to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Norway's constitution. From left, Crown Prince Haakon, Princess Ingrid Alexandra and Crown Princess Mette-Marit. PHOTO: Erlend Aas/NTB Scanpix/Stortinget

The next generations of royals also got red-carpet treatment upon arrival at the Parliament for the special session to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Norway’s constitution. From left, Crown Prince Haakon, Princess Ingrid Alexandra and Crown Princess Mette-Marit. PHOTO: Erlend Aas/NTB Scanpix/Stortinget

In a new book by newspaper Dagens Næringsliv’s prize-winning political commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim, he documented how the royals control press coverage of themselves, seldom respond to criticism, shield their private wealth from public view and engage private sponsors to further their causes. There also has been recent criticism, from conservative politicians who have come out as republicans, that the younger royals have shown themselves to be left-wing and, in an eyebrow-raising case, have used their royal status to help friends avoid Norway’s law against surrogacy.

As national celebrations of Norway’s constitution reach fever pitch, however, the royals are playing highly visible roles. It’s on such occasions that they’re also often seen most clearly as a unifying force in a country that otherwise has eight political parties represented in parliament. Paradox or not, the royals are popular and sought-after both at home and as publicity generators for Norway abroad.

Many attribute Norwegians' support for the monarchy to their view of the royal family as a unifying force in a country with many political parties and endless political debate. They were guests of honour in Parliament on Thursday, as bicentennial celebrations reached a climax. PHOTO: Erlend Aas/NTB Scanpix/Stortinget

Many attribute Norwegians’ support for the monarchy to their view of the royal family as a unifying force in a country with many political parties and endless political debate. They were guests of honour in Parliament on Thursday, as bicentennial celebrations reached a climax. PHOTO: Erlend Aas/NTB Scanpix/Stortinget

The new poll conducted by research firm Norstat for NRK showed that more than eight out of 10 Norwegians support the royal family and don’t want any other form of government, such as a republic with an elected president. Fewer, 67 percent,  believe the royals remain politically neutral as they’re supposed to, while 20 percent claimed they don’t.

“These are clearly the highest numbers I have heard about in at least 20 years,” Carl-Erik Grimstad, a political scientist and former palace official who often has been critical of the royal family, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday. He noted how public support for the monarchy and the current royal family has generally settled around 60-70 percent, and he ties the current upswing to the fact that “we’re right in the midst of the jubilee over the constitution.”

Norwegians are often feeling most patriotic around Constitution Day on the 17th of May, and both May and June are high season for royal appearances before the country heads off on summer holidays. Alstadheim, meanwhile, claimed he wasn’t surprised by the high support for the monarchy in NRK’s poll.

“The alternative, a republic, is a bit unclear and unfamiliar, and that’s why so many choose to continue to support a monarchy,” Alstadheim told NRK. He thinks there also has been too little debate over the monarchy in Norway.

“I think it’s strange that as we celebrate democracy and rule by the people here in Norway, that we have a head of state who isn’t elected but who inherits the position,” said Alstadheim, who has accused NRK itself of being far too passive and non-criticial in its coverage of the monarchy.

“But the monarchy stands firm in Norway, there’s no question about that,” Alstadheim said. “In the foreseeable future, abolishing the monarchy in Norway is likely as improbable as us joining the EU.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund