Royal wedding brings out the magic

Mattias Frihammar, Ethnologist at Stockholm University, talks to Gabriel Stein about the royal wedding, the irrational Swede and magic.

Sweden modern, democratic, cutting-edge, yet a monarchy still reigns. Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling’s Royal Wedding celebration in Stockholm this Saturday has unveiled the love-hate affair Swedes have with their royal family. 

“People relate to the royal family as a symbol of the Swedish national community, but the paradox is that to be meaningful the royals need to be above the community in some way,” says Mattias Frihammar, who has a doctorate in Ethnology from Stockholm University and recently presented his dissertation on modern royalty in Swedish society.


This contradiction also holds for Crown Princess Victoria’s wedding, he says. “People want to have a royal couple, but they also want to view the royal family as equals. They don’t want to feel oppressed in any way.”


Frihammar recently completed seven years of research to produce his timely doctoral dissertation “From the depth of the Swedish Heart:  Reproduction of Contemporary Monarchy in the 21st century.” When he began his research in 2003 he set out to answer a number of questions, among them how royalty gets its extraordinary character, the ways in which royals are different than non-royals and how royalty is reproduced in modern Sweden. 

At the heart of his argument is the improbable relationship between Swedish citizens, who value democracy and equality, and the royal family, which is by nature undemocratic and hierarchical. 

According to the latest poll, 56 percent of Swedes still support the royal family, down from 68 percent in 2003. Although not known for their patriotism, many Swedes regard the monarchy as a national symbol that honors their Swedish traditions. Others say it’s an archaic and undemocratic institution that has no place in modern Sweden. 

“Most recently there has been an eruption of royalism,” says Frihammar. “You don’t always see it, but when you have these types of events, like a wedding, it erupts. But people aren’t hot royalists; they just accept it as a part of their lives.” 

Swedes have the reputation of being rational and self-controlled, but not on questions concerning the monarchy, he says. “The royal family and their traditions aren’t rational. In the past you had to accept that they were high beings. Now we know these are just normal people. On the surface people accept them as equals and want to approach them like anyone else, but when they meet the royals they use words like ‘your majesty’. Every day people do things that are irrational even though they think they are rational. In this case, people are doing things that are irrational and they know it.” 

Frihammar uses the metaphor of the theatre to describe “the magic” that surrounds royal families. “Actors say playing the king is always the easiest part because it is up to everyone around the king to make him powerful,” he explains. “The king doesn’t have to say anything. That is what’s happening right now in Stockholm. We are making the city a stage – to appear royal – even though we no longer believe in royal blood.” 

And so this Saturday, the curtain will open in Stockholm. Thousands of people will jam onto the sidewalks, peering behind police barricades to see that royal blood in the flesh, as they pass by in horse and carriage. The spectators won’t feel oppressed, nor will they care if the entire scene is absurd. Therein lies the magic, at least for half of the Swedish population.  

“The institution of the monarchy is obviously not democratic — that’s the point,” says Frihammar. “In a way, the monarchy is like the one magic piece in the rationale jigsaw that makes up people’s lives.” 

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Stockholm Open set to serve up a storm

The ATP Stockholm Open hits the Swedish capital on Saturday with international players vying for a piece of the €530,000 ($718,000) pie. Will it be a local Swede who takes out this year's title? The Local chats to the tournament organizer to find out more.

Stockholm Open set to serve up a storm

“All the sponsors, players and organizers are getting ready, I’m really excited,” tournament spokesman Christian Ahlqvist told The Local over the phone, with the sound of tennis balls thwacking around in the background.

Held inside Stockholm’s Royal Tennis Hall, the tournament has been played every year since 1969, attracting some of the biggest tennis names in Sweden and the world.

“All the big Swedish players have played in the Stockholm Open, Björn Borg, Mats Wilander. Former world number one Roger Federer won the title in 2010. We’ve had some really great players, its always been one of the tournaments to play in,” explained Ahlqvist.

IN PICTURES: See Swedish tennis legend Björn Borg’s career in pictures

Headlining this year’s contingent is Spanish world number four David Ferrer who is tipped to take home the trophy.

“Ferrer is coming from Shanghai, he’s a great player and he’s always performed very well here,” said Ahlqvist.

But if you thought it was a one horse race, think again. Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and Polish giant Jerzy Janowicz (who is over two metres tall), both 22, are two young players looking to challenge Ferrer and show the tennis world that they belong at the top.

However the odds are against Sweden netting the championship. World number 444 Markus Eriksson is the only confirmed Swedish player so far, although more may find their way through in Friday’s final qualifications. But statistically, the odds aren’t historically in the Swedes’ favour, with the last winner, Thomas Johansson, in 2004.

A strong Swedish presence in the singles may be lacking, but the Swedish men are expected to do better in the doubles.

“Jonas Björkman is making a comeback in the doubles with one of the best doubles players in the world, Robert Lindstedt. So that will be interesting to see,” said Ahlqvist.

As for a tip for the winner, Ahlqvist likes world number 41 Jarkko Nieminen from Finland.

“Jarko is someone who’s been a bit on and off the court with injuries. He’s played here so many times before, he’s almost a Swede. Everyone would love to see him win one.”

Saturday marks the opening ceremony for the Open, which will be held on centre court and is free for everyone. The tournament begins on the same day, with the final scheduled for Sunday the 19th.

Josh Liew

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