On Monday King Carl Gustaf led a memorial service for the victims of the tsunami catastrophe in Asia with what Svenska Dagbladet called “a strong, personal speech”. But earlier in the day another newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, carried a full-length interview with the king, in which he appeared to criticise the government’s reaction to the disaster.
Representatives of the government and parliament, the palace and a host of other organisations gathered in Stockholm’s Town Hall heard the king implore the young survivors of the tsunami to turn to Sweden’s adults for help.
“We adults will listen to you, you who are children and young, to your stories of what you experienced and feel. Show us your drawings, your tears, sorrow and anger. We adults are here to protect and to help you.”
Referring to the “many children who have lost one or both parents”, the king reminded the audience in the town hall, as well as those watching live on television or listening on the radio, that he also grew up without a father.
“I believe I know what that is like. I myself have been such a child. My father died in a flying accident when I was very small. So I know what it means to grow up without a dad.”
Svenska Dagbladet’s Karin Thunberg was at the ceremony,
“I was most impressed with the king,” she reported. “He came across as a very attentive and sympathetic person.”
In the most moving passage of the speech, the king asked how “parents, siblings, relatives, teachers and leaders will manage to handle the loss”.
“I wish I had a good answer. Imagine if I, like the king in the fairytales, could make everything all right and end the story with “and they all lived happily ever after”. But I, like you, am just a grieving, seeking person.”
Archbishop KG Hammar also spoke at the ceremony and told the audience that “our understanding of reality becomes more truthful if we take death into account”.
“Sorrow shows the meaning of love,” he added.
The last to speak was prime minister Göran Persson.
“Pain is all around us, in our country and throughout the world. But also consideration is growing and spreading between people and generations and across continents,” he said.
“Thank you to everyone who has contributed, here at home and abroad. Thank you to all fellow human being, adults and children, for being there when you are needed most.”
While both the king and the prime minister spoke of mutual support, the morning’s papers brought signs of a rift between the palace and the government over the handling of the catastrophe.
“King criticises foreign office and Laila Freivalds” ran Expressen’s headline.
Revealing that he had waited over 36 hours to be briefed on the tragedy unfolding in Asia, King Carl Gustaf said, “In certain circumstances it is better to act than to do nothing at all.”
The source of the king’s quotes was an in-depth interview in Monday’s Dagens Nyheter, in which he described how his only source of information on Boxing Day had been news reports.
“We were at my sister’s, Princess Christina, on the Boxing Day, as we are every year. And we all stood there in front of the TV and watched,” he told the paper.
“Then we tried to get information from the foreign office… and after a lot of hassle we managed to get hold of cabinet secretary Lars Danielsson on the evening of the 27th.”
The king also compared the Swedish reaction to the crisis with that of Italy.
“We are northerners and Scandinavians. Italians are latin and react in a different way. And it is often rightly said in Sweden that we react slowly but when we do we are extremely effective and organised and go about it calmly and methodically.”
But on this occasion the king hinted that in his view the Swedish approach was not necessarily the best one.
“It’s better to ring the ambulance and then send it back if it’s not needed. But here in Sweden it’s often the case that nobody dares to take responsibility,” he told DN. “People are afraid to get things going.”
“I think it is important that people dare to take responsibility. Then you’ll certainly be held to account but it’s better than passively standing by.”