Since the terrorist attacks on Norway last Friday many have commented on how we have been blessed with leaders who have proven equal to the momentous task suddenly laid on their shoulders – Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who has justly been universally praised for his leadership during these difficult days and for how he has handled the situation; the Mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang, who has shown himself worthy of being Wenche Foss’s son; and not least the royal family, who have taken part in so many events during the past week.
The royal family broke off their holidays as soon as the magnitude of last Friday’s attacks became clear and the King and Queen visited victims and families gathered at a hotel near Utøya the very same evening. The Crown Prince and Crown Princess also came to visit, and the King and Queen have also visited the damaged government buildings in Oslo.
Last Saturday the King addressed the nation, while the Queen and the entire crown princely family lit candles at the Cathedral of Oslo. On Sunday the King and Queen, accompanied by Princess Märtha Louise and Ari Behn, attended the memorial service in the Cathedral, while the Crown Prince and Crown Princess were present at a similar service at a local church near Utøya. Both the King and Queen were seen drying tears at the end of Nordahl Grieg’s beautiful and on this occasion stunningly appropriate “Til ungdommen” and many have commented on how wonderful it is to have a king who is not afraid to weep with his people.
On Monday the King, the Queen and the Crown Prince stood with other dignitaries in University Square as a minute of silence was observed throughout Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. At the same time the Crown Princess, joined by her mother Marit Tjessem, attended a memorial for her stepbrother Trond Berntsen, who was among the first to be murdered at Utøya. Berntsen, a policeman who was there in a private capacity, will be buried on Friday.
In the evening of the same day the Crown Prince, the Crown Princess and Princess Märtha Louise joined the 150,000 people who gathered in the streets of Oslo carrying roses, an event at which the Crown Prince was among the speakers and spoke beautifully. The next day the Crown Prince attended a memorial held in the largest mosque of Oslo.
As I walked past the Great Square in Oslo this afternoon the Crown Prince and Princess Astrid were warmly applauded as they arrived to attend a memorial concert held in the Cathedral. As they departed after the concert Princess Astrid laid a floral tribute, adding to the ocean of flowers in front of the Cathedral.
On Monday there will be a memorial event at the Parliament, which will also be attended by the King and the Crown Prince. This is highly unusual, as the Constitution forbids the King to be present in the building while Parliament is sitting, which means that he restricts his presence there to the annual State Opening of Parliament and commemorative events held on great national occasions, most recently the centennial of the dissolution of the union with Sweden on 7 June 1905.
All in all I think we all agree that the royals have done a great job during the past week. Some of the justification for having a monarchy is often said to be that the royal family may serve as a national “rallying point”, around whom everyone can unite, and since last Friday they have again, perhaps more strongly than ever, shown that they are capable of doing this with a combination of dignity and humanity.
The newspapers today suggest that the royal family themselves might have been even more personally affected by the terror, as they claim that the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik had also planned to blow up the Royal Palace, a plan which proved logistically impossible to carry out.
The neighbouring royal families have also showed their sympathy for Norway during the past week. The flag was flown at half mast on the Royal Palace in Stockholm on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel attended a service in Crown Princess Märtha’s Church, the Norwegian church in Stockholm, last Sunday. On Wednesday there was also a memorial service in the Cathedral of Copenhagen, which was attended by Queen Margrethe, Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary.