Norway’s 85-year-old monarch defied illness and a recent hospitalization to once again address the nation on New Year’s Eve, during what he repeatedly referred to as “troubled times.” He used his annual New Year’s speech to urge Norwegians (and anyone else listening) to “acknowledge that we need one another, both in the world and in everyday life,” and to ask those they encounter: “What can I do for you?”
King Harald V’s nationally televised address was getting rave reviews on New Year’s Day, and hundreds of messages of gratitude on social media. “A fine New Year’s speech in difficult times,” wrote John-Tore Rudborg on Facebook, for example, while Astrid Alsaker noted that the king “never lets us down.”
He was released from hospital just days before Christmas, after treatment for an infection that required intravenous antibiotics. It remained unclear during the Christmas holidays whether he’d be able to tape his annual New Year’s speech that traditionally gathers Norwegians around televisions and radios nationwide at 7:30pm on New Year’s Eve, and often kicks off celebrations.
King Harald, dressed in a tuxedo for the occasion and seated at a table in the Royal Palace in Oslo, launched straight into his text without even an opening salutation. “We human beings need to feel that can do something so that life can be as good as possible, both for ourselves and for those we love,” he said. That’s especially important, he stressed, “in troubled times, when we face challenges that are difficult for us to do anything about. We can easily feel powerless.
“But that’s exactly when we must raise our gaze and look ahead to gain perspective, and acknowledge that we need one another. That reminds us that we are not alone, That strengthens us, and gives us hope.”
There was no doubt what he was talking about, even though members of the Norwegian royal family are not supposed to delve into politics. “Russia’s brutal warfare in Ukraine has cast a new sense of seriousness over our part of the world,” King Harald said. “Many are uneasy, both here in Norway and within our European fellowship.”
At the same time, he added, “we see how Norwegians are contributing through both humanitarian aid and other means to help people in need. That makes me both proud and glad.”
King Harald noted how Norwegians “have acquired new neighbours” all over the country, as refugees (more than 35,000 from Ukraine alone) “establish new lives in Norway in hopes of finding security and thriving, with the good help of many who want them to thrive. I hope everyone who’s creating new homes in Norway will experience the warmth and safe havens they want for themselves and their loved ones.”
As for Norwegians themselves, King Harald noted how “those of us living today have grown up in a privileged era” characterized by progress and rising prosperity both in the world and in Norway. Many have risen out of extreme poverty and more democracies have been created, he said. “We have all but expected that the world would continue to move forward,” he added. “Unfortunately we can’t take that for granted. We now see that democratic freedoms have weakened, poverty is rising and more people have become refugees because of war, conflict and the climate.”
King Harald, long an advocate of preserving rain forests and nature, claimed that climate is now the most serious issue. “We must do everything we can to protect our earth, both to protect peoples’ homes and to preserve the fantastic nature where everything alive hangs together … I really hope that we will now manage to act in line with the seriousness of the situation.”
Norway has prospered from its fossil fuel industry (a connection the king did not address) but he noted that even many Norwegians are now uneasy about the future: “I sympathize with everyone who’s now facing new burdens after two tough years with the pandemic. I hope for better times for everyone who’s struggling and worried.”
All the more reason, he said, that it’s “time to acknowledge one another now. Just think if everyone, every day, could ask someone they encounter: ‘What can I do for you?’ Think about what that could lead to, in terms of good experiences and memorable moments! It doesn’t cost anything, just a bit of courage and extra thoughtfulness.”
He concluded by praising how fellowship and cooperation within Europe and among western allies have blossomed, and how “we have managed to stand together in a fellowship of shared values and security. Our part of the world has acknowledged that we need one another, that we are both stronger and safer together. That gives hope in the situation we’re now in and for the future.”
Norwegians have been reminded, he noted, about the value of their democractic freedom and “how good it is to live in a country with peace.” King Harald himself had to flee Norway as a child after Nazi Germany invaded and occupied the country for five long years during World War II. “Our democracy begins here: with the confidence we have in wishing each other well, working for what’s best for the most people possible. That’s how we can defend and strengthen the Norway we have built together, and everyone can contribute.”
Tributes started streaming in as soon as King Harald had signed off by wishing everyone et riktig godt nytt år (a really good New Year). “What a King we have!” wrote Anne Svendsen Hovrud on the palace’s Facebook page, while hundreds of others wrote that they found the monarch’s address “inspiring” at a time when inspiration is needed.
Ann Kristin Lauvås simply urged Norwegians to listen to what the monarch said: “We must look ahead, set aside the egoism that’s developed in recent years and take care of one another. We need that in our future.”