Modern Swedes face up to the monarchy paradox

Modern Swedes face up to the monarchy paradox
Photo: Image Bank Sweden/Jonas Ekströmer/Scanpix
As republicans sharpen their rhetorical weapons, Peter Vinthagen Simpson ponders why the self-proclaimed most modern country in the world is suffering a bout of introspection over its royal family, long accepted as just part of the national furniture.

In a popular Sveriges Television series first broadcast in 2006, charismatic comic and linguist Fredrik Lindström prompted a period of national introspection when he posed the question – Is Sweden the most modern country in the world? – while arguing that Swedes bestride a split mentality of complacency and insecurity.

The Swedish monarchy has long been beyond the pale of criticism in Sweden, at least for foreigners. It is up there with the Systembolaget state monopoly liquour stores and Swedish strawberries – you just don’t go there.

When the engagement of Crown Princess Victoria and commoner Daniel Westling was announced last year it was widely predicted to provide a timely boost for the royal family. But as the world’s press descends on Stockholm for the wedding several polls indicate a waning support for the institution of the monarchy. Could the paradox outlined in Lindström’s programme provide a clue as to why?

While the machinations of the Swedish royals play out on the society pages; while the young, photogenic royal offspring pursue worthy deeds spruced up with a few modest foreign holidays; and while folk-dress clad princesses beam at largely-ignored national day celebrations, the existence of a constitutional monarchy remains just part of the furniture and uncontroversial, and it remains a national affair.

But when foreign eyes turn to Sweden, as they have done this week, the insecurity identified by Lindström is brutally exposed, and what has been regarded by many as ”The World’s Most Modern Monarchy”, becomes just another undemocratic anachronism.

In short “The World’s Most Modern Country” cares what supposedly less modern countries think.

New evidence of this emerged only this week with the widespread reporting of a New York Times article proclaiming that ”Swedish Fathers Can Have it All”. Sweden is rightly proud of its family policy record, but like anyone else it is always nice to hear outsiders confirm what has always been known.

Many Stockholmers have meanwhile been trying to cash in by renting out their apartments for the week of the royal wedding. There is no doubt a purely financial motive for this, but for many this is chance to aloofly announce their departure – a display of disdain for the pomp, the ceremony, and the displays of inherited wealth and title that a royal wedding by definition displays.

The citizens of “The World’s Most Modern Country” might be both equally complacent and insecure, Lindström argued, but we are also wedded to rationalism.

As the media hype reaches its exalted crescendo, Swedes are being forced to take a stand on the issue and many it seems are finding that when pushed they can’t stand up for the decidedly unmodern values that all monarchies, constitutional or otherwise, represent; as well as the decidedly irrational arguments used to defend them.

There are of course several rational arguments for defending a constitutional monarchy – the relative cost of a president, foreign trade, PR and so on – but when the Bernadotte dynasty is displayed, albeit fleetingly, as an ostentatious symbol of national pride and celebration, “The World’s Most Modern People” start to shift uncomfortably in their seats.

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