Thursday, 25 February 2010

The man who would be king

Wednesday last week was the 70th birthday of Count Ingolf of Rosenborg, the man who would now have been King of Denmark but for the constitutional changes of 1953 which altered the order of succession to allow his cousin Margrethe to inherit the throne. In an interview with Billed-Bladet (no 6-2010), Count Ingolf talks openly about how those events caused much bad blood within the royal family.
The 1853 Act of Succession, which had been left unaltered by the Constitution of 1915, allowed only men to inherit the throne and as King Frederik IX had three daughters and no son, his younger brother, Prince Knud, was the heir presumptive. The relationship between the two brothers had apparently never been very close, but it was the new Act of Succession which damaged it beyond repair.
The then Crown Prince Frederik married Princess Ingrid of Sweden in 1935, two years after Prince Knud had married their first cousin, Princess Caroline-Mathilde. The latter couple had a daughter, Princess Elisabeth in 1935, followed by a son, Prince Ingolf in February 1940. Two months later, and after five years of childless marriage, Crown Princess Ingrid gave birth to a daughter, Princess Margrethe.
Margrethe remained the couple’s only child for four years, and according to Count Ingolf, things “went completely wrong” when his younger brother was born in 1942 and the parents chose the name Christian, which would have been the name of the son Frederik “had counted on having”.
Crown Princess Ingrid gave birth to Princess Benedikte in 1944 and Princess Anne-Marie in 1946 and after three difficult pregnancies she was advised not to have further children. This meant that it was now almost certain that Prince Knud would eventually succeed his brother on the throne. When Christian X died in 1947 and Frederik IX was proclaimed king, Prince Knud officially became “the Heir to the Throne”.
The Constitution of 1915 had become outdated and in 1939 a new constitution had been put up for approval in a plebiscite, but the low turnout meant that it did not receive the approval of the required 45 % of the entire electorate and was therefore defeated. After the war one decided to try again and the MP Poul Thisted Knudsen had the idea of linking the new constitution, which expanded the electorate and abolished bicameralism, to a new Act of Succession whereby a princess would be allowed to inherit the throne if she had no brothers (full cognatic succession was introduced in 2009).
Unfortunately few cared to think about the principles involved in such a change, but the debate rather took the form of a choice between King Frederik’s daughters or Prince Knud and his family. The latter were often portrayed as ugly and stupid, but, as the author Peder Christoffersen has pointed out, even though they did have protruding teeth, “they were completely normally gifted, just like Frederik, but unlike Ingrid, who was unusually gifted”.
The plebiscite was held at the end of May 1953 and the new Constitution and Act of Succession narrowly received the support of the required 45 % of the electorate. Count Ingolf says he was bullied in school next day and that his siblings “simply laughed at it”. He admits he was disappointed, but adds: “One has of course gotten used to it. Said okay, that is obviously how life is meant to be. Then one just has to go on in a different way”. Count Ingolf points out that he was only thirteen at the time and that it was a much harder blow for his father, who “lived with the awareness throughout a long life”.
The new Constitution and Act of Succession received the royal assent in a State Council held at Christiansborg Palace on 5 June 1953. August Tørsleff’s painting of the historic scene, a detail of which is seen above, can hardly be called great art, but the expression on Prince Knud’s face is revealing. Prime Minister Erik Eriksen later told the historian Tage Kaarsted that the Prince during the State Council itself had tried to sabotage the signing of the constitution.
When he left the meeting, Prince Knud was fourth in line of succession. Although he was no longer the Heir to the Throne, he was accorded the title “Hereditary Prince”, which might seem ironic as it was now clear that he would inherit nothing.
The two brothers hardly ever spoke again. “I think my parents only saw King Frederik and Queen Ingrid when they met at official functions”, Count Ingolf says, “except for my 21st birthday, when I was to receive the Order of the Elephant from King Frederik because I had come of age. It happened during a lunch at my parents’ at Sorgenfri [Palace], but then they did of course have a reason!”
King Frederik died in January 1972, Hereditary Prince Knud in June 1976. “He lived three [in fact four] years after King Frederik’s death. He would have liked very much to have those years as king”, Count Ingolf says of his father, adding that “he died as a bitter man”.
After their deaths Ingolf felt it was time to put an end to the family conflict and approached his cousin Queen Margrethe, much against the will of his mother. “Why are you mixing with them?” the Hereditary Princess said, but Ingolf “did simply not find it right that the older generation’s problems should continue to bother us. We of the next generation were not to have our lives ruined because our parents could not get along [...]”.
In the end Hereditary Princess Caroline-Mathilde came to appreciate the reconciliation brokered by her eldest son and she and Queen Ingrid also had time to reconcile before their deaths.
Count Ingolf, who lost his royal title when he married a commoner in 1968, annually receives 1.5 million DKK from the civil list as some sort of “compensation” for losing the throne. He says Queen Margrethe has “managed wonderfully during those 38 years she has now been on the throne [...]”.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

New books: The battle for the White House

The US election campaign in 2008 was one of the most exciting presidential races in recent years. Not only because virtually any outcome would result in a historic first (the first black president, the first female president, the first Mormon president or the oldest president ever to be sworn in), but also because of its intensity and length, with the Democratic nomination fight going on all the way to June rather than finishing in the winter.
Many books have already been written about the campaign, but the latest addition, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (the UK edition is titled Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House), seems already to have ascertained its place as the classic account.
It is indeed a gripping account and a book which is hard to put down, offering much new insight into what went on behind the scenes during that dramatic campaign. Thus it can be recommended to anyone with an interest in US politics or election campaigns in general, but it also has some obvious weaknesses.
The most serious one is that no sources are given. The authors maintain that they have spoken to most people mentioned in the book, but as no sources are ever identified, it is difficult to evaluate the credibility of what we are told.
Another, but lesser, weakness is that the Democratic campaign is given much more space than the Republican. This can be defended for two reasons – that it lasted longer and was therefore more exciting, and that the Democrats won the election. But 270 pages on the Democratic primaries and less than fifty out of the book’s about 450 pages on the Republicans, followed by 100 pages on the general election campaign, is a very uneven balance which left me wishing to know more about how John McCain became the Republican nominee.
It might seem that the Republicans, as so often before, chose to nominate the party elder who was “next in line”. Yet, as the authors do acknowledge, McCain was at a certain stage almost counted out of the race. He ran a fairly amateurish campaign, but still managed to stage a comeback and win the nomination. It might have improved the book if they had tried harder to explain how that came about.
The book is very much centred on the people, particularly Barack Obama, the Clinton couple, John McCain and Sarah Palin, and to a certain extent John Edwards. There are some entertaining bits, such as Hillary Clinton not wanting to be Vice President because she had already been so, and Obama not wanting to choose her to be VP because he thought one could not possibly have three presidents in the White House.
But the focus on the persons and their actions and choices leaves little place for issues and strategies. Having read the book one may have got a better picture of how Obama won, but not why he won. What were the issues, if any, which made him stand out among the contenders? And little is said about the Obama campaign’s quite innovative mobilisation of the “grass roots”.
The authors take little, if any, human considerations. With their strengths and weaknesses, Obama and Hillary Clinton emerge from it with the fewest bruises, while Bill Clinton is portrayed as a troublesome block around the foot of his wife’s campaign and a loose gun on deck, but who still did his “duty” in the end.
Few of the main players in this book make such a bad impression as that ambitious, conceited and deceitful John Edwards. Not even his terminally ill wife, Elizabeth Edwards (who is now divorcing him after he has acknowledged what is said almost straight out in this book – that he was indeed the father of the child born to one of his campaign workers), is spared.
But then Sarah Palin comes along. An unreliable populist who was prone to blame her failures on anyone but herself, whose gross ignorance involved such things as having no idea why North and South Korea were two nations and not possibly being able to remember if her Democrat counterpart’s name was Joe Obiden or Joe O’Biden, yet believed her nomination for Vice President was the will of God. The book makes it clear that the choice of Palin to be McCain’s running mate was made only at the last moment, after it had become clear that they could not go through with picking the independent Democrat Joe Lieberman, and was made in such a haste that there was almost no time to check her credentials in a proper way.
John McCain himself seems more sympathetic. But when one reads about his recklessness, his temper which apparently made it nearly impossible to utter a sentence without the F word, how he in the wake of the financial crisis insisted on a bipartisan White House meeting yet wasted the time to prepare for it by chatting with his wife about tonight’s dinner on the phone before contributing absolutely nothing to the meeting, and not least the irresponsibility by which he, a 72-year-old cancer survivor, without any proper vetting chose such a person as Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office, it seems clear that the reason why he lost the election was probably not only because of Barack Obama’s strengths, but also because John McCain himself had little to offer his country when it came to leadership and was himself unfit for the presidency.

Danish PM reshuffles government

The resignation yesterday of Denmark’s Minister of Defence, Søren Gade, following a scandal over leaks from his ministry, sparked a major government reshuffle which was carried out today. When Lars Løkke Rasmussen quite suddenly took over as Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party when Anders Fogh Rasmussen was appointed Secretary General of NATO last April, he made only a handful of changes to the cabinet, something which has later been mentioned as one of the possible reasons for the troubles his premiership has faced. Only last week Ritt Bjerregaard, the former politician from the Social Democrat Party, called for Løkke to “get your own cabinet”.
The most significant change made to the government today is the elevation of Lene Espersen, the leader of the Conservative Party, from Minister of Economy and Business to Minister of Foreign Affairs, replacing Per Stig Møller, who has held that position since 2001 and is now demoted to Minister of Culture. This probably signals the Conservatives wanting to take a firmer grip on foreign policy. While Fogh was Prime Minister, Møller was often overruled by and Fogh almost ran his own Foreign Ministry next to the actual Foreign Minister. Løkke’s position is far from being as strong as Fogh’s and the leader of the coalition party taking over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is another sign of this.
Despite coming under much criticism lately, Claus Hjort Frederiksen stays on as Minister of Finance, thus being one of only four cabinet ministers who remain in their old places. Seven ministers leave the government, while the rest are moved around between the ministries.
Following the reshuffle the government is made up of ten men and nine women, making it the most gender equal cabinet in Danish history.

A list of the changes to the cabinet:

Friday, 19 February 2010

Queen Margrethe’s sarcophagus shown off

The Danish media was today invited to Roskilde Cathedral to see the projected sarcophagus of Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik. The sarcophagus is the work of the artist Bjørn Nørgaard and will measure about 330 by 85 centimetres. There will be a coffin of transparent glass which will contain silhouettes of the Queen and Prince Consort, carried by three columns made of granite from Bornholm, marble from Greenland and basalt from the Faeroes, representing the lands governed by Margrethe II. Each column will be adorned with two silver elephant’s heads symbolising the Order of the Elephant. The base for it all will probably be made of French sandstone, which may perhaps be interpreted as a recognition of Prince Henrik’s French origins.
The work is expected to take six years to complete and the artist has already worked on the idea in cooperation with the royal couple since 2003. The Queen and Prince Consort will be laid to rest in St Birgitte’s Chapel inside the Cathedral, a small side chapel next to the Glücksborg chapel (which houses the remains of Christian IX, Frederik VIII, Christian X and their queens). The couple will be buried under the floor, meaning that the sarcophagus itself will be empty. Three of Christian IV’s children by his morganatic wife Kirsten Munk are already buried in the chapel.
Generations of Danish monarchs have been buried in Roskilde Cathedral, but with his extrovert personality and an old sailor’s love for a wide horizon, Frederik IX wished to be buried under the open sky. An open-air mausoleum was therefore built for him and Queen Ingrid just outside the main entrance to the Cathedral. There is still space for eight people to be buried there and many had expected Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik to occupy two of those places.
Yet Queen Margrethe’s choice to rest inside the Cathedral seems understandable considering what we know about her great interest in history and her awareness of being a link in a chain stretching back over Christian IX and Frederik IV via Christian IV and Margrete I to time immemorial.
It is quite unusual that such projects are presented already in the lifetimes of those concerned. For comparison the work on Frederik IX’s resting place was begun only after his death in 1972 and completed in 1985, while the chapel housing the remains of George VI of Britain was completed seventeen years after his death in 1969. It feels quite bizarre to see photos of the artist, the Lord Chamberlain and others involved grinning as they stand next to the models of the sarcophagus of the current monarch.
Among Bjørn Nørgaard’s works are the new Christiansborg Palace tapestries illustrating the history of Denmark, which were a present to the Queen for her 50th birthday but only completed in time for her 60th, and the “pavement mosaic” from 1993 at Amager Square in Copenhagen. A major exhibition of his works, titled “Re-modelling the World”, will be shown at the National Gallery in Copenhagen from 16 April to 24 October this year.

Some media reports:

Art trouble at Amalienborg

The renovation of Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg, the official residence of Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary, is now very nearly completed. However, Politiken yesterday reported that trouble has arisen over the contemporary art which will decorate the mansion.
The ten works of art (paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations), costing 22 million DKK, are a wedding present to the couple from Realdania, which, in its own words, is “a strategic foundation created with the objective of initiating and supporting projects that improve the built environment”.
One artist, John Kørner, showed his painting to the court, only to be asked if he would care to finish it. When he said it was finished, the reply was a question if he were willing to work more on it. Instead he is now doing another picture which he hopes will be approved. Another of the ten artists, Jeppe Hein, who was to shape the garden, has already pulled out of the project.
Frederik VIII’s Mansion will, as earlier mentioned, be open to the public from 27 February to 30 May, with the press view taking place on Monday.
Politiken’s article:

Swedish royalty magazine “Queen” ceases publication

On Monday I bought the latest issue of the Swedish royalty magazine Queen and, flipping through it, I wondered to myself how long this magazine would survive. Only a few days later the answer came in the shape of the news that this was the last issue.
Queen was founded in 2008 by Roger Lundgren, who also became its first editor-in-chief. He wanted it to be a more serious magazine than those already on the Swedish market and succeeded well in creating a mix of interesting articles about royals past and present.
Sadly, the owner, Bonnier tidskrifter, soon decided to replace Roger Lundgren with Pamela Andersson as editor-in-chief. Under her editorship the quality of the magazine plummeted, and interesting articles by good writers, such as Christopher O’Regan on court life at Drottningholm in the days of Gustaf III or the work of the Royal Collection, were replaced by such peripheral things as the wife of a friend of King Carl Gustaf showing the magazine her wardrobe and Prince Carl Philip’s ex-girlfriend talking about the organisation “Borneo Orangutang Survival”, while articles on makeup, clothes, bags and shoes were allowed to fill a large part of the magazine, thus making it very similar to just another glossy women’s magazine which there are already plenty of on the market.
In the latest issue there is a lot of nonsense such as “Eugenie is the new princess of scandals” and a photo spread of various royals or semi-royals wearing blue clothes, while the only articles of some interest are Roger Lundgren’s interviews with Queen Silvia and ex-Queen Anne-Marie.
For some time it has seemed the owners and the new editor wanted to turn Queen into another irrelevant gossip magazine. And now they have decided to take that step fully and replace Queen with a biweekly gossip magazine called simply S.
It was a very good initiative which was taken by Roger Lundgren in establishing Queen two years ago and it is a pity that the owners chose to destroy the project in the way they did.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Daniel Westling’s “royal education”

According to a press release from the Swedish Royal Court today, Daniel Westling last month began his “royal education” supervised by the Deputy Master of Ceremonies, Brigadier Jan-Eric Warren. The course will last for about one and a half year and among its topics is the organisation of the Royal Court, including ceremonies and the cultural heritage connected to the monarchy. He will also learn about political science, the work of the Parliament and the government, state and municipal administration, Swedish history and cultural life.
Most royal spouses-to-be take part in such educational programmes and one wonders if the Royal Court has decided to make a specific announcement about it as some sort of counter-weight to the claims made that Westling does not have the “right” background and education to be Prince of Sweden.

The Royal Court’s press release: (in Swedish)

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Exhibitions on Queen Margrethe in Hillerød and Viborg

In two months Queen Margrethe II will celebrate her 70th birthday and on that occasion the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Palace (pictured above) in Hillerød, just north of Copenhagen, will arrange the exhibition “Dronning af Danmark” (“Queen of Denmark”). Lasting from 10 April to 1 August, the exhibition will deal with her role as monarch and grand master of the royal orders as well as her work as a painter, scenographer and translator. The museum at Frederiksborg is also Denmark’s national portrait gallery and several official and private portraits of the Queen and other members of the royal family will therefore also be included in the exhibition. (in Danish)

Queen Margrethe the painter will be the focus of the retrospective exhibition “Dronning Margrethe II – Et livsværk” (“Queen Margrethe II - A Life’s Work”) at the Skovgaard Museum in Viborg, which will be shown between 8 April and 15 August, but the exhibition will also include water colours, decoupages, ecclesiastical textiles, scenography and drawings. A profusely illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition. (in Danish)

Speaking of exhibitions in Denmark, Queen Margrethe and President Horst Köhler of Germany will today open the exhibition “Tro, styrke, kærlighed – Danmark/Sachsen 1548-1709” (“Faith, Power, Love - Denmark/Saxony 1548-1709” at Rosenborg Palace in Copenhagen. There were several dynastic alliances between the Denmark-Norway and Saxony and included in the exhibition are some of the fabulous gifts exchanged between the dynasties, on loan from the Dresden treasury. The exhibition will last to 24 May.
(in English)

At the road’s end: Rigmor Mydtskov (1925-2010), former royal photographer

Politiken today reports the death of Rigmor Mydtskov, one of Denmark’s most prominent photographers and perhaps best known for her portraits of Queen Margrethe and other members of the royal family. She was 84 and had been ill for some time.
Her father, Hans Julius Mydtskov, was a theatre photographer and Rigmor Mydtskov herself made her debut as a photographer at the Royal Theatre in 1954, taking over her father’s position shortly before his death in 1973.
She was officially Photographer to Her Majesty the Queen from 1988 to 2003, thereby taking many well-known official portraits of the head of state. But she had worked with the royal family long before that and among her best works are, in my opinion, a series of full-dress photos of King Frederik IX, Queen Ingrid and their daughters which she made at Fredensborg Palace in 1963.
Politiken’s obituary:

Saturday, 13 February 2010

New books: Carl XIV Johan and modern Sweden

Just before Christmas Beijbom Books in Gothenburg published Karl XIV Johan – Det moderna Sveriges grundare by Olof Sjöström, a 69-year-old former banker and businessman. In his book the author wants to show what Carl XIV Johan did for Sweden and argues that he was the monarch who laid the foundation stones for modern Swedish society. It is a very interesting topic, but the book is a limited success.
It is quite badly composed, which causes many unnecessary repetitions – the events leading to Bernadotte’s election in 1810 are recounted in three different chapters. The book begins with the King’s death in 1844 before going back to look at his early life and career, his election to Crown Prince of Sweden in 1810, his arrival in Sweden, the situation in the country 200 years ago, Sweden’s role in the Napoleonic Wars and how the union with Norway came about.
In this the author makes a huge number of factual mistakes, such as stating that Bernadotte was 29 in 1789 and 32 in 1794 although he tells us on the very same page that he was born in 1763, that Joseph Bonaparte was married to Joséphine (rather than Julie) Clary, that the King had a constitutional veto in Norway (the absence of such a veto was the main reason for the power struggle between Carl Johan and the Norwegian Parliament, which lasted throughout most of his reign and which he eventually lost) and that the Norwegians elected Prince Oscar Viceroy in 1814 (something they neither did nor were permitted by the Constitution to do).
It is of great value that Sjöström stresses how Napoléon’s reign inspired Carl Johan’s reforms of Swedish society. Biographers tend to focus on the rivalry between the two men and the eventual rupture, but rarely do authors take into consideration the many similarities between them or how Carl Johan in many ways tried to emulate his former master. “The spirit of Napoléon the society builder would influence the development of Sweden for a long time”, Sjöström writes.
It is obvious that the author is more on home ground when it comes to finances than to political history. There are chapters dedicated to Carl Johan’s private finances, how he succeeded in paying off the Swedish national debt and his work to stabilise the three different currencies used in Sweden at the time.
Then we hear about the emergence of modern banks in Sweden before Sjöström returns to Carl Johan’s foreign policy, which he does not entirely understand, and then deals with the situation in Sweden at the end of Carl Johan’s reign. He stresses how the debts had been paid, the currency stabilised, an operational banking system brought about, the infrastructure and agriculture improved and a new foreign policy introduced, to which he adds emerging constitutional reforms. All this, Sjöström argues, make Carl XIV Johan one of Sweden’s greatest kings and the founder of the modern Swedish society.
But the problem is that the author’s account is incomplete and frequently wrong. He twice describes Carl Johan as a son of the revolution, but leaves out the fact that he gravitated towards political reaction as he became older, making him downright unpopular in Sweden at the end of his life. Sjöström on the contrary claims that he was very popular in his old age when his people realised what he had done for the country and were grateful for that.
His opposition to the free press is also downplayed, except when the author mentions the many closures of the newspaper Aftonbladet, which he ascribes to “the authorities” rather than to the King. We also get a very incomplete picture of Carl Johan and constitutional reforms, which he was in fact staunchly opposed to. Sjöström tells us that Carl Johan in Norway allowed “parliamentarianism to develop successively”, which is far from true.
The crucial relationship with Russia and the friendship with Alexander I is said to have been good and solid at all times, while the many ups and downs are ignored and Carl Johan’s balance act between Russia and Britain goes unmentioned.
It is also a problem that Sjöström frequently credits Carl Johan with achievements which were not really his. For instance he writes twice about the negotiations between Denmark and Norway over how the national debt should be divided after Norway broke away from the Danish kingdom in 1814. Sweden in Sjöström’s version “attempted” to stay out of it all, but “[e]ventually the parties reached an acceptable solution whereby the burdens were shared after Carl Johan had succeeded in talking down the Norwegian debt”. In fact the King forced Norway to accept the Danish demands unconditionally and Sweden did not pay one single penny, even though it was the King of Sweden who had concluded the agreement with Denmark without involving Norway at all.
Sjöström tells us that the first biography of Carl XIV Johan was written 100 years after his death, which is pure nonsense – biographies had started to appear already in his lifetime and a century after his death there were a large number of such books available in many languages. Rather it seems Sjöström has not read them – his bibliography lists the biographies by Kenne Fant (1994), Lars O. Lagerqvist (2005), Herman Lindqvist (2009), Alan Palmer (1990) and Alma Söderhjelm (1939), of which Lagerqvist’s is the only significant one. Torvald T:son Höjer’s three-volume official biography, which is the most informative and deals extensively with the issues Sjöström cover, is, incomprehensively, not on the list.
It is my feeling that this book would have been both better and more interesting if Olof Sjöström had restricted himself to the financial and economic issues which it seems he understands well and had not undermined his own book by including chapters on various other aspects where the factual mistakes and misunderstandings proliferate. Perhaps he should have written an article rather than an entire book.

Friday, 12 February 2010

At the road’s end: Bo Holmberg (1942-2010), Swedish former minister and Anna Lindh’s widower

The Swedish media today report that Bo Holmberg, a former minister and the widower of the murdered Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, was found dead in his home yesterday, aged 67.
Born on 17 November 1942, he was appointed Minister of Municipal Affairs (later renamed Minister for Civil Affairs) in Olof Palme’s government in 1982 and remained so in Ingvar Carlsson’s government after Palme’s assassination. He resigned from the cabinet in 1988. Holmberg was a Member of Parliament from 1985 to 1996 and Governor of the County of Södermanland 1996-2005.
In 1991 he married fellow Social Democrat Anna Lindh, who was considered a future leader of her party and was a very popular Foreign Minister at the time of her brutal assassination during the EMU campaign in September 2003. Holmberg’s death tragically leaves his and Lindh’s two sons orphaned at the age of 16 and 19.
Svenska Dagbladet reports:

Thursday, 11 February 2010

On this date: Mandela released

Twenty years ago today, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison. Today he was scheduled to take part in a symbolic walk from the prison gates accompanied by, among others, his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, President Jacob Zuma and members of his own family, but only yesterday the increasingly frail ex-President cancelled his attendance.
Recently Frederik Willem de Klerk gave an interview to the Guardian about his decision twenty years ago to free Mandela:

The statue picture above stands in Parliament Square in London.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

An update on the Bernadotte bicentenary

As I wrote about in April and September the bicentenary of the Bernadotte dynasty in Sweden will be commemorated in many ways this year and here is an update on some of the major events:

April: TV4 will start broadcasting the six episodes of Gregor Nowinski’s documentary on the history of the Bernadotte dynasty.

6 May-11 July: The Swedish Institute in Paris will show an exhibition on Sigvard Bernadotte’s work as an industrial designer, titled “Sigvard Bernadotte – Inspiratör, Entreprenör, Designdirektör”.

7 May-10 October: The Norwegian National Museum’s department for architecture in Oslo will show the exhibition “Slottet og Linstow – Den nye hovedstadens grunnstein”, which will deal with the Royal Palace in Oslo, the only major palace built by Carl XIV Johan, and its architect Hans D. F. Linstow. The drawings from Linstow’s “Grand Composition” will be at the centre of the exhibition. I have earlier been told that a full-size replica of the famous Bird Room would be built, but the exhibition’s curator Nina Høye has now informed me that this is not correct.

15 May-31 December: Örebro County Museum will arrange the exhibition “Bernadotte och Örebro”, which takes a look at the events of 1810.

15 May-31 August: An exhibition titled “Spåren av Karl XIV Johan” will be shown at Stjernsund Palace, which the said King bought in 1823.

19 May-3 October: The Royal Armoury will hold the exhibition “Bröllop för kung och fosterland” about Swedish royal weddings during the last five centuries. The exhibition will be accompanied by a book written by Lena Rangström.

1 June-30 September: The Nordic Museum in Stockholm will host an exhibition dealing with the popular perception of Carl XIV Johan.

1 June-30 September: Örebro County Museum holds the exhibition “Design Bernadotte” about the design work of Sigvard Bernadotte and Prince Carl Philip.

6 June-11 July: An art exhibition called “Bernadotte rules!” will be shown at Lindesberg near Örebro.

10 June: The book En dynasti blir till – Medier, myter och makt kring Karl XIV Johan och familjen Bernadotte, edited by Nils Ekedahl, will be published by Norstedts. This book is the result of the research project “The Making of a Dynasty”.

15 June-3 October: Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde will mark the bicentenary by exhibiting some of Princess Eugénie’s drawings. As Prince Eugen took a great interest in the history of his family and particularly Carl XIV Johan, this sounds like a disappointingly modest contribution to the jubilee.

19 June: Crown Princess Victoria will marry Daniel Westling in the Cathedral of Stockholm.

21 August: The actual anniversary of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte’s election will be commemorated in Örebro, the city where the election took place. The King and Queen of Sweden, Prince Carl Philip and Princess Madeleine have confirmed that they will be present. It is not yet known if Crown Princess Victoria and her (by then) husband, who was himself born in Örebro, will be present. I understand that the King of Norway and the President of France have also been invited, but have not yet replied.

15 September-23 October: The Swedish Institute’s exhibition “Sigvard Bernadotte – Inspiratör, Entreprenör, Designdirektör” will be shown at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Pau.

30 September-9 January: The National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm will show their great exhibition “Härskarkonst – Napoleon, Alexander och Carl Johan” (“Staging Power – Napoleon, Alexander and Charles John”). The exhibition will be opened by the King and Queen of Sweden on 29 September and will later be shown at the State Hermitage in St Petersburg. The 320-page catalogue accompanying the exhibition will be published in both Swedish and English versions, edited by Magnus Olausson and contain essays by Mikael Alm, C. Beyeler, V. Fjodorov, Lars Ljungström, Odile Nouvel-Kammerer, Magnus Olausson, T. Préaud, T. Rappe, Per Sandin and Solfrid Söderlind.

1 October-27 February 2011: The exhibiton “Hemma på slottet”, dealing with the private and family life of Carl XIV Johan, will be shown at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. (The dates are preliminary).

20 October: The 200th anniversary of Carl Johan’s arrival in Sweden will be commemorated in Helsingborg in the presence of Prince Carl Philip. The quay where he stepped ashore was re-inaugurated some years ago by the former Prince Carl Johan, who lives in nearby Båstad and might also be present this year.

The drawing of Carl XIV Johan pictured above is in the Norwegian National Library and is (most likely wrongly), attributed to François Gérard.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Aftonbladet’s credibility suffers from false Westling story

Four days ago Aftonbladet (the same newspaper which recently printed Herman Lindqvist’s blatant lies about the Crown Princess of Norway) claimed that Daniel Westling had been taken acutely ill to hospital. It turned out to be a routine check following his kidney transplant last May, something Daniel Westling himself explained in an interview with the rival tabloid Expressen.
Yesterday Aftonbladet’s editor Lena Mellin apologised for having misled their readers. But Jenny Alexandersson, the journalist who wrote the article, claims that she had the story from a “very solid source” and blames the Royal Court, saying that they never explicitly denied her story when she asked them, but only that he had had meetings at the Palace and was doing well. It is indeed a bit strange that the Royal Court uses Expressen to deny Aftonbladet’s story, but the journalist herself must take the responsibility for what she writes and cannot expect the Royal Court to explicitly confirm or deny any rumour presented to them.
Earlier Alexandersson wrote at her blog, in a post which has now been removed, about her delight in seeing her story about Westling’s acute illness on the frontpages all over Stockholm. One may wonder if she became a little carried away with her possible scoop.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Electoral reform ahead in Britain

If Tony Blair’s premiership had come to an end at some stage between 1999 and 2003, he would most likely have been remembered for the Good Friday agreement and the constitutional reforms which brought devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and restricted the powers of the undemocratic House of Lords. Sadly for him it seems all this will be entirely overshadowed by his having taken Britain into an illegal and unjustified war.
In the coming week Jack Straw, the British Justice Secretary, will present another constitutional reform bill to the House of Commons, and in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research on Tuesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that he plans to hold a referendum on a new voting system before October 2011. He also said he wants Britain to have a written constitution by 2015 (the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta), to introduce a mainly elected House of Lords, to give voters the right to recall corrupt MPs and that he personally supports lowering the voting age to 16.
While most European countries now practise some form of proportional representation, Britain has retained the old voting system with one seat per constituency and the candidate winning most votes in the constituency getting elected, meaning that the votes given to other candidates are in effect wasted. By this system the Labour Party, with 35 % of the votes, won 355 out of the 646 seats in the House of Commons in the general election in 2005.
The Liberal Democrats have for years advocated a switch to proportional representation, which is also used in elections for the Scottish Parliament. But this is not what the Brown government now wants the people to vote over, but rather a completely different system called “Alternative Vote system” (AV for short), which was invented by the American architect William Robert Hare in 1871.
Under AV voters are asked to list candidates in order of preference and the candidates receiving least votes will then be eliminated one by one and second preferences counted instead until one candidate has 50 %. This system is designed to ensure that more MPs can claim support from a majority of voters in their constituency, something which has become quite rare after the two-party system was replaced by a richer selection of political parties. In 1955, when there were basically no other parties than Labour and the Tories to vote for, only 37 MPs did not have majority support in their constituency; today only 1/3 of the MPs have.
But this odd electoral system would not really have changed much. A survey based on opinion polls from the general election of 2005 shows that the implementation of such a secondary choice system would have given Labour 366 seats (rather than the 355 they did receive), the Conservatives 175 seats (down 23) and the Liberal Democrats 74 (+12). A bill to introduce the AV system was by the way passed by the House of Commons as far back as in 1931, but was then stopped by the Tories in the House of Lords.
As Gordon Brown has himself been opposed to electoral reform during 13 years in cabinet, it seems a bit insincere to announce such plans now that a general election (in which Labour seems likely to lose power) is just around the corner. The general election must be held by the beginning of June and Queen Elizabeth II is expected to dissolve Parliament around Easter, followed by an election on 6 May. In order to get the reform through both Houses of Parliament before the election, Parliament’s Easter break may have to be shortened.
The reasons for presenting such plans may partly be in order to improve the image of a parliament severely discredited by the expenses scandal and to point towards new times ahead for a reformed and “more democratic” parliament. Alternatively it may be seen as Labour reaching out to the Liberal Democrats, who are widely believed to prefer a Labour government to a Conservative if the upcoming election results in a hung parliament, which now seems increasingly likely.
In an article in The Guardian on Wednesday Gordon Brown invited “the leaders of all parties to engage positively in these debates and back our constitutional reform and governance bill”. Only to fail to do so himself in the next sentence, where he in a very un-statesmanlike way used the opportunity to take a swipe at the Tories: “So far the Conservative leadership have offered soundbites about the price of chips in the Commons canteen, or proposed changes to parliament that would promote their party’s interests. But every time they have been tested on the big issues of reform – from devolution to the future of the hereditary peers – the Tories have been found wanting”.
The Conservatives replied in kind by going for the man rather than the ball. “It’s not the voting system that needs changing, it’s this weak and discredited prime minister. New politics needs a new government”, said William Hague, the failed former leader of the Conservative party.
Only the Liberal Democrats seemed intent to “engage positively”, saying that they will support the bill even though they prefer proportional representation. Apparently they think AV is better than nothing. Personally I find it hard to see this new system as an improvement on the old.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Palme assassination will not be prescribed

This month 24 years have passed since the unsolved assassination of Sweden’s Prime Minister Olof Palme. Under Swedish law murder has hitherto been prescribed after 25 years, but yesterday the Swedish Parliament passed new legislation which means that there will be no prescription time for certain serious crimes, including murder. The law comes into effect on 1 July.
Olof Palme was assassinated in the street by a lone gunman on his way home from a cinema with his wife in the evening of 28 February 1986. The Palme investigation continues, but it is now a long time since anything significant was reported and neither the assassin nor the weapon has been found.
Christer Pettersson, the man pointed out by Lisbet Palme during a witness confrontation, was first sentenced, but appealed and was acquitted. Some years ago the Palme investigation wanted him tried again, but the Supreme Court ruled that there was not enough new evidence to justify such a step. Pettersson died in 2004.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

At the road’s end: Archduchess Regina of Austria-Hungary (1925-2010)

Archduchess Regina of Austria-Hungary, the wife of Otto von Habsburg (last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary and former MEP), died peacefully at her home in Pöcking in Germany at 8.40 a.m. today, aged 85. She had suffered from a heart disease for a number of years and also suffered a stroke in 2005.
The Archduchess was born Princess Regina Helene Elisabeth Margarete of Saxe-Meiningen in Würzburg on 6 January 1925. She married the former heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Nancy on 10 May 1951. They had seven children (among them Swedish MP Walburga Habsburg Douglas), 23 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. She is also survived by her husband, now in his 98th year.
She will lie in state in the Church of Sankt Ulrich in Pöcking from Saturday to Monday, followed by a requiem on Tuesday and burial in the Saxe-Meiningen family vault at the cemetery in Heldburg on Wednesday.

Lost treasures: The triumphal arch at Eger Square, Oslo

While cities like Paris, London, St Petersburg and Milan have several each, Oslo is not among the capitals provided with a triumphal arch or gate. This is probably because of the lack of any great triumphs to commemorate, but there have been a number of temporary triumphal arches in Oslo, most of them erected in connection with royal events.
The second half of the 19th century was the age of temporary monuments – in Oslo can be mentioned a monument to the Swedish-Norwegian union outside the Royal Palace on the occasion of its jubilee in 1864, a monument to King Harald the Fair-haired when the supposed millennium of Norway’s unification was celebrated in 1872 and the triumphal arch in Eger Square built to welcome the newlywed Crown Princess Victoria in 1882. The latter was designed by Georg Andreas Bull and the sculptures of ancient Norwegian kings were made by Brynjulf Bergslien.
Princess Victoria of Baden and Crown Prince Gustaf of Norway and Sweden had married in her hometown Karlsruhe in September 1881 and made their triumphal entry into the Norwegian capital in February 1882. Karl Johan’s Street from Eger Square to the Royal Palace was festively decorated, but the welcome was not really a warm one. Victoria was never to like Norway much and, for a militant antidemocrat like her, she arrived at almost the worst possible moment.
The Norwegian monarchy was in the middle of one of its most severe crises, which ended with the impeachment of the Selmer ministry and the introduction of parliamentarianism in 1884. This signalled the end of the King’s political powers, but the endgame would last for another 21 years.
During the next great crisis, in 1895, Crown Princess Victoria was among the warmongers, eagerly supported by her cousin, Emperor Wilhelm II. Even after the peaceful dissolution of the union in 1905, it rankled deeply with Victoria, according to her brother-in-law Prince Carl, that “the revolution in Kristiania had not been suppressed by the force of weapons”.
When her husband, as King Gustaf V, was to visit Norway in 1917, it was made quite clear to him that he was expected to come without his wife. The official explanation was that there would not be room in the Royal Palace for Queen Victoria and her retinue. No problem, said the Swedes, the Queen could stay in her own railway carriage. Thanks, but no thanks, replied the Norwegians.
Had she come, there would have been no triumphal arch to welcome her. The arch of 1882 was dismantled when the festivities were over and for nearly 130 years there was not a trace of it. But last year a new shopping centre opened at Eger Square and just inside the entrance an entire wall is covered with a photo of the triumphal arch. The illustration above is taken from The Graphic, 4 March 1882.

Monday, 1 February 2010

New books: Fogh’s premiership

Anders Fogh Rasmussen was Prime Minister of Denmark from 2001 to 2009 before resigning to become Secretary General of NATO. Unlike other Danish prime ministers he thereby left office of his own free will and in “triumph” rather than because of ill-health, death or defeat. His 7 ½ years in office were also one of the most successful Danish premierships, Troels Mylenberg and Bjarne Steensbeck, political journalists at Berlingske Tidende, argues in their new book Præsidenten – Foghs Danmark 2001-2009 (published by Gyldendal).
This is no full-scale biography of Fogh, but rather a book about the major events of his premiership. It begins with the end, charting the difficult and long drawn-out process which ended with his being chosen to lead NATO in April last year. The authors also take us back to the earlier stages of his political career, showing how Fogh was a more ideological politician than many of his colleagues in the Liberal Party.
Fogh was very narrowly defeated in the 1998 election by the incumbent Social Democrat Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, but succeeded in winning the premiership three years later. By then the parliamentary situation had changed, ejecting two of Fogh’s prospective coalition partners from Parliament, leaving him with a coalition of his own party and the Conservative Party and dependent on the far right-wing Danish People’s Party for a parliamentary majority. Fogh was the undisputed leader of Denmark for nearly eight years, something the authors argue was possible partly due to the fact that the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, was more preoccupied with internal wars than with opposing the government.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen had a clear agenda for his premiership and many (including me) think that he changed Denmark to the worse. Yet one must admit that he was very successful in achieving his goals and some of the changes he implemented are so thorough that they are nearly impossible to reverse. Some of it, such as his very strict immigration policy (it is perhaps a sign of xenophobia that the Danes call it “foreigner policy”), has even been adopted by his political opponents, which shows that Fogh was even able to alter political thinking in general.
Fogh chose confrontation rather than cooperation and his style of leadership was so authoritarian that it earned him the nickname “the President” among the Conservative ministers. According to Mylenberg and Steensbeck, he always got his way in cabinet and his treatment of his colleagues was not always pleasant. One of his party colleagues points out that the way Fogh centralised all decisions might be the reason why the party lost 20,000 members during his leadership, suggesting that his authoritarian style did not really inspire people to become involved. As a prime minister, he was more respected than well-liked, and as a person he projected a near-ascetic image, always completely in control of himself and events, almost entirely without a sense of humour. The authors point out that this was not wholly true, but again it shows how he succeeded in shaping the image he wanted.
This also showed in how he often got away with changing his opinion dramatically, yet insisting that he had held the same view throughout – the debacle over the Danish Mohamed caricatures (“the greatest foreign policy crisis since World War II”) is a prime example, the authors argue. Villy Søvndal, leader of the Socialist People’s Party, once said that Fogh had only three answers: “That I can most certainly deny”, “There is nothing to find there” and “Let us rather look ahead” and that he might rationalise by numbering them and answering any question with either “one”, “two” or “three”.
Some of the most interesting parts of this book are the interviews with Fogh himself, which reveal a lot of his way of thinking and arguing. To be tough on crime was one of Fogh’s election promises in 2001 and when the authors point out that the recent “gang wars” in Copenhagen may be a result of the government’s focus on harder sentences rather than preventing crime, Fogh replies that it should be seen “in relation to how things are in other countries and how it might have been. It might have been much worse”. The belief that things might have been worse is perhaps not the surest sign of success.
Fogh advocated a more activist foreign policy and this led to Denmark taking part in the war on Iraq as one of Bush’s most loyal allies. Although the Danish Parliament’s decision to take part in the war was formally based solely on Saddam Hussein’s failure to comply with UN resolutions, Fogh explicitly used the “fact” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as a key argument, such as on 22 September 2002 when he told his party conference that “it is too late when the toxic gas or the lethal illness has been spread over one of our big cities”. Later he has gone to great lengths to deny that he ever used such arguments and in this book even denies that it influenced his decision in any way.
During a visit to George W. Bush’s ranch in Texas in the spring of 2008, Fogh said publicly to Bush that “you, Mr President, and the USA have to a greater extent than anyone else advanced this vision of peace and democracy throughout the world. Allow me to praise you for that”. Now he says that it was only natural for him to consider the American request for assistance in a positive light. “Of course one has to make one’s own decision, but we are allies and partners, and when allies and partners ask for something, one is obliged to consider it positively”.
When asked what spoke against the war, Fogh mentions simply that war “might cost human lives”. The possible consequences of the war, such as destabilising the Middle East, an increase in terrorism and the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure (dangers which were pointed out by many opponents, who, it should be added, turned out to be right) are not touched on by the man who is now Secretary General of NATO.
It is also interesting that he professes his belief that the “North Korean problem is hopefully solved someday” as if this will solve itself, and adds “I believe one should arm oneself with a certain degree of patience in international diplomacy”. This patience obviously did not extend to allowing the UN weapon inspectors to finish their work in Iraq in 2003.
While Tony Blair during his “testimony” for the Chilcot Inquiry on Friday was only willing to say that he was sorry his decisions over Iraq had proved divisive, Fogh is not even willing to admit that his actions were divisive.
The authors conclude that Fogh “did achieve his goals for Denmark. Particularly because he moved both the goals and himself. And at the same time even made it look like he and the goals were written in stone. Fogh was a deeply pragmatic prime minister. A prime minister who knew what he wanted, but was content with what he got”.
This book will certainly not be the last word on the decisive and divisive premiership of Anders Fogh Rasmussen and with the passing of time we will probably learn more about what went on behind the scenes than Mylenberg and Steensbeck have been able to find out so far. Until then this is an interesting and insightful contribution. The book would in my opinion have benefited from a more chronological approach – as it is it begins with the process leading to Fogh’s NATO appointment in which his handling of the Mohamed caricature crisis and the Iraq war played significant parts, but those events are only dealt with towards the end of the book. Several of the chapters also begin in media res before going back and telling the story from beginning to end, thereby becoming somewhat repetitive.