Monarchy debate resumed
Are royals still relevant in a modern Norway?
M. Michael Brady
As set forth in the Norwegian Constitution, signed May 17, 1814, the official name of the country is Kongeriket Norge (“The Kingdom of Norway”). Evidence of that abounds. In Oslo, the main street is named Karl Johansgate, after King Karl III Johan of Sweden and Norway, for whom Det kongelig slott (“The Royal Palace”), originally was built. After the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905, by a decision of the Storting approved by 78.9% of the voters in a referendum, Norway continued to be a kingdom, with Prince Carl of Denmark ascending the throne as King Haakon VII. That heritage stands strong. Monarchy is an integral part of contemporary Norwegian culture.
Yet from time to time, thoughts of Norway as a republic, in the modern sense that excludes a monarch, have been voiced and debated. In 1821, the Storting settled on a flag design in the Nordic cross with the red, white, and blue tricolors of two republics declared in the 18th century, the USA and France, but took the idea no further than the symbolism of the flag. In 1919, Nordic neighbor Finland successfully became a republic in the aftermath of the Russian revolution. So in the broad sense of today, in Scandinavia there are two republics, Finland and Iceland, and three monarchies, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
In 2015, the Norwegian monarchy again is on the agenda of debate, perhaps as an after-effect of the euphoria of the celebrations of the 2014 bicentennial. On October 11, Knut Olav Åmås, the director of the Fritt Ord Foundation (devoted to furthering freedom of expression) published an essay that put forth four reasons for retaining the monarchy.
1. The Royal House attends well to its tasks. It functions. So most people want to keep it.
2. The Royal House has been modernized, but remains a tradition-bound institution. The many of us who value that historical and traditional link would find life without it sterile, technocratic, and less tolerable.
3. Heritage and its trappings are in fact sustaining forces, basic in our society.
4. Dispensing with the monarchy will not significantly affect democracy.
Just four days later, Aftenposten published an interview of Venstre (“Liberal party”) parliamentarian Sveinung Rotevatn, who favors a republic. Though he admits that Åmås’s four reasons for retaining the monarchy may have the broad support of the general public, Rotevatn firmly maintains that “Positions and privileges should not be hereditary in a democracy.” He supports that view with a story of a hypothetical happening: “Let’s say that the Royal House renounced their positions for some reason—because they didn’t attend to their jobs or because they just wanted to quit. It seems doubtful that the Storting then would appoint a new monarch.”
Despite the broad public support of the monarchy, Rotevatn believes that debate on the Royal House purposefully has resumed, in part because the monarchy has become an anachronism that Norway will abandon at some future time.
Kjetil B. Alstadheim, the political editor of Dagens Næringsliv (“Today’s Business”), Norway’s fourth-largest newspaper, agrees. He holds that the key argument against a monarchy is that it is an unsuitable form of government for a modern democracy. He has comprehensively documented his views of Norway as a future republic in a book published this May, Republikken Norge (The Republic of Norway), Oslo, Aschehoug Forlag, 256 page hardcover, ISBN 9788203294457.
Which of the views will prevail remains to be seen. Fritt Ord Foundation Director Åmås speaks for traditionalist trends, still strong in Norway. Parliamentarian Rotevatn, the leader of Young Venstre, takes the part of the outsider, as he has done in suggesting that Norway ease its rules on dual citizenship (reported in this newspaper September 4, 2015, link: www.norwegianamerican.com/news/norway-could-consider-dual-citizenship/).
Political editor Alstadheim plays the part of the Devil’s Advocate in asking what may be the central question: “Should Norway choose a form of government today, would it bring in an unemployed price or princess from another country, as it did in 1905? Most likely not. The King would be edited out of the Constitution, and we would get the Republic of Norway. But what would it look like?”
“Et monarki å miste” (A Monarchy to lose) by Knut Olav Åmas, Aftenposten, Sunday October 11, 2015, online at: www.aftenposten.no/meninger/kommentarer/Et-monarki-a-miste–Knut-Olav-Amas-8197267.html
“Posisjoner og privilegier skal ikke gå i arv i et demokrati. Punktum.” (Positions and privileges should not be hereditary in a democracy. Period.) by Steffen Pederesen Øberg, Aftenposten, Thursday October 15, 2015, online at: www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/Rotevatn-V—Posisjoner-og-privilegier-skal-ikke-ga-i-arv-i-et-demokrati-Punktum-8201533.html
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 30, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.