King Harald V dutifully refrained from expressing any political opinions in his annual New Year’s address to the nation. He seized the opportunity, though, to call for better behaviour and more mutual respect among his fellow adult Norwegians.
“We must treat one another in a proper manner,” King Harald said in his traditional, nationally televised speech on New Year’s Eve. The speech is often devoted to a special theme, and this year the monarch clearly felt a need to speak out against polarization and a debate culture that’s sunken to low levels worldwide.
His comments came after a particularly acrimonious year in politics both in Norway and abroad, and one in which the “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment revealed horrific treatment of women over the years. King Harald made no specific references to either but his comments were clearly a result of the low levels to which social debate of all types has sunk.
King Harald noted that children and youth learn from what adults do and say. “We’re the ones who, though our behaviour, relay what’s acceptable,” he said. “We must speak about and to one another in a way that we want our children to take with them through their lives. We really must think about that.”
Harald Stanghelle, the longtime political commentator and editor who recently resigned from newspaper Aftenposten, has criticized the decline of a debate culture that’s become mean, harsh and even threatening, not least because social media has allowed it to become anonymous. Stangelle praised the king’s New Year’s speech for taking up the issue, but also told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “it’s sad it should be necessary for the king to have to mention it.”
King Harald also urged more friendliness and kindness, claiming that “your own smile can make a difference for someone you meet on the street. A friendly word can help improve the day for someone else.” In short, the monarch simply felt a need to tell Norwegians to just be nice to one another.
He further noted that Norway “is built upon the ability to compromise, whether it’s within the family, on the school yard, at work or in politics.” That comment came just as officials for Norway’s three government parties were about to sit down right after New Year and negotiate a new government platform with a fourth party, the Christian Democrats. None of those involved could miss the not-so-subtle hint that they’ll all need to make compromises in order to succeed.
Like his fellow monarch, Queen Elizabeth, who’s seen her country decline into especially heated debate over Brexit, King Harald urged everyone to make a New Year’s resolution to meet others with friendliness and respect in 2019. His call was welcomed not only by Stanghelle, but by others including Anine Kierulf, an expert on human rights and freedom of expression. She thought the king’s latest speech was important.
“Disagreement can be discussed in a professional manner,” Kierfulf told NRK, and not by trying to define or characterize one’s opponents. “That doesn’t mean we can deeply disagree on things, but that we can speak with one another in a manner when we try to make the best impression.” She stressed the value of contributing to a conversation in a way that can develop understanding, “instead of just attacking one another.”
King Harald, in his call for more mutual respect, stressed that “we need one another” before simply wishing all Norwegians a good year ahead.