King Carl Gustaf hit back this week at critics who felt that he overstepped the mark with his comments about the Swedish government’s handling of the tsunami catastrophe in Asia.
“I think the debate is exaggerated and unnecessary,” said the king in what Aftonbladet described as a “unique press conference”. It was the first time in over 20 years that the king himself has called a meeting with the press.
The debate in question began on January 10th when, in an interview with Dagens Nyheter, the king explained that nobody from the foreign office contacted him about the developing tragedy until 36 hours after the news first broke on television.
“In Sweden it’s often the case that nobody dares to take responsibility,” he told DN. “People are afraid to get things going.”
Four days later Marita Ulvskog, the party secretary for the ruling Social Democrats, said on Swedish radio that the king had “crossed a line” and broken the so-called ‘Torvekov Compromise’, a constitutional rule that the monarch shall not get involved in politics.
Earlier this week the king, who was attending a conference on “People and Defence” in Sälen, held an impromptu press conference in an attempt to lay the matter to rest.
But with headlines such as “The king’s new attack” (Aftonbladet) and “King rages against Ulvskog” (Expressen) following shortly after, the olive branch appears simply to have been more fuel for the fire.
“I think this is exaggerated and unnecessary when we really ought to be talking about the actual problems we already have,” he said.
“What I said was thinking out loud about what I was feeling and experiencing in that situation.”
King Carl Gustaf declined to answer the media’s questions about Marita Ulvskog’s criticism, saying that she should answer them herself. However, Expressen reported that more had taken place behind the scenes.
“He has discussed the issue with the prime minister,” said ‘a source’ who added that the king had been “very upset” by her comments.
However, he made it clear that he had a good relationship with the prime minister, Göran Persson.
“The province of Sörmland is dear to both of us,” he said. “We often discuss farming – he is very interested in it and very knowledgeable.”
Reporters asked the king to comment on Göran Persson’s criticism of the Thai authorities’ approach to dealing with the bodies of Swedes who died when the tsunami struck, but he would not be drawn.
“I don’t want to comment on that, but there’s certainly much more behind it,” he said.
“[The prime minister ] has discussed it with his colleagues and the Thai prime minister. That’s a matter for them.”
But the king also revealed that he and Queen Silvia intend to visit Thailand in the near future.
“When things have stabilised a little we will visit the Thai king and say thank you for the support which the Thai people have given. There is no official programme yet but we also plan to visit the new consulate in Phuket.”