A Letter from Sweden

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You are about to hear a voice recording in the series Letters from Northern Lands. The text and recording are by me, John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com, and are made available under the creative commons license specified at the end of the recording.


This second “Letter from Northern Lands: A Letter from Sweden” is dated 21st June 2010.

A Letter from Sweden

Greetings!

In my previous letter I deliberately mispronounced the name of musician and record producer Kleerup as Clearup. I thought I was being funny, but some people near and dear to me disagree. I also called him Thomas which was a mistake pure and simple. So: his name is Andreas Kleerup and nothing else. And I’m glad we’ve cleared that up!

Midsummer is the quintessential Swedish celebration, with folk dress and dances, maypoles and music, food and drink and an on-going gamble on the weather. (Will the rain hold off so we can lay a table outside under the sky? Or will it pour so we have to sit indoors and reminisce about how it always used to be fine weather and what’s the world coming to?)

I am composing this on the 21st June, the Midsummer solstice. Tonight will be the shortest night of the year, but that doesn’t mean Sweden will be celebrating Midsummer today. Oh, dear me, no. We’re not even going to be celebrating it as our fellow Nordic types will on the 23rd or 24th June (on the Eve of St John, or on St John’s Day, that is).

Once upon a time

I suppose, when this was a Christian country, Swedes, like Norwegians, would have made merry on Sankthansaften. But Swedish bureaucracy (which is, of course, the best in the world), in accord with a Lutheran work ethic that puts other Lutheran work ethics to shame, has resulted in Midsummer being tidied to the end of the working week. This year we shall celebrate Midsummer’s Day on Saturday 26th. However, because even Swedes nurse rebellion in a little corner of their hearts, we will actually celebrate on the evening of Friday 25th and many of us will spend Saturday nursing our annual Midsummer hangovers.

This year, though, some people have managed to stretch their Midsummer celebrations over a whole three weeks. Having warmed up with the Swedish National Day on 6th June, they continued with school graduation ceremonies in the week following, and were then able to fill the gap before Midsummer by following the fortunes of Swedish football coaches at the soccer World Cup on TV, switching to the Royal Wedding over the weekend.

The Royal Wedding, ah, yes.

If over the last couple of weeks, you had read only Swedish papers and magazines, watched only Swedish TV or listened only to Swedish radio, you would know that the only world event worth reporting took place in Stockholm on Saturday 19th June. We’ve been suffering a surfeit of pomp and circumstance, stage-romance and media hysteria the like of which I personally have not seen since Prince Charles married Lady Diana in London in 1979.

It’s not that other news has been ignored exactly, but it seems always to have been reported by reference to The Wedding. For example, Carl-Henrik Svanberg, the miserable Swedish head of British Petroleum, was invited to The Wedding, but had to turn down his invitation in order not to appear any more indifferent to the consequences of the Mexican Gulf oil spill than he already does.

We have learned many things in the last few days. For example, Swedish Television was extremely impressed by the number of German journalists who turned out for The Wedding. So impressed they ran at least one “in depth” report in which a Swedish news team shadowed a German news team around the streets of Stockholm. The Germans were interviewed (in English).

What is the attraction?

“What is the attraction?” They were asked.

“It’s all so romantic,” came the reply. “We don’t have any German Royalty.” (This in the face of the ten or so Prinz und Prinzessen on the Royal Wedding invitation list.)

According to the (socialist) evening tabloid Aftonbladet, Princess Victoria is otroligt förtjust i barn (has an “incredible love for children”) which is why she chose to have brudnäbbar istället för brudtärnor (children instead of girlfriends as bridesmaids). The same report suggested that the groom, Herr Daniel Westling, has perhaps only a credible love for children. I’m not sure the reporter thought that was so commendable.

Several newspapers chose to describe it as Ett Sagobröllop (a fairy-tale wedding).

The hype and hysteria seemed to have penetrated to the very centre of the brouhaha when, in her balcony speech, Princess Victoria personally thanked the Swedish people for giving her her prince.

[Princess Victoria’s voice, recorded from the TV.]

Daniel the swineherd

If we’re going to make fairy tale comparisons then Daniel Westling has more in common with the swineherd who wins the Princess and half the kingdom. It’s his marriage to Victoria that has raised him to the ranks of the aristocracy (as a Prince of the Realm and Hertig – Duke – of Västergötland), and that was in the gift of Victoria herself.

On second thoughts, if the government had had a strong reservation about Daniel as Prince Consort then the wedding might not have taken place. The government represents the people, so I suppose there is a sense in which the Swedish people have given Victoria her Prince, but Victoria’s thanks still seems more than a bit OTT.

What I personally found quite beyond credibility was the sincerity of the reporting. There is a rhythm to Swedish media reports about individuals which sees them first built up, in order to then be dragged down again. It is most noticeable, I think, with people who are not native-born Swedes, but everyone can be targeted.

Because it happened my first year in Sweden, I remember particularly the case of Raafyat El-Said, promoted as “Swede of the Year” in 1985 then toppled from his pedestal and dragged off to prison a year later, hounded by the same media that had just been singing his praises.

I hope Prince Daniel has someone watching his back.

A spun-sugar cloud of meaningless phrases

With all the hype, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Swedish monarchy has some significance. It doesn’t, of course. Perhaps that’s why the media feel they can lavish so much attention on it. The monarchy is exactly like this wedding, a spun-sugar cloud of pink and white decorated with gilded beads and described in meaningless phrases.

There hasn’t been a coronation in Sweden since 1873. That was for Oscar II, the last Swedish King to also rule Norway. Sweden’s three subsequent monarchs, Gustaf V, Gustaf VI Adolf and the present king and father of the bride, Carl XVI Gustaf, were none of them crowned.

There’s a story that Sweden actually became a republic in 1974, but that nobody has yet had the heart to tell the king.

Under the revised constitution of 1974, though he remains Head of State, the king of Sweden has no formal political power of any sort. His agreement is not necessary for the creation of new laws. He is not responsible for calling or suspending the Riksdag, the Swedish Parliament, and it is the Talman or Speaker of the Riksdag who, after an election, calls on the leader of the largest political party to form a government.

The king does ceremonially open the Riksdag, once a year, and is formally the Chair of the Committee for Foreign Affairs, but that’s as far as his political involvement goes.

He is also forbidden to say anything that might be construed as a political statement, which means of course, that when the Swedish media is having an off day, they can pick up pretty much anything he does say and turn it into a political scandal.

A wave of media approval

Just at present, though, the Royal Family are riding on a wave of media approval.

Interestingly, their credit with the Swedish people is not nearly as high. A recent statistical survey from the SOM institute at the University of Gothenburg showed an approval rate for the monarchy of just 56%, a drop of 12% since 2003. And during the last year, since plans for The Wedding were announced, the Swedish Republican Association has seen its membership increase from 3,000 to 6,000.

That may simply be a blip. I’m not the only person fed up to the back teeth by The Wedding. Perhaps people will come around. Victoria is a hard person to dislike, and seems sincere and determined to continue doing her job as Crown Princess. And, who knows, when her time comes to take over as Queen, perhaps the state will consider it worth spending the money to give her a coronation.

On the other hand, maybe the number of people who feel uncomfortable about keeping a Royal Family like a troupe of very expensive performing animals will grow and we can finally come out of the closet about Sweden’s true republican status.

Thanks for listening.

That was a “Letter from Northern Lands” dated 21st June 2010.


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Creative Commons LicenseA Letter from Northern Lands#2 (LFNL-2010-06-21) by John Nixon, The Supercargo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.5 Sweden License.

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Revisited and revised for spelling and SEO fine-tuning. Featured image added. 23rd March 2017.