Modern Swedes face up to the monarchy paradox

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.

Modern Swedes face up to the monarchy paradox
Photo: Image Bank Sweden/Jonas Ekströmer/Scanpix

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Madeleine: A private princess in the spotlight

Sweden's Princess Madeleine was an easy shoe-in for Swede Of The Week, with her wedding to financier Chris O'Neill this Saturday scheduled to turn heads across the globe. But what does the world actually know about this private princess?

Madeleine: A private princess in the spotlight

Princess Madeleine will wed her fiancé Chris O’Neill in a lavish ceremony on Saturday afternoon, in the country’s second big royal wedding in three years. Back in 2010, the Swedes held their breath as Madeleine’s older sister Crown Princess Victoria married Prince Daniel in Stockholm.

Madeleine, the younger sister of both Victoria and Prince Carl Philip, has long had her private life splashed across the Swedish tabloids, however, and unfairly so according to Roger Lundgren, royal expert and editor of Kungliga Magazine.

“She is fed up with the media attention that she’s been getting ever since she was eighteen,” he tells The Local.

IN PICTURES: Princess Madeleine through the years

When the Madeleine left high school, she was seen by the Swedish media as the “party-girl princess”, with papers reporting constantly on her evenings in Stockholm nightclubs, but Lundgren believes the reports were exaggerated.

“She’s not a party animal – God no – it’s just because she is so beautiful that the media always takes the chance to be vicious to her. They’re still always referring to her ‘luxurious’ lifestyle at every chance they get,” he explains.

“It’s bullshit. She works for a charity in New York. But the paparazzi still don’t leave her alone. Her relationship with the media is complicated now, she doesn’t appreciate doing interviews.”

But Lundgren insists the princess is “super sweet” face-to-face, and particularly excels when working with children.

IN PICTURES: See more of Princess Madeleine’s sense of dress

“Even though kids in the US might not understand a thing about Sweden, they sure know what a princess is and Madeleine lives up to their expectations – even though they’re sometimes disappointed that she isn’t wearing a crown,” he adds with a laugh.

The princess’s twenties involved a handful of boyfriends, none more public than her long-time relationship and subsequent engagement with lawyer Jonas Bergström, which ended when he was reportedly found to be cheating with a Norwegian college student.

The princess was “heartbroken”, Lundgren says, but soon found her husband-to-be in New York in the form of English Anglo-American Christopher O’Neill.

Now living in the Big Apple, she works as a volunteer with the World Childhood Foundation, a charity for marginalized children set up by her mother in 1999.

And despite a minor hiccup with a traffic infringement this week, the princess looks set to enjoy Saturday’s wedding in the royal palace. But don’t expect to see much more of the princess in Sweden after the wedding, Lundgren warns.

“I don’t see them staying in Sweden, I don’t even see Chris O’Neill learning Swedish. They’ll head back to New York for their work and come back whenever duty calls,” he tells The Local.

“They’ll have their own fairytale in New York.”

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here