Sweden’s ‘normal’ king celebrates 50 years on throne


Portraits of Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, who celebrates his 50th jubilee on Friday, plaster the walls of ardent royalist Kenth Lundqvist’s apartment, adorning plates, posters and medallions.

“My interest in royalty began when I was around six years old when the king and queen got married… I sat in front of the telly, I was amazed,” recalled the 44-year-old organist, who lives in the small central town of Timra.

Sweden celebrates the golden jubilee from September 13 to 16, feting a monarch who has earned the respect of his subjects over the years.

One of the Royalist Association’s several thousand members, Lundqvist expects a large crowd to cheer on a royal cortege through Stockholm’s city centre on Saturday, in a country normally known for its reserve.

The king and his wife Queen Silvia will wave to crowds from a horse-drawn carriage, escorted by 3,000 troops from the army, air force and navy.

“He represents continuity, traditions and Christian values,” said Lundqvist.

“To be able to be around 500,000 people and celebrate him, it’s a huge feeling,” he said.

The king’s role has been purely ceremonial since 1974.

“He’s not a man of power, he’s a symbol of unity for the country,” royal expert Roger Lundgren told AFP.

Royalty notwithstanding, the king’s apparent normalness — he sent his children to public schools, and let them go out and buy sweets in local shops — endeared him to Swedes, said Lundgren.

“He is quite shy. He doesn’t love the limelight, he has been given the limelight by birthright but he doesn’t seek it out,” he said.

“He is sort of like the rest of us. We are not a passionate people, we’re kind of mellow. And the king is as well.”

– Quiet influence –

Despite his lack of power, Carl XVI Gustaf, 77, knows how to use his influence, as recently demonstrated when controversy erupted over the Nobel Foundation’s decision to invite Russia’s ambassador to the glitzy Nobel Prize banquet in December.

The king, who hands out the prizes every year, said he may not attend as a result, and the foundation hastily rescinded Russia’s invitation.

A poll this month in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter said 62 percent of Swedes were in favour of the monarchy, a level that has remained stable over two decades.

Yet the king’s personality and personal life could have made him a more controversial figure.

His father died in a plane crash when Carl Gustaf was nine months old, and he succeeded his grandfather as king in 1973 at the age of 27, recalled Lundgren.

In his early years as king, he was known as a playboy with a love of fast cars, with photos of the sunseeking bare-chested royal splashed across celebrity magazines.

– ‘Different attitude’ to scandals –

In 2010, a book about his personal life detailed alleged love affairs, claims he never denied outright.

He told the nation he and his family were “turning the page” on his past, and Swedes followed suit.

“In Britain you can see this obsession in the public and the media about everything that happens in Buckingham Palace,” said Anders Lindberg, political chief editor at daily Aftonbladet.

But in Sweden, there’s “a very different attitude.

“You have all the scandals, you have all the sleaze that you could have discussed, but you don’t really do it,” he said.

“People don’t really like when you discuss these kinds of things.”

Upon taking the throne, the king was quick to adapt the monarchy to the changing times.

“It was a very special time in Europe during the early 1970s,” said Lundgren, the author of a recent biography of the monarch.

“He had to be modern, and his official motto has been ‘For Sweden — With the Times’, so he’s always wanted to develop the monarchy with the rest of society.”

Opponents insist it is time to say goodbye to the monarchy.

Niclas Malmberg, the head of Sweden’s Republican Association, which counts 7,500 members, has written to the king asking him to use the jubilee to declare Sweden a republic.

Sweden could “have a big party, where he celebrates democracy, Sweden becoming a fully democratic country,” he suggested.

But most Swedes don’t seem to share his beliefs.

The king’s heir, Crown Princess Victoria, 46, is immensely popular, with a recent poll in Dagens Nyheter suggesting a majority want her father to abdicate so she can take over. — Agence France-Presse