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Why deny a princess her fairytale? Republicans and the royal weddings

Why deny a princess her fairytale? Republicans and the royal weddings

Published: 15 Feb 2010 10:36 GMT+01:00
Updated: 15 Feb 2010 10:36 GMT+01:00

With Sweden's royal wedding year now upon us, writer and commoner Allan Burnett hoists the flag for an influential group catering for the anti-monarchy needs of a large and flabbergasted minority.

There is surely at least one hermit living somewhere in Sweden who knows nothing of upcoming royal weddings. He or she is unaware that Crown Princess Victoria is getting hitched to a commoner, Mr Daniel Westling, in Stockholm's Storkyrkan on June 19th. Nor has he or she heard that the Swedish capital will frame the event by lavishing a fortune on a two-week festival called Love Stockholm 2010, beginning on the national day of June 6th.

Such a state of blissful ignorance is one that some city-dwelling Swedes dearly wish they could inhabit. Instead, these poor folk are accosted on all sides of their local kiosk by breathless tabloid headlines about royal wedding dresses, make-up and honeymoon plans. Not to mention the “fierce rivalry” between Victoria and her younger sister Princess Madeleine, who is also tying the knot this year. As if one royal wedding were not enough.

The poor souls I'm talking about are Swedish republicans. Swedes of republican, meaning anti-monarchy, sympathies are a significant voice in Swedish politics. Indeed Birgitta Ohlsson, former chair of Republikanska Föreningen (RF), the leading republican association in Sweden, has recently been appointed Sweden's new EU minister. RF is a cross-party alliance that would love to do away with royalty and royal weddings altogether. They argue that Sweden would be more progressive and more democratic without the outdated and elitist institution of monarchy.

But are Swedish republicans just killjoys? What's so wrong with fairytale royal weddings, anyway? And how about a bit of compromise - isn't that what democracy is all about?

The Local spoke to Magnus Simonsson, RF's International Secretary and a founder member of the association. He strongly disagrees with the view that royal weddings are just a bit of harmless pageantry.

“The royals are not harmless since the monarchy is a serious restriction on Swedish democracy,” says Simonsson. “Such an important position as the head of state should be appointed in accordance with democratic proceedings and be based on qualifications. By making statements on political questions, the royals influence the debate through their unique position without having to take political responsibility.”

To the old hands who support RF, which was set up about ten years ago to build on a republican tradition going back to the 1950s, the upcoming weddings are an unpleasant reminder of the last major royal betrothal they tried in vain to prevent. That saga started in 1974, with the establishment of the modern Swedish constitution. The constitution was considered a superbly democratic document except for one glaring error. It should have abolished the undemocratic, hereditary office of monarch. Instead, Sweden's political establishment baulked. The monarch's powers were merely curtailed and that was considered enough.

And so it came to pass that, two years later, there was an event that set the new constitution in the minds of the nation. Hard-nosed republicans turned away from their TV sets in disgust at the marriage celebration of Crown Princess Victoria's parents. Or perhaps it was the saccharine sound of Abba's Dancing Queen, performed for the occasion, that put them off. Needless to say, more than thirty years on, veteran republicans are unlikely to tune in to TV4 when it broadcasts Victoria's nuptials, either.

Critics say republicans should lighten up. The constitution ensures that the Swedish royal family is a harmless national symbol, devoid of any real political power. Victoria is marrying a commoner, which is progressive and democratic in itself, and should be welcomed. Compared with other monarchies, the UK's, for example, the Swedish royals don't cost very much to maintain, either. Victoria's wedding will be a huge boost for tourism and the Swedish economy. It's going to be the cleanest, greenest and most ethical royal wedding in history. So stop whingeing. The country is trying to climb out of a recession, after all.

And what of the tourists who are expected to flock for Love Stockholm 2010. Surely events like this prove the royals are good for Sweden's international image? Again, Simonsson disagrees. “A democratically elected head of state would give a better picture of Sweden abroad as a democratic country,” he says. “A head of state that was elected by competence and merit would promote our country better.”

Should I require further convincing, Simonsson points me towards RF's website. A recent splash on its homepage draws attention to the cutting edge of academic thought about the rights and wrongs of the royal wedding. In fact, it is a promotion for a recently published book by the political scientist Cecilia Åse of Stockholm University. Entitled The Power of Monarchy, it examines the contradiction in Swedish society between its progressive democracy on one hand, and its conservative royalism on the other. In so doing, it contains plenty to upset those looking forward to lining the streets on June 19th.

Let's take the progressive side first. This holds unmarried couples, gay relationships, immigration, multi-racial families, and a truly classless society to be essential elements in a healthy, forward-thinking nation. But the conservative side is a reminder that many Swedish people still think of their collective identity in somewhat mediaeval terms. Deep down they want to see heterosexual, Nordic, blue-eyed, blue-blooded princesses getting married to equally 'acceptable' princes, and then having children to start the cycle again when the parents ascend to the throne. This matters to people because, consciously or unconsciously, they think of the nation itself is a kind of biological 'super-family'. The royals are the parents; we, the subjects, are their children.

Åse points out that some moderate republicans, including the late Prime Minister Olof Palme, accepted the constitution of 1974 because it seemed to pave the way for a full republic to emerge later. But Åse argues that what the constitution actually did was strengthen the monarchy by giving King Carl Gustav an unimpeachable ceremonial role as head of state, thereby appearing to remove the monarchy from political decision-making and taking the sting out of republican arguments. Åse does not lean heavily towards one side of the debate, but she does provide ammunition for those who consider the royals to be flag-wavers for a backward, conservative nationalism that has no place in 21st-century Sweden.

The historian Helena Tolvhed of Malmo University has argued that the marketing of Love Stockholm 2010 as an inclusive, eco-friendly, modern festival for the people is a facade. Moreover, those who view royal celebrations as harmless, innocent anachronisms are naive. The fact that Victoria's fiance is a commoner only serves to underline the elitism of the institution into which he has been groomed for entry. Tolvhed contends that the royal wedding reinforces the reactionary, nationalist thinking that has taken the far-right Swedish Democrats beyond the four per-cent level of support that could see them enter Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag, at the forthcoming election.

If royalist fervour does cause right-wing extremism to gain ground at the election, some republicans believe the Swedish media will have to shoulder the blame. “One of the causes for the monarchy's popularity is the positive image shown in the media,” says Simonsson. “The media does not really question the fact that the basis for the monarchy is an undemocratic tradition. Most people do not reflect over this at all. If the discussion about the monarchy as a restriction of the Swedish democracy were stronger, I'm sure a larger part of the people would support the republican cause.”

Republicans do tend to argue that by doing away with monarchy and its trappings, Sweden will automatically be a better place. There is abundant evidence to suggest this is a simplistic, even misguided philosophy. Republics and their presidents can often be more undemocratic, elitist and frighteningly nationalistic than some constitutional monarchies have ever been. And that's even without the obvious examples of Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin.

With the appointment of Ohlsson to her new post, the republican voice in government just got louder. Only time will tell whether her views are diluted by the compromises required of high political office. What remains certain is that convinced Swedish republicans are never going to be persuaded of the merits of the forthcoming royal wedding. They can only hope that, in time and with persuasion, the Swedish people will be weaned off princes and princesses. After all, as Westling's background attests, the royals are becoming more like us anyway.

Being special and yet 'normal' is, as Tolvhed points out, a balancing act. If it goes wrong it can require royal couples to deal very publicly with their domestic disasters. This could lead to severe upset among Swedish traditionalists if either one of these forthcoming royal marriages doesn't work out. On the other hand, recent history does suggest that Victoria can expect to be a royal for a long time to come. As those of us from the UK know all too well, heirs to the throne have an amazing capacity to bounce back no matter how much of a personal pickle they get themselves into. Just ask Charles and Camilla.

Allan Burnett (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:19 February 15, 2010 by Dimetrodon61
Since every people tend to regard the real or nominal leader the way tribal people regard the chieftain, and since this psychological trait may be "hardwired", it is just as well to have a powerless, symbolical "embodiment" of the country while the real power belongs to some grey bloke (prime minister) with the charisma of a tree stump.

The Americans are more subservient to their leaders since they combine the two roles.

As I recall, not even Margaret Thatcher managed to rival the British queen in terms of "majesty", but her contemporary, Ronald Reagan, combined the real power and the symbolism of being national ruler, allowing him to get away with things a British prime minister could never do.

For a comparison of attitudes to power, see old episodes of the British satire "Spitting Image" and compare it with simultanous episodes of "Saturday Night Live"!
19:52 February 15, 2010 by conboy
Olof Palme made a historic decision to accept a moderate amendment to the 1974 Government reform - it was a spineless retreat which paradoxically encouraged his more strident politics abroad. Sweden is a conservative country where public courage is not encouraged - He probably regretted his decision till the day he was murdered.
21:19 February 15, 2010 by GLO
Sweden could not dream up or aford a better Tourist Attraction than your Monarchy..

Ill be comming to Sweden in June to bring some green backs to spread around and emjoy your wonderful little country.. Also, the most Beautiful Women in the World..
21:46 February 15, 2010 by glamelixir
I find it obscene that in the middle of this world crisis, which absolutly includes Sweden, talking about reducing costs in wellfare, they are even considering the idea os spending a fortune in this.
00:00 February 16, 2010 by Rutkowski
I'm one of those that are going to be in Stockholm and demostrating during their wedding. If I'm to pay for it I got the right to tell them what I think of it.
09:26 February 16, 2010 by Garth
I love Sweden's monarchy!

Like every other monarchy in Europe, lies among of the most successful and progressive nations on Earth. Having a Constitutional Monarchy means the nation's figurehead (including the titular head of the police and armed forces) remains above party politics.

I have every faith that Sweden won't replace it's popular, apolitical monarchy with just another party animal.

Monarchy works and works well... please don't even consider an alternative. Celebrate the royal wedding with as much pomp and majesty you can and be thankful that such an effective institution has managed to survive for as long as it has. I'm trying my hardest to get there fro the wedding, and my tourist dollars count!!

To conclude with, I implore republican Swedes to consider the following quote by Churchill;

"This war would never have come unless, under American and modernising pressure, we had driven the Habsburgs out of Austria and the Hohenzollerns out of Germany. By making these vacuums we gave the opening for the Hitlerite monster to crawl out of its sewer on to the vacant thrones...

Winston Churchill, 8th April 1945."
10:06 February 16, 2010 by johnnyrebel
Much ado about nothing.-johnnyrebel
11:07 February 16, 2010 by Kevin Harris
I'm with Garth and Churchill on this one. Apolitical monarchs have a useful role as a check on the misuse of power by the democratically elected heads of state so beloved by Magnus Simonsson. History has a long list of disasters created by unchecked democratically elected heads of state. The Germans elected Hitler in 1934 fair and square; take note Magnus Simonsson, he got 85% percent of the vote. Hitler was probably the most repugnant politician to be democratically elected, but there are plenty more. Here in Sweden, the far-right Sweden Democrats are not far from the four percent threshold necessary for entry into Parliament. Personally I am comforted that we have a Swedish monarchy; just in case the Swedish electorate does something really stupid one election day.

Mr Rutkowski, any person who goes out of their way to spoil a young couple's wedding day really needs to reexamine their values.
11:11 February 16, 2010 by senthil v
how many of the politicians elected the democratic way are competent???? don't keep repeating the word pls
11:21 February 16, 2010 by Rutkowski
Harris; I'd be perfectly fine with the wedding if the taxpayers wouldn't be forced to pay for it. Make the crown a private institution; if they're so profitable they like to claim then they can damn well make it go around by themselves. I don't want to play for an inbred family wasting money on purses costing several hundred thousand of kronor and expensive weddings that we have no say in.

But, as it is now, we don't get a choice so I'm going to be there to show my dissaproval with it. As long as they act like they're better than everyone else(and yes, they do) I'm going to react to it; despite what idiots brainwashed by tabloid newspapers like this one think.
12:44 February 16, 2010 by peropaco
I will protest by leaving Sweding during the marriage ceremomy of these inbreds. I can only see the whole heaps of lower class Swedes from all part of the country standing to cheer those they consider to be superior to them. what a bunch of losers.....
13:19 February 16, 2010 by Freja
Good ones Garth, Churchill and Kevin Harris. Fully agree with you.

Not sure I'm big into royalty in general, and there are some really dubious European royals I'm glad we don't need to fund (did someone say Prince Charles?). But our Royals bring a lot of value to the country and they realise that they are expected to be modern and in sync with the country at large. Fantastic marketing devise. And the idea of separating a national, albeit symbolic, and non-partisan figurhead with democratically elected leaders does certainly brings some well needed stability and checks. I belive it keeps our politicians from developing a sick sense of hubris. How would W and his gang fared if the US have had a respected Royal family? It would surely have dampted some of their more bizarre actions.

I am certain our fantastic Crown Princess Victoria will become much loved and celebrated Queen when that time comes. Her devotion to the country and the efforts and genuinity she puts into her destined role and our country is both admirable, appreciated and of great value.

I will certainly celebarte her/their wedding in June. Not so much because they are royals, although the added pomp makes it more fun and spectacular and our beautiful capital will be donned up even more, but to support her and show my appreciation for the work she is doing for all of us.

Any tourists considering visiting, book soon as flights and hotel rooms will be booked up early and Stockholm has a shortage of hotel rooms in general.

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
14:27 February 16, 2010 by LailaC1
Yawn.

I for one am gutted I can't come to Sweden on holiday during this time to enjoy the festivities. The only reason being that I will be too heavily pregnant to travel.

What a bunch of killjoys. Sweden doesn't market itself enough and this is a great tourist attraction!

PS - Bring back the Water Festival!
15:03 February 16, 2010 by Rutkowski
I'd like for those that claim that the royal family is good for the Swedish economy to show some numbers.

I'd also like if you read up on the Swedish Constitution; the royal family doesn't provide any checks and balances like the GB crown does; they only provide idiotic statements, sales for tabloids and lots of bills for the Swedish taxpayers.
17:32 February 16, 2010 by Scepticion
"A democratically elected head of state would give a better picture of Sweden abroad as a democratic country,"

That's sure not true, who can name all the political heads of small countries? Not me. Another unknown politician.

"Such an important position as the head of state should be appointed in accordance with democratic proceedings and be based on qualifications. By making statements on political questions, the royals influence the debate through their unique position without having to take political responsibility."

Is that a joke? I recall that a large number of socialist party MPs didn't even have a masters... just rising through the ranks of the party through nepotism.

As to the king being able to say something. I think he probably is The person in Sweden who doesn't have the right of free speech.
20:33 February 16, 2010 by pintoflex
Anna Anka is the soon to be real queen of sweden
02:58 February 17, 2010 by redfish
Dimetrodon,

Americans don't combine both roles. The President has a lot less power than a Prime Minister, because of the differences between a Congressional and Parliamentary system.

While in a Parliamentary system, the executive has almost authoritarian control, except for the fear of a vote of no confidence, in a Congressional system, the control is in the legislative, not executive, branch.

And even the extent of power the President has today through the Congress delegating him authority, wasn't intended by our Constitution. Historians here call this the 'imperial Presidency'. Presidents weren't utmost in importance until recent history. In the 19th century, the three most powerful and influential politicians were senators: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun.

What we need in the US in that regard is to move our gov't back to how it was originally intended.
08:33 February 17, 2010 by Swenglishman
I like that idea of having a head of state who is not tied to a political party and who acts as flag bearer for the country for no other reason than that is the job, whether you are born or married into it or not. Let the politicians run the country but keep the head of state above this. A Monachy gaurantees this. I'm not saying that there are not alternatives, but at the same time a sysem that is not broken does not need fixing. In all the Republics I can think of the head of state is a political position and as such always has an agenda above simply representing the country (France, Russia etc..)
09:45 February 17, 2010 by spongepaddy
To all the people who go on about what good "ambassadors" the royals are for Sweden, and how much tourism they generate, I say this: I could find a dozen advertising agencies who could do the same job for a tenth of the cost. And that won't get married and cost the state extra millions.

And the major problem with the Swedish royals? They are actually quite stupid compared to normal people, and even compared to other royals. Great "ambassadors" indeed.
17:14 February 17, 2010 by Svamerikansk
Dimetrodon,

You clearly have no idea about uni and bicameral systems. The prime minister of Sweden actually has no power at all. Every law is either amended or made through a Riksdagen vote.

In America, the president has more power than in Sweden. He can at least veto the congress' (Riksdagen equivalent) decision. However, Americans are by no means subservient. In contrast, they are politically active to a fault.

As for your "chieftan" theory, the last 234 years of history disagrees with you.
18:29 February 17, 2010 by redfish
Svamerikansk,

I'm not familiar with the Swedish government, I was going by how I know parliamentary systems work in general.

Anyway, you're right the main power the US President has, besides carrying out legislation, is the veto. Originally, the President was assumed to have the right to use the veto when the Congress passed a law that was considered Unconstitutional. There was a big furor when an American President--Andrew Jackson--started using the veto based on his personal beliefs on policy. For that, and other things, he was given the nickname 'King Andrew I'.

The American President is really supposed to have little power at all.,
20:53 February 17, 2010 by RobinHood
"A head of state that was elected by competence and merit would promote our country better." Magnus Simonsson spokesman for Republikanska Föreningen

SPOT QUIZ

Question one - what is the full name of the permanent President of the European Council?

Question two - who will be raising a flag on his/her birthday on 31st October?

Question three - who would recognise this man/woman if they saw him/her in a bar?

I thought so. So much for better promotion by way of competence and merit, republican style.

The answer to question one is Herman Van Rompuy (a man). The answer to question two is, no one with a right mind, and if you failed on question three, he looks a bit like the Dali Lama.
21:14 February 18, 2010 by glamelixir
Ridiculous! how can some people still support this?

I agree with the person that said that it should be a private institution. All those who think that it is important to support monarchy can pay for the wedding and pay some extra for those of us who don't agree.

I think your thoughts are as medieval as the hole concept.
06:37 February 19, 2010 by sparkriver
how can ppl of Sweden tolerate it ?

The best part of Swedish society is its more democratic than many counties .

I think Swedes should do more .....Choose their own ambassadors and can save millions of kr tax money.

There is no meaning to have a privileged class in democracy.
17:16 February 19, 2010 by Ron Pavellas
I'm a new Swedish citizen, as well as a citizen of the USA, with brown eyes and a Greek surname. I think the royals of Sweden are attractive and competent in their respective roles. I think the upcoming weddings pleasant to anticipate, as long as the expenses for the events are paid privately by the royal family. Their regular expenses in representing Sweden to the world should be supported by taxes, as long as they continue to do a good job, as I perceive they have been. It's good to have smiling people representing Sweden; I believe politicians should not smile, publicly. Thus, the necessity for the monarchy in its current composition.
09:49 February 20, 2010 by Nordicreb
Rutkowski: As far as the comparison between the U.K. and Sweden goes: the U.K. doesn't even have a written constitution. For other comparisons, feel free to read up on the British system and you'll find that the most common criticism is that it does not really have any decent checks and balances; it's a Cabinet Autocracy. The M.P:s do what they are told, Thatcher being the only exception I can think of right now. Even McDonald managed to remain, albeit with Tory support.

Sparkriver: I'm really trying to not be condescending, but if you don't realise that all nations have a priviliged class, you really do need to study a lot more. It is such a basic concept in political science and sociology that anyone with a high school education should know. The priviliged class in Sweden consists of the elite politicians and the leaders of trade unions and major corporations. They are either a part of the democratic system, or independent of it. Neither would be affected by abolishing the monarchy.

I am a Swede who emigrated to the U.S. and although I prefer the American system of checks and balances I feel that the Bernadotte family sure beats the alternative. Imagine seing a retired politician like Anders Bjork or the late Thage G Petterson being (s)elected president, just like they they're made "landshovding" these days. Perish the thought...
00:13 February 22, 2010 by EP
Cleanest wedding ?!?!? You must be joking. Swedish cities and towns are vile and dirty after a party or on any given weekend, and no one to clean it up for a few days thanks to everyone either being hungover, lazy or having a fika ...
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