Tuesday, 30 June 2009

What to see: Oslo – The Fjord City Expo

Oslo is currently in the middle of a huge process which will change the capital’s profile dramatically. In the 20th century several of the best spots in the city were sacrificed to motorways and container harbours, but in recent years one has attempted to reverse this development by reclaiming the seaside and making Oslo “the Fjord City”.
The travelling exhibition “Oslo – The Fjord City Expo” has so far visited several cities in China, Germany, France, Italy and Russia. These days it is visiting Oslo, where it can be viewed in a huge tent in University Square until Sunday. Parts of the exhibition deals with the architecture of the new monumental buildings which are being planned.
Many of them will be located at Bjørvika, something which is likely to “resurrect” this part of the city, which has until now been a traffic machine. An underwater tunnel is now being built to replace the motorway and when the tunnel is ready in 2013, the building of the new Deichman Library will start.
The library was expected to be finished in 2014, but has now been delayed until 2016. A model of the library can be seen in the third photo – it is designed by the Norwegian firm Lund Hagem Arkitekter.
The Deichman Library will be situated next to the Opera House, seen in the fourth picture, which was done by another Norwegian firm, Snøhetta, and opened in April 2008. This new landmark, rising out of the sea, has been a huge success.
On the Paulsen Quay behind the Opera we will find the Munch/Stenersen Museum, expected to be completed in time for the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch’s birth in 2013. The building, seen in the fifth photo, will be 57 metres high and will be built by Spanish architects Herreros.
Oslo Central Station, which lies close to all of this, will also be greatly altered, as seen in the sixth photo. The old Eastern Line Station will be preserved, but the rest of the station will make way of new and very modern buildings.
Further west 900 apartments will be built at Tjuvholmen, seen in the seventh photo. The first of them were ready in 2007 and the work is scheduled to be completed sometime between 2012 and 2014. On the far right in the picture is an artificial island which will be the site of the new Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, which will be begun next year and should be ready in 2012. Both the museum and a sculpture park outside it will be done by the Italian architect Renzo Piano.
More on the exhibition at: http://www.oslo.no/expo

The consequences of atheism

What to see: The former Cathedral of San Pietro di Castello, Venice

All visitors to Venice will be familiar with the city’s cathedral, St Mark’s Basilica. But this spectacular church has in fact only been the cathedral of Venice for 202 years – its predecessor, the Basilica of San Pietro, can be found at the tip of the island of Castello. The island, formerly called Olivolo, has been inhabited since the fifth century and the first church on the spot was built in the seventh century and dedicated to the saints Serge and Bacchus.
The first church of San Pietro was dedicated in 841 and became the seat of the patriarch of Venice in 1451, meaning that it also became the cathedral of the city of Venice. In 1556 the Patriarch, Vincenzo Diedo, commissioned the great architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) to rebuild the cathedral. Work started the following year. Palladio began with the façade, but work stopped when Diedo died.
It was only in 1621 that the new church was completed by Palladio’s disciple Francesco Girolamo Grapiglia, who followed Palladio’s plans, but made certain changes. The façade, built of Istrian stone, is typically Palladian and reflects the church’s Latin cross shape with three naves. In true Palladian fashion the church also has a large dome. The bell tower is by Mauro Codussi and was built 1482-1488.
The church’s interior is a blend of renaissance and baroque, with Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini’s cycle of St Peter’s life culminating in the apotheosis painted above the high altar. The high altar itself was designed by Baldassare Longhena and executed in 1649. The church has several side chapels; one of them, Capella Vendramin, can be seen in the final photo.
San Pietro di Castello kept its status as the Cathedral of Venice until 1807 when Napoléon I, Emperor of the French and King of Italy, transferred that status to the Basilica of St Mark, which until the fall of the Republic ten years earlier had been simply the chapel of the Doge’s Palace.
In the photos one can also see the Rossall School Chamber Choir, conducted by Margaret E. Young, rehearsing for a concert in the former cathedral last Sunday.

Monday, 29 June 2009

New books: Rage against the royals

Two years ago Trine Villemann, former court correspondent of the trashy Danish tabloid Ekstra-Bladet, published a gossipy book about the Danish royals, 1015 København K – Et kærligt og kritisk portræt af kongehuset, which was also translated into English under the title 1015 Copenhagen K: Mary’s Dysfunctional In-Laws. Last month she followed it up with another book, called Kongen og dronningen af Grønland, which is published by Andartes Press.
In this book Trine Villemann does little but rage and vents her anger at Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary in particular, but also Queen Margrethe, Prince Henrik, Countess Alexandra, politicians, public servants, Amalienborg’s press secretary and everyone else who have refused to answer her questions or co-operate on this book and Politikens Forlag for (understandably, I would say) refusing to publish the garbage.
The author’s main point is that the Crown Prince and Crown Princess have “done their utmost to tear down” the monarchy, that they are morally corrupted, that the royals are lazy and waste the Danish tax-payers’ money on a life in luxury and that various people should be punished for refusing to co-operate on her book. 166 pages of this get quite tiresome.
The only issue on which the author raises some points of value is Crown Prince Frederik’s candidature to the IOC. She sometimes attempts to make some constructive points, such as identifying what Frederik and Mary could learn from Prince Charles and Crown Princess Mette-Marit, but most of this is lost amidst ridiculous suggestions such as that the Queen, Prime Minister and Lord Chamberlain every tenth year should appoint an heir among those in line of succession and that the Crown Prince and Crown Princess should be sent to Greenland to be king and queen there while they wait for Queen Margrethe to die.
Her way of reasoning is also so extreme that she completely undermines her own credibility. Such as when she quotes a letter from a woman called Tove Skov who wrote to her in defence of the Crown Prince following Villemann’s previous book. When the author somewhat later in the book mentions the absence of Crown Prince Frederik and his family from Queen Margrethe’s 68th birthday celebrations, she writes that Tove Skov “got the fuck-finger from the man she thinks will one day be a great king”. Enough said.

War Cross to be awarded again

In the State Council held at the Royal Palace on Friday, the last before the summer, it was decided that Norway shall resume awarding the War Cross for military gallantry. The War Cross is first on the list of the Norwegian decorations and has not been awarded since 1949.
The War Cross was instituted by King Haakon VII on 23 May 1941 and was originally given for both military and civilian gallantry. After the institution of Haakon VII’s Freedom Cross in 1945, the War Cross was limited to military deeds. The War Cross was given to 273 people; 147 of them Norwegians. If a person was awarded the War Cross a second time, a sword was added to it. Gunnar Sønsteby, now 91, is the only person to have the War Cross with three swords, meaning that he has received the War Cross four times. Sønsteby has been among those speaking up in favour of resuming awards of the War Cross. It will now be possibly to award the War Cross to surviving veterans, but also posthumously to dead resistance fighters and to soldiers taking part in the wars Norway have been involved with in the last decade.
It has in recent years been commented upon the fact that no Communist partisans were awarded the War Cross after the Second World War. In Klassekampen on Saturday the Minister of Finance, Kristin Halvorsen, mentioned Asbjørn Sunde, the leader of the so-called “Osvald Group”, a group of Communist resistance fighters, as one person who may now be awarded the War Cross posthumously.

“A European Museum Thriller”

The latest issue of the weekly newspaper Morgenbladet has a good article by Mari Lending on the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, which opened on 21 June, and the never-ending conflict over the Parthenon Frieze/Elgin Marbles, which the British Museum refuses to repatriate to Greece:


Politiken also had an interesting article about it the day before the new museum opened:


Dresden struck off UNESCO’s World Heritage List

At the 33rd session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which is taking place in Seville these days, it has been decided to remove the Dresden Elbe Valley from the World Heritage List because of the new four-lane bridge, Waldschlösschenbrücke, which is being built across the Elbe river just outside the historic city centre. According to UNESCO the construction of the bridge means that the valley landscape fails to keep its “outstanding universal value as inscribed”.
The only other site ever to be removed from the list was the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman, which was struck from the list in 2007 after its size had been reduced by 90 %, thereby causing a drastic decline in the antelope population.
UNESCO’s press release:


The Guardian reports:


Thursday, 25 June 2009

New books: 1807 – Prelude to Norwegian independence

With the bicentenary of Norway’s independence just five years away, the University of Oslo’s 1814 project earlier this month released its first publication. The book, 1807 og Danmark-Norge – På vei mot atskillelsen is an anthology edited by Bård Frydenlund and Rasmus Glenthøj and is published by Unipub.
As the title indicates, the events of 1807 and their consequences are at the book’s focus. In September 1807 Britain bombarded Copenhagen and stole the Dano-Norwegian fleet, something which pulled the Danish realm into the Napoleonic War on the French side. As a result of this, Norway suffered particularly severely from the British blockade and in 1814 the ties between Denmark and Norway were broken.
As usual with anthologies, some articles are better and more interesting than others. Søren Mentz writes on the events of 1807 and Jens Rahbek Rasmussen rejects the oft-repeated myth that the bombardment of Copenhagen was the first terror bombardment of civilians in history. Michael Bregnsbo takes a closer look at how the Napoleonic Wars influenced what he likes to call the “Danish Empire”, arguing that Danish historians far too often see the events of the early 19th century in the perspective of the small Danish state which has existed after the defeat in 1864. If Norway and the other possessions which made up the Danish “empire” in 1807 are taken into consideration, Frederik VI’s actions are more understandable, Bregnsbo argues.
Also in the book are articles dealing with, among other topics, patriotism in Norway and the Norwegians’ loyalty to the Dano-Norwegian king, the first proper Norwegian newspaper and the foundation of a Norwegian university.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Michael Bernadotte – another Bernadotte artist

Since the days of King Oscar I and Queen Josephina the Bernadotte dynasty has been known for its many gifted members – among them are painters, composers, designers, sculptors, photographers, poets and authors of some renown. While some, like King Carl XV, were gifted amateurs, others, like Prince Eugen, the painter, and Sigvard Bernadotte, the industrial designer, count as proper artists in their own right.
The creative inheritance has also been extended to Count Michael Bernadotte af Wisborg, Sigvard Bernadotte’s son. An architect by profession, he has also done some design and this summer his watercolours are exhibited at Bosjökloster Castle at Höör in Scania. Some of his works can be viewed at the castle’s website:


Among Michael Bernadotte’s guests at the vernissage were his wife Christine, his uncle and aunt, Count Carl Johan and Countess Gunnila Bernadotte af Wisborg, his first cousins Countess Monica Bonde af Björnö and Arne Robbert with his wife Nina, and Countess Karin of Rosenborg, who was earlier a lady-in-waiting to Princess Benedikte of Denmark (another first cousin of Michael Bernadotte).

What to see: Winston Churchill’s grave, Bladon Churchyard

He was offered Westminster Abbey, yet Britain’s wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill chose to be buried in the modest churchyard of the small village Bladon, not far from his family’s ancestral seat Blenheim Palace.
Following his sumptuous state funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral, Churchill was laid to rest at Bladon in January 1965. His wife, Clementine, joined him there in 1977. Close to their grave are also the graves of their children as well as those of Winston Churchill’s parents, brother, nephew and Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough.
Inside the adjacent church, St Martin’s, there is a small photo exhibition on Winston Churchill and his funeral. Except for his modest tombstone and a plaque put up by the Danish resistance opposite it, there is no memorial to him here. But as one enters Westminster Abbey through its Great West Door, one will see a plaque in the floor which says: “Remember Winston Churchill”.

At the end of the road: Kaare Langlete (1931-2009), former Lord Chamberlain

Kaare Langlete, former Lord Chamberlain at the Norwegian Royal Court, died on Monday after a long illness, aged 78. Born on 15 June 1931, he made a military career, reaching the rank of Colonel and becoming head of His Majesty the King’s Guard, before joining the staff of the then Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja in the late 1980s.
When they succeeded to the throne, he replaced Ingvald Smith-Kielland as Lord Chamberlain on 1 June 1991. In that position he took part in the early phase of the modernisation of the monarchy which was carried out by King Harald and Queen Sonja. Upon his retirement in November 1993 he received the Grand Cross of the Order of St Olav.
Langlete had been ill for many years and was last heard of last year when he rejected as untruthful the claims made by the King’s son-in-law, Ari Behn, about the Court’s former employee Carl-Erik Grimstad.
Langlete’s funeral will take place at Nordberg church in Oslo on Friday.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Through the year: Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim

Gordon Brown interview

In an interview published in The Guardian on Saturday Gordon Brown for the first time spoke about the troubles which have engulfed him in recent weeks:


Sunday, 21 June 2009

Self-government for Greenland

At a ceremony in the Greenlandic Assembly (Landstinget) in Nuuk today, Queen Margrethe II presented the Act of Self-Government to the Speaker, Josef Motzfeldt. This means that from today Greenland is a devolved part of the Kingdom of Denmark, reducing Danish authority to foreign affairs, security and financial policy. Greenlanders are from today recognised as a people of their own and Greenlandic becomes the official language of Greenland. This comes after a referendum last November, in which 75.54 % voted in favour of devolution, and is seen as the penultimate step on Greenland's way to independence.
Politiken and Berlingske Tidende report on the events in Nuuk today, which were also attended by Prince Henrik, Crown Prince Frederik, Crown Princess Mary and the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen:



Book news: The revolution of 1989

Like 1789, 1989 was one of the most momentous years in history. This year the 20th anniversary of the revolution which occured that year is marked in many ways.
One of them is the book Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by the Hungarian-born British journalist Victor Sebestyen, to be published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson on 30 July, which will deal with the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Some information from the publisher:


Several news magazines have already marked the anniversary and in its recent issue (dated 29 June-6 July) Time joins them by publishing 22 articles on the events of 1989. The articles are also available at their website:


Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Royal Palace opens it doors

Today the summer opening of the Royal Palace in Oslo began. The Palace will be open for guided tours until 15 August. On 7 June Dagbladet had an article on the summer opening, accompanied by many pictures of the Palace’s beautiful interiors:


Information (in English) from the Royal Court’s official website:


Marianne Bernadotte’s 85th birthday party

On Thursday Countess Marianne Bernadotte af Wisborg, the widow of the former Prince Sigvard of Sweden and thereby aunt of the King of Sweden and the Queen of Denmark, celebrated her upcoming 85th birthday with a charity gala in Stockholm’s City Hall. Among the guests were Crown Princess Victoria, Princess Christina and her husband Tord Magnuson, Prince Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy and many Swedish celebrities. Svenska Dagbladet has twelve photos from the event:


Friday, 19 June 2009

A historic day in Parliament – end of semi-bicameralism

Today the Norwegian Parliament sat for the last time this term and it was a historic day which marked the end of the semi-bicameral system which has existed since independence in 1814 – in fact the greatest constitutional amendment in Norway ever.
Back in 1814 the Constituent Assembly did not opt for a traditional bicameral system, but rather chose a semi-bicameral system such as had existed in the defunct Batavian Republic. This meant that Parliament was elected all at once, but then divided itself in two, with ¼ of the MPs sitting in the Lagting and ¾ in the Odelsting when debating bills. Only members of the Odelsting have had the right to propose private members’ bills.
The Lagting has been some sort of upper house which has had the power to return the Odelsting’s decisions, but this has not happened for several years. During the last century the balance between the parties has been the same in the Lagting as in the Odelsting, which means that bills approved by the Odelsting will nearly always also be approved by the Lagting. Meetings in the Lagting have mostly been very short in recent years (down to 27 seconds).
As a consequence of this, Parliament on 20 February 2007 passed an amendment to the Constitution which abolishes the semi-bicameral system from 1 October this year, when the new Parliament convenes after the general election. The amendment was passed by 159 votes to 1, namely that of Sverre Myrli of the Labour Party - the Vice-Speaker of the Lagting, Jon Lilletun (Christian Democratic Party), also intended to vote against it, but died before the vote in Parliament.
At 3.24 a.m. today the Lagting began its final sitting, which was over by 3.55 a.m. Ola Borten Moe (Centre Party) made a short speech before the Speaker of the Lagting, Inge Lønning (Conservatives), brought its existence to an end with a speech where he summarised its 195-year-long history, the plans to abolish it and finally Oscar II’s harsh judgement of the Lagting of 1883. He ended: “With this the work of the Lagting has been brought to its conclusion for ever. In this ever brighter summer morning it only remains for the Speaker to thank the members of history’s last Lagting for good cooperation through four years and to wish everyone a good summer and as good an election result as one may deserve”.
The official account of the last sitting of the Lagting can be read here:


TV2 has a report:

At 4.11 this afternoon the final sitting of the Odelsting followed. Its last debate took place on Monday, while today the Speaker, Berit Brørby (Labour), briefly referred the decisions made by the Lagting in the night and the acts sanctioned by the King in State Council earlier today. She also gave a speech on the history and role of the Odelsting, dealing in particular with female representation in the chamber. At 4.22 p.m. Brørby, her voice breaking, declared this very last meeting under the semi-bicameral system for over. With it, 195 years of history came to an end to the sound of a standing ovation by the MPs.
The official account of the Odelsting’s last sitting:


The first and third photos show the scene in the Parliament Chamber as the Odelsting sat for the last time, while the second shows the beginning and the end – the Odelsting’s last Speaker in front of Oscar Wergeland’s famous painting of the Constituent Assembly of 1814. In the fourth picture MPs Kåre Fostervold, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, Dagrun Eriksen and Bård Hoksrud sign Parliament’s protocol afterwards. In the fifth photo is the Lagting Chamber, lying empty after going out of use this morning. It will now be listed by the Directorate of National Heritage, so that it will always remain as it was on this historic day.
Today Parliament began its summer recess and at least 53 out of 169 MPs will not return after September’s general election. Many political veterans therefore made their final speeches in Parliament today - among them were Carl I. Hagen (Progress Party), the longest-serving MP and one of the country’s most important post-war politicians, and Odd Einar Dørum (Liberal Party), whose excellent last speech was loudly applauded by the spectators in the public gallery.
The Speaker of Parliament, Thorbjørn Jagland (Labour), was also applauded as he presided for the last time. Jagland is also among the veterans who are leaving Parliament and is now a candidate for the post of Secretary-General of the Council of Europe - a decision is expected on Tuesday.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Norwegian government survives vote of no confidence

In Parliament today the Norwegian government survived a vote of no confidence which had been called by members of the opposition, directed at the Minister of Trade and Industry, Sylvia Brustad (Labour Party), over her handling of the so-called Aker Solutions case. In Norway such a vote of no confidence in one minister is always a vote of no confidence in the entire government, which means that the Stoltenberg cabinet would have had to resign if it had been defeated in Parliament today.
There was, however, no chance that this would happen, as the government commands a small majority in Parliament. After a debate which lasted nearly four hours the results showed that the entire opposition, i.e. 79 MPs from the Progress Party, the Conservative Party, the Christian Democrat Party and the Liberal Party, voted for the motion, while 87 MPs from the government parties the Labour Party, the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party opposed it. Three MPs were absent. It was the first time since 1963 that the entire opposition was united behind such a motion, but it is also almost the only thing which the opposition has been united about during this parliamentary term.
Øystein Djupedal from the Socialist Left Party expressed his view that a vote of confidence has rarely been called for on weaker grounds. On the last but one day of this parliamentary term and with a general election coming up in September, this was of course first and foremost a demonstration by the opposition parties against the majority government. For a member of the cabinet it must nevertheless be uncomfortable to know that nearly half the MPs do not feel confidence in the way she does her job.
The first picture shows the scene in Parliament earlier today. In the second is Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Labour Party), surrounded by MPs. To the left in the third photo are two of the MPs who called the vote, Carl I. Hagen from the Progress Party and Per-Kristian Foss from the Conservatives. The fourth photo shows the Speaker of Parliament, Thorbjørn Jagland, reading out the results and in the final one Sylvia Brustad are congratulated by the Labour MPs Eirin Faldet and Hill-Marta Solberg.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Royal assent to Danish Act of Succession - three other acts forgotten

In the State Council held at Christiansborg Palace on Friday Queen Margrethe gave her assent to the new Act of Succession, which came into force on Sunday (14 June).


Normally the Danish Parliament starts its summer recess just before Constitution Day on 5 June, with a State Council to sanction the last acts a few days later. This year there will however be a sitting of Parliament as late as Thursday this week to approve the results of the European Parliament election.
After that there will have to be another State Council as well, for the simple reason that the Ministry of Education forgot (!) to send three Acts passed by Parliament to the Queen for her assent within 30 days. This means that the bills will have to be proposed to Parliament once again, then read three times on Thursday and then sent to the Queen. According to Politiken this opens up for further debate on the role of the Danish monarchy, with Margrethe Vestager, the parliamentary leader of the Danish Social Liberal Party, arguing that the Constitution should be changed so that the monarch's assent will no longer be necessary.


What to see: Austrått Castle, Opphaug

Austrått is a small Renaissance castle situated at Ørlandet, a strategic point commanding the entrance to the Trondheim fjord and the road to Sweden, an hour by boat across the fjord from Trondheim.
The first owner who is known to posterity was Finn Arnesson, who acquired the manor before 1050. The oldest part of the current castle, the chapel, dates from the 12th century, while the most recent parts were added in the 17th century.
The most famous owner of Austrått was perhaps the mighty Ingerd Ottesdatter (died 1555), who played a significant role in the Reformation and was immortalised by Henrik Ibsen in his play Fru Inger til Østråt. Most of the present castle was however built by her great-great-grandson Ove Bjelke (1611-1674), Chancellor of the Realm of Norway.
A preserved noble castle being a very rare sight in Norway, it was a great loss to the nation when Austrått went up in flames in November 1916, having been struck by lightning. Luckily two architects had for some years worked on making drawings and photos of the castle, the results of which were published only five days before the disastrous fire.
This made it possible to reconstruct the castle, while most of the furniture was replaced with other period pieces. The furniture and artworks in the chapel were however mostly saved, which means that the chapel today has one of the finest collections of old religious art in Norway. Since 1919 Austrått Castle belongs to the State. It is open for guided tours in the summer.
The castle’s loggia and twin staircase, which can be seen in the second picture, were built in 1655 and inspired by Italian architecture. The main building sits on an elevated terrace above the lower courtyard, which can be seen in the fourth photo. Around the courtyard are fourteen wood caryatids (third photo) – on the right are four wise virgins, on the left four foolish virgins, drawn from a biblical story (Matthew 25, 1-13). In the middle are two angels and four male sculptures, all of whose identity is not ascertained, but thought to be figures from the Old Testament. The caryatids seen today were sculpted in 1953-1956 after the originals had been lost in the fire of 1916.
The portal to the courtyard (fifth photo) was built in 1656 and is surmounted by the arms of Ove Bjelke and the first and second of his three wives and surrounded by the arms of his many noble ancestors. The sixth photo shows a rear view of the castle and the seventh the pyramid outside the castle. It has a plaque commemorating Ove Bjelke’s parents Jens Bjelke and Sophie Brockenhuus which is dated 1665, but the pyramid itself is most likely from the 18th century.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Something rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark?

It seems the referendum on absolute primogeniture in Denmark on 7 June may have opened a can of worms for the monarchy. Some commentators have indicated that the surprisingly large opposition to changing the Act of Succession may be interpreted as a sign of dissatisfaction with the royal family. On Thursday Jyllands-Posten published a poll by Rambøll/Analyse Danmark which indeed showed that considerably fewer than five years ago are satisfied with the royal family’s performance:
Today 81.3 % think that Queen Margrethe performs her role either well or very well. This is down from 96.5 % in 2004, a considerable fall. Five years ago 0.8 % thought she did her job badly or very badly; now 5.1 % think so. 29.8 % are satisfied with Prince Henrik’s performance (down from 41.8 % in 2004), while 30.7 % disapprove (up from 29.7 % five years ago). Crown Prince Frederik’s positive rating is down from 90.7 % to 80.4 %, while disapproval for his performance has risen from 1.6 % in 2004 to 4.9 % today. The percentage who thinks Prince Joachim performs his duties well is down from 84.6 % to 44.6 %, those negative are up from 2.4 % to 16.2 %. Crown Princess Mary and Princess Marie were naturally not included in the 2004 poll, but today the Crown Princess is the royal who scores the highest approval rating (82.2 %, with only 2.7 % thinking she does badly). Princess Marie’s performance is approved of by 36.6 %, while 9.8 % think she performs her duties badly or very badly. This shows that the approval ratings for all of them have fallen since 2004, but, with the exception for Prince Henrik, more people are favourably inclined than negative.
For a monarchy there will of course always be ups and downs in the popularity ratings and one should bear in mind that the 2004 poll was done during a season of royal euphoria – i.e. around the time of Crown Prince Frederik’s and Crown Princess Mary’s wedding and before Prince Joachim and the then Princess Alexandra announced their separation. But the fact that 14.6 % of those who voted in the referendum on the succession either voted against it or cast blank votes sends a message that the royal family can not take popular support for granted.
An opinion poll made for the news agency Ritzau and published in several newspapers yesterday shows that 15.3 % of the Danes want to replace the monarchy with a republic, with 77.8 % wishing to keep the monarchy:


This still makes the Danish monarchy the most popular in Scandinavia – a similar poll in Norway in May showed 71 % for the monarchy and 17 % for the republic, while a Swedish poll in April showed 63 % monarchists and 17 % republicans.

Prince Henrik to become king at 75?

Prince Henrik of Denmark has on several occasions voiced his opinion that if a king’s wife is a queen, a reigning queen’s husband should be king. On Friday Berlingske Tidende suggested that his wish may now come true after spokespersons of parties which would make up a majority in Parliament said that they were open for discussing such a change if the Queen proposes it.



However, the populist, far right-wing Danish People’s Party later in the day changed their mind and said that the Prince Consort could just forget all about it:


The constitutional expert Claus Haagen Jensen argued that such a change cannot be proposed by the Queen as it will necessitate parliamentary legislation, which the monarch has no right to initiate.


Henrik received the title Prince of Denmark when he married the then heiress to the Danish throne in 1967. When she succeeded as Queen Margrethe II five years later it was considered to create him Duke of Fredensborg, but the idea was scrapped. In 2005 he was given the title of Prince Consort.
Seen in a gender equality perspective Prince Henrik is of course principally correct and there are historical precedents in England, Scotland, Spain and Portugal. But it is a long time since a reigning queen’s husband was titled king – the last European example must be King Francisco of Spain, the husband of Queen Isabel II, who was deposed in 1868. In Denmark there is no precedent as Margrethe II is the country’s first queen regnant with a husband.
As earlier mentioned the Prince Consort turned 75 on Thursday and in Politiken that day Kjeld Hybel had an interesting article on the complex character of this royal who the Danes have never really been able to understand.


Parliament’s Presidium bids farewell

Today the Norwegian Parliament begins its final week of sittings before September’s general election. None of the six members of the Presidium are candidates for re-election to Parliament and on Thursday its two most senior members looked back on their political careers in the newspapers.
In Dagsavisen the Speaker of Parliament, Thorbjørn Jagland (Labour Party), summarised his own career as party secretary, party leader, prime minister, leader of the committee on foreign affairs, foreign minister and speaker of Parliament. Mr Jagland is now a candidate for the position as Secretary-General of the Council of Europe – a decision is expected on 23 June.


The Vice-Speaker, Carl I. Hagen (Progress Party), did the same in an interview with Dagbladet.
When the new Parliament convenes on 1 October it will be as unicameral assembly. Under the present semi-bicameral system there are a speaker and a vice-speaker of Parliament itself as well as for each of the two “chambers”, the Lagting and the Odelsting. Last Wednesday Parliament decided that from October there will also be six members of the Presidium – one speaker and five vice-speakers, ranked from first vice-speaker to fifth vice-speaker. Until now the Speaker and the Vice-Speaker have presided over parliamentary sittings every second month; in the future the Speaker will preside every month, with one of the five vice-speakers stepping in when he or she is unable to do so. Another change is that it will no longer be optional for the Speaker and Vice-Speaker to be member of one of the standing committees – in future the Speaker will not be so, while the Vice-Speakers will.


Thursday, 11 June 2009

New books: Biography of Olof Palme

Leopard Förlag in Stockholm has recently published När vinden vände – Olof Palme 1969-1986, the second volume of the historian Kjell Östberg’s biography of the Swedish Labour politician Olof Palme, who served as the country’s prime minister 1969-1976 and from 1982 until his assassination by an unknown gunman in 1986.
The first volume dealt with Palme’s background, his early political career and rise to prominence, while the second starts with his election to leader of the Labour party in 1969, which also made him prime minister. The author wants to see Palme not only as an ideologist who could enjoy a confrontation, but also as a political strategist. In particular he points out how much of his party’s policies Palme through skilful negotiations managed to get through Parliament in the term when the left and right wings had exactly the same number of seats – the government lost only 15 of 450 votes in Parliament in the first year of this parliamentary situation.
Professor Östberg also argues that Palme had a unique talent for reading his times, for getting hold of current thoughts and ideas and often to make them his own. Yet it is startling how his first term was characterised by a wave of important reforms, while his final years were beset with difficulties. His portrayal of the exhausted Prime Minister, aged beyond his years, towards the end reads as a sad contrast to the energetic young leader one meets in the first chapters.
The book is really excellent and it manages to evoke the many aspects of Palme’s personality and lifework – the orator, the reformer, the peace negotiator, the tireless advocate of oppressed citizens of the third world, the leader who was incapable of feigning interest in issues which did not matter to him, a person with both good and bad qualities, the man who was admired and cherished by many, yet intensely hated by others, but who left no-one indifferent.
With such a multi-faceted character as Olof Palme it is virtually unavoidable that there will be something one wishes the biographer had dealt with in more detail, but with Palme’s murder unsolved after 23 years the biography also serves as a timely reminder of the fact that he was so much more than a victim of assassination. First and foremost he was one of the most interesting politicians of the twentieth century.

Some information from the publisher’s website:


The novelist Per Olov Enquist’s review in Expressen is well worth reading in itself:


Recent Bernadotte articles

The latest issue of the Swedish magazine Queen has a short interview with Countess Marianne Bernadotte af Wisborg, the aunt of the King of Sweden and the Queen of Denmark, who will turn 85 in July. The anniversary will be celebrated with a gala in Stockholm’s City Hall next Thursday, which Crown Princess Victoria is scheduled to attend.
In the interview Marianne Bernadotte talks mostly about her charity work, but also makes some interesting reflections on the design careers of Prince Carl Philip and Oscar Magnuson, Princess Christina’s son. The Countess’s late husband, Sigvard Bernadotte, by birth Prince of Sweden, made a name for himself internationally as an industrial designer, and she sees a relationship between his design and that of his great-nephews, which she thinks is characterised by the same “strict and restrained elegance”. What would Sigvard Bernadotte have said about the cutlery designed by Prince Carl Philip, the journalist asks. Marianne Bernadotte laughs and replies: “He would have said: Where is the fork for the dessert?”
The same magazine also has a long article on the wedding of King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia in 1976 and an article on the history of Haga Palace, both by the magazine’s founder and former editor Roger Lundgren.
With Haga Palace due to become the home of Crown Princess Victoria and her future husband Daniel Westling, Karin Thunberg in Svenska Dagbladet also takes a look at the fortunes of the four sisters of King Carl Gustaf, who were the last royal children to grow up there and came to be known as “the Haga Princesses”.


On this date: Prince Henrik’s 75th birthday

Today is the 75th birthday of the Prince Consort of Denmark. The celebrations started yesterday with a lunch on board the Royal Yacht Dannebrog and a concert and will continue today with a parade, lunch and banquet at Fredensborg Palace. The Queen and Crown Prince of Norway will be among the foreign royals attending.
On 15 June there will also be a concert at Rosenborg Palace, where the Prince Consort will open an exhibition of acquisitions made by the Royal Danish Collections during the last 33 years when he has been chairman of its board. More on the exhibition:


Last Sunday Berlingske Tidende published an interview with Prince Henrik to mark his anniversary:


Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Official results from Danish referendum

The official results from last Sunday’s referendum about the Danish Act of Succession, published on the website of the official agency Statistics Denmark, show that 85.3 % voted in favour of the Act, while 14.6 % voted against. 58.33 % took part in the election, which means that 45.1 % of the total electorate gave the Act of Succession their approval.


At the end of the road: Helle Virkner (1925-2009), actress and former “first lady” of Denmark

The much-loved Danish actress Helle Virkner, who was married to former Prime Minister Jens Otto Krag, died from cancer in her home in Charlottenlund outside Copenhagen this morning. She was 83.
She made her stage debut in March 1945, but was perhaps best known for her roles in many films and TV dramas such as Matador. During her long and active life she was also the manager of two theatres and made a career in local politics.
In 1959 she married, as her third husband, the Social Democratic Party’s rising star Jens Otto Krag, who was then Foreign Minister and went on to become Prime Minister two years later. The beautiful and glamorous Helle Virkner filled the position as prime ministerial spouse so well that she came to be referred to as “first lady”, which is still informally used for the Prime Minister’s wife (although the Queen is the actual first lady of the country). “Since then the role as Denmark’s first lady has never been carried out better”, writes her obituarist Ebbe Mørk today. Some obituaries even draw parallels to Jacqueline Kennedy.
Krag resigned as Prime Minister in 1972 and divorce followed in 1973. In 1994 Helle Virkner published her very candid memoirs Hils fra mig og kongen, which became an instant bestseller. In the book she described Krag, who had died in 1978, as the great love of her life, but also dealt with the many difficulties caused by his adultery and heavy drinking.
All the Danish broadsheets have extensive obituaries:




Monday, 8 June 2009

What to see: The Crowns of Denmark

With the amendments to Denmark’s Act of Succession passed in yesterday’s referendum, this may be a good day to take a closer look at the country’s royal crowns. The King’s Crown is to the right in the photo, the Queen’s to the left.
The King’s Crown was made for King Christian V by Paul Kurtz in Copenhagen in 1670-1671 and replaced an older crown made for Christian IV. As Christian V was the first absolute monarch the Crown is called “the absolute kings’ crown” to distinguish it from “Christian IV’s crown”. It weighs 2,080 grams and is made of gold with mostly semiprecious stones. In front is a large sapphire of 144 carats which is known to have belonged to Frederik I and was supposedly a gift from the Duke of Milan to King Christian I in 1474.
The King’s Crown was used by the monarchs for their anointments until 1840 – as they were absolute monarchs they were not crowned but had themselves put on the crown before arriving at the anointment ceremony, which was normally held in Frederiksborg Palace Church in Hillerød. The last absolute King of Denmark was Christian VIII, who was anointed in 1840. Absolutism died with him in 1848 and his son, Frederik VII, the first constitutional monarch, was neither anointed nor crowned. Since then the King’s Crown has only been used at the monarchs’ lyings-in-state, when it will be placed on the coffin. Thus it was last used for the lying-in-state of King Frederik IX in 1972.
The Queen’s Crown is more recent. It was made for Queen Sophie Magdalene, consort of Christian VI, by the jeweller Frederik Fabritius in 1731. The semiprecious stones are said to come from the crown made for Queen Sophie Amalie in 1648. It was last used by Queen Caroline Amalie, the consort of Christian VIII, at their anointment in 1840. It was not used for the lying-in-state of Queen Ingrid, who in 2000 became the first queen consort in more than 200 years to lie in state.
Both crowns are now on display in the treasury of Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen.