Wednesday, June 16, 2010
More Finnish observations of Sweden!
The Swedish royal family is compared to Eurovision! But who doesn't love Eurovision?
Below from the Helsingin Sanomat:
Bereft of political power, Sweden’s royals rule through visibility
By Anna-Liina Kauhanen in Stockholm
When Swedes tell foreigners about Swedishness, they will often talk about everyday life. “We Swedes pay high taxes, and sex is free here. We Swedes swim in indoor public swimming pools and make decisions after talking about the matters. We Swedes are proud of equality, the ‘people’s home’, and we drink lots of coffee.”
Sweden is like a republic, which still has a king.
Sweden’s royals are an interesting institution, in which the ideas of the nation and the state seek to come together in the form of a glamorously dressed nuclear family.
The standard line of the Swedes includes saying that the royals unite the Swedes. Besides, waving at their own royals is a safe way to channel nationalist feelings.
Supporters of the monarchy claim that even if the confrontation between the Social Democrats and the centre-right were to last forever, the royals unite the nation above and beyond all class divisions. When a tsunami hits, or a passenger ship sinks, King Carl XVI Gustaf comforts the entire nation.
But even though Crown Princess Victoria’s wedding frenzy is at its height, the popularity of the monarchy is actually on the wane.
Support for the monarchy among Swedes is at 56 per cent. In 2003 it was still 68 per cent. Admittedly, the popularity of the monarchy is still great, if it is compared with support for any political party.
Of Sweden’s parties, the Social Democrats, the Environment Party, the Left Party, and the youth organisation of the Liberals have long ago included in their political platforms that they want to get rid of the monarchy. However, they are not actually making any efforts to achieve this goal.
Most Swedish Members of Parliament in office feel that in principle, the monarchy should be deconstructed in a solemn manner. However, they will not say it out loud. Even though there is much discussion about the monarchy in the media, it is not a theme of any kind in the campaign for the autumn elections.
The royals are simply too beloved by the people, says Peter Althin, chairman of the Republican Association, which wants to abolish the monarchy.
“There is not enough pressure in Sweden yet for the actual dismantling of the monarchy. But the day that the majority of the people is against the monarchy, the parties will wake up. Then the same thing will happen that took place when the Soviet Union fell: a new model will be found very quickly.”
The pace at which the popularity of the monarchy is declining, gets Althin to think that the real debate will start in ten years. In fact, the republicans have calculated that the time of the monarchy in Sweden will be over in 2024.
Criticism of the monarchy has a long history in Sweden. August Strindberg wrote already at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th that the monarchy causes everything in which it is involved to deteriorate.
In 1974 Sweden amended its constitution in a way that deprived the King of all formal political power. All that was left were ceremonial duties.
The power did not completely disappear - it simply morphed into the power of opinion and attention. Visibility became important for the royals in a way that it never was before.
“Looking at photographs of European royals from the 19th century, one gets the impression the bourgeoisie on a picnic. But when power was restricted, they needed hats and tiaras. Majesty became glamour”, says Anu Koivunen, a media researcher researcher at the University of Stockholm.
The Swedish royals started using their power by choosing carefully where and how they would be seen. The royals changed, and the media changed as well, but in any case, the metamorphosis of political power into symbolic power meant that publicity is now crucially important for the royals.
“Displaying the symbolic nature of the royals - how they justify their existence - takes place in the public eye”, Koivunen says.
And everything that does not happen in the public eye, is really hidden away somewhere. It is impossible to supervise the activities of the Court from outside.
It is not easy to even define the legal status of the Royal Court. In fact it is impossible. The Court is not an office, a company, or a public entity. Its existence and its position are not based on the constitution, and its accounts cannot be audited.
Swedish legal experts describe the Royal Court as a “relic of history”, and as “the King’s own sphere”.
It is no wonder that people in Sweden are asking what would happen if the Royal Court had dangerous interests. How would Daniel Westling, the spouse of the Crown Princess be supervised if he were in the oil business, and not a fitness entrepreneur?
In Swedish debate, criticism of the monarchy comes from three different angles, Anu Koivunen says.
Most of the critics have political reasons: the monarchy is seen by them to be undemocratic. For some, it is about morality. All power that cannot be publicly supervised, is potentially dangerous.
And for some, it is about economics, and about the idea that the people should not pay for someone using symbolic power. The Court is an institution which gets 125 million krona, or 12.5 million euros a year, which is not based on any legislation. Nevertheless, the Court is dependent on public financing.
It is hard to place the opinions that different people have about the monarchy into any sociological framework.
“It is often hard for Finns to understand the subtleties and lengthy traditions of the Swedish monarchy debate, and that the Swedish attitudes toward monarchy do not directly follow the dividing line between the political right and left”, Koivunen says.
“For instance, a person may be upper class or noble, but it does not necessarily rule out the possibility of being a Social Democrat, and supporting the ‘people’s home’ instead of a state of liberal competition.”
Republican association leader Peter Althin is himself a good example of the fact that party affiliation is not an indicator of attitude toward the monarchy.
Althin is a lawyer, and a former Member of Parliament of the Christian Democratic Party. In the present Parliament, the Christian Democrats are among the staunchest supporters of the monarchy. The party’s justification of the monarchy is typical: it has an important role in Swedish history and in Swedish culture, and the royals are an important part of Sweden’s international image.
Another interesting aspect of Althin is why he is willing to put his prestige on the line in an effort to topple the monarchy. In Sweden he is known as a tough lawyer, who has represented people such as Mijailo Mijailovic, who murdered Foreign Minister Anna Lindh.
Althin defines his association as a democratic movement which wants to let the citizens decide who is the head of state.
“It can be a president or some other representative of the state - as long as the people get to choose the leader democratically.”
The association is not big, but it is gaining members rapidly. In six months the membership has grown from 3,500 to 6,000.
For Swedish republicans, one of the greatest problems of the monarchy is that of a hereditary head of state, “and that the position of the King has no legitimacy based on legislation”, Althin says.
The King even enjoys immunity against criminal prosecution. “The King could throw Silvia out of a window, and he could not be prosecuted.”
The monarchy for Swedes is like the Eurovision Song Contest, according to Swedish journalist Per Svensson, who writes very critically about the monarchy. It is kitsch, but fun - something that has become very important for the Swedes, even though it has no real importance.
There is a bit of a flaw in Svensson’s comparison. At worst, the monarchy can bring significantly more trouble than Eurovision, even if the attitude toward the song contest were as fanatical as that of the Swedes. Or if the monarchy itself is not troublesome, then a monarch who misuses power can be.
It is always possible to not watch the Eurovision Song Contest. The royals are a bane for the whole nation.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 13.6.2010