Norway’s King Harald was drawing rave reviews on Friday after delivering what’s likely to be viewed as an historic speech that may even help preserve the future of the monarchy. One leading expert on rhetoric suggested that the speech should be set to music, as it reflected the modern Norway full of people from north to south and around the world who are all “Norwegians.”
The speech was delivered at the last in a series of “royal garden parties” held around the country in connection with King Harald’s 25th anniversary as monarch this year. King Harald and Queen Sonja invited a total of around 1,500 people who represented a cross-section of Norway’s population to mingle with them and other members of the royal family, as they enjoyed food, drink and entertainment.
King Harald set the mood in his welcoming remarks, which came around an hour after guests had arrived and the royal family had made its entrance. Sometimes criticized for lacking charisma, the monarch was at his grandfatherly best, speaking with a strong sense of humour and from the heart as he hailed Norway’s relatively new diversity and literally gathered the nation together.
When he started off by mentioning that Norway was made up of “high mountains and deep fjords,” along with islands and the equivalent of amber fields of grain, some were skeptical. “I feared that this was another nature-pornographic glorification about how Norway is so fine and the sunsets so beautiful,” Kjell Terje Ringdal, an author and communications adviser who lectures on rhetoric and public relations at Kristiania College in Oslo, told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday.
“But then I realized that the speech was very seductive,” Ringdal continued. “In the manner Bruce Springsteen sings about the USA, the king spoke about Norway. The speech was so modern!”
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), which had aired the royal garden party live on national TV Thursday afternoon, also offered extensive coverage of it and the king’s speech on its national nightly newscast Dagsrevyen Thursday evening. NRK singled out phrases where the king was describing the various people who, in his opinion, actually are Norway, coming from Nordland and Trondelag but also from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Poland, and including “girls who love girls, boys who love boys and girls and boys who love each other.”
It was widely interpreted as a clear and bold call from King Harald for tolerance among everyone living in Norway regardless of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. It came just days after a gender pride event in Kristiansand was the target of vandalism and threats, and where marchers in in last Saturday’s pride parade felt threatened by members of a right-wing self-professed national socialist organization that stood along the parade route and took photos of them. The king’s speech also came after a year during which Norway has been accommodating record numbers of asylum seekers. King Harald made a point of stressing that his own grandparents were immigrants in Norway, too. Kong Haakon VII came from Denmark when Norway re-established its monarchy upon independence from Sweden in 1905, and his Haakon’s wife Queen Maud was from England.
“It’s not always easy to say where we come from, which nationality we have,” King Harald said. “The place we call home is where our heart is, and that can’t always be placed with a county’s boundaries.”
By Friday mid-day, NRK was reporting that more than a million Norwegians had watched its video of the speech, more than 20,000 had shared it and social media outlets were alive with commentary. Ringdal called the speech “wise” and “smart,” and noted how it highlighted Norway’s natural beauty, “which often has a good effect. You enter the king’s world, where the nature serves as a metaphor on how we should look at our country and the people here. When the nature is so diverse (from the high mountains to the deep fjords and coastal areas), we should be, too.”
The speech was also viewed as political, something the royals are supposed to avoid, “but it was political in a positive sense,” Ringdal told Aftenposten. “It was a so-called ‘deliberative’ speech that looks ahead, which offered advice and hinted at solutions. It was positive in the sense that the king was offering advice on how we should view our land and each other.”
Guests at the garden party, who came from every county plus Svalbard, reflected King Harald’s description of Norway’s people as “engaged youth” and wise elderly with lots of experience. His reference to “single and divorced” Norwegians came just weeks after the palace announced that his own daughter, Princess Martha Louise, was going through a divorce from her author husband Ari Behn. She didn’t attend the garden party but many other members of the royal family did and were once again humanized as they mingled with guests, also when young Princess Ingrid Alexandra was spotted securing some snacks from the food tables as guests were leaving.
Queen Sonja also won applause for her closing remarks, which also included humour and hailed Norway’s people. “Thank you for being our fellow Norwegians!” the queen exclaimed. “Thank you for sharing a wish that we build our country further, take care of the nature and our culture, and accept each other and see one another.”
The garden party and its speeches came after a recent wave of criticism both of the monarchy and the royal family itself. Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit have been targets, over their decision to send their children to private school, for example, and their sometimes jet-set lifestyle. There’s been criticism about a lack of disclosure over royal finances and calls for Norway to abolish its monarchy and become a republic. Debate over the monarchy is likely to continue, but the king’s speech on Thursday portrayed a new side of King Harald that will become part of his legacy and may boost the monarchy’s role in Norway. The speech was “melodic” and “effective,” Ringdal concluded, “pure and simple, fantastically good.”