STOCKHOLM (AP) — It will be a royal moment of glory set against the bleak backdrop of Europe’s financial crisis.
The June 19 wedding in Stockholm Cathedral between Crown Princess Victoria and her personal trainer, Daniel Westling, has triggered debate about why an otherwise egalitarian country like Sweden retains such an archaic —and expensive — institution.
Like in neighboring monarchies Norway and Denmark, the Swedish royals’ responsibilities are purely ceremonial, but they still enjoy privileged lives compared to ordinary people, a disparity that has become increasingly evident during preparations for the wedding.
Many here are questioning the 20 million kronor ($2.5 million) price tag of the wedding — half of which will be footed by taxpayers — at a time when ordinary citizens are being asked to endure a new age of austerity.
The royal court defends the lavish outlays, saying the wedding will generate large returns from tourism and souvenir sales.
But anti-royal rumbles are on the rise.
Since Princess Victoria, 32, and Mr. Westling, 36, announced their engagement a year ago, membership in the Swedish Republican Association has doubled to 6,000, and more than 56,000 people have joined a Facebook group calling for a refusal to pay for the wedding.
While newspapers and TV shows have speculated on wedding dresses and royal etiquette, columnists have started debating the monarchy.
In the capital, Stockholm, a group of poets turned down a request to compose love poems for the wedding celebrations and wrote anti-royal poems instead.
“The royal family is a guarantor of the class society, and that is the decisive argument against the monarchy,” one of the poets, Thomas Tidholm, said.
“I actually think this wedding can be counterproductive,” he told the Associated Press after reading his poem in a Stockholm bar. “It will go on for so long that people will get really fed up.”
According to the royal court, half of the wedding’s cost will be paid by Princess Victoria’s father, King Carl XVI Gustaf, and the other half by the government. The Swedish state also is expected to spend tens of millions of kronors on cathedral renovations, security and hosting international media.
The latest statistics indicate that Swedes, like their Norwegian neighbors, have started questioning the monarchy, while support for the royals in Denmark remains high.
According to a poll in April by the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg, 56 percent of Swedes want to retain the monarchy — a drop from 68 percent in 2003. The poll of 1,800 people had a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.
In Norway, support has dropped to about 60 percent in recent years, from a steady level of 80 percent during most of the postwar era, while in Denmark support for the monarchy has stayed steady at about 80 percent.
“People have woken up and are saying that this cannot be right, that in the 21st century we still haven’t come further with equality,” said Peter Althin, chairman of the Swedish Republican Association.
Mr. Althin and other skeptics mainly oppose retaining a public office that is inherited, but are also critical of outdated laws stipulating that the royals have to be Christian and need the state’s approval to get married.
Leif Jannerfjard, a 70-year-old retiree in Stockholm, said the royals are good at representing Sweden abroad.
“I don’t have a problem with it. I think they should stay,” Mr. Jannerfjard said. “Even though it costs a bit, I think they are doing a good job.”
Most Swedes are also pleased to see Princess Victoria marrying a man of the people, although some say it might destroy the fairy-tale image the monarchy needs to survive.
Mr. Westling, who ran his own gym business in Stockholm before the engagement, grew up in an ordinary middle-class family in the rural village of Ockelbo in central Sweden. His mother worked as a clerk at the Swedish post office, and his father was manager at a municipal social services center.
Herman Lindqvist, a journalist and historian who watches the royals, says a lack of scandals and the monarchy’s ability to adapt to changing times have been crucial for its survival.
Mr. Lindqvist, himself an outspoken royalist, says he believes Princess Victoria’s marriage to a commoner will help preserve the monarchy’s popularity.
“It is the best thing that could have happened … because it popularizes the whole thing,” Mr. Lindqvist said, adding he doesn’t find it strange that a country such as Sweden has a monarchy.
“The three most democratic countries in Europe, the most egalitarian, are Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and all of them are monarchies,” Mr. Lindqvist says. “That shows it works perfectly and that even the most modern of democracies can have monarchies.”
The monarchy tradition in Sweden dates back more than a thousand years. The current Bernadotte family, with 64-year-old King Carl XVI Gustaf at the helm, originates from 1810, when French Marshall Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was elected successor to the Swedish throne by Parliament.
The monarchy’s greatest challenge in recent times was in the 1970s when lawmakers stripped King Gustaf VI Adolf of his last remaining powers in a compromise between royalists and republicans.
Then it was the typical Swedish desire to find consensus that saved the monarchy, and during the past 40 years there has been no real political will to bring up the issue again.
All four parties in the ruling center-right coalition government support the constitution. And although the opposition wants to abolish the monarchy in theory, it has not actively pursued change because it knows that a majority of Swedes support the royalty.
Political scientist Cecilia Ase said parties have been afraid to bring up the issue.
“They have maintained a kind of idea that the monarchy is not a political problem,” she said, adding that the monarchy helps strengthen national identity and that many Swedes can relate to the royals.
“I think you can see that quite clearly now with the crown princess’ wedding, people want the best for her,” she says.
Still, Mr. Althin believes that the royal wedding has helped his organization spread its message and that a majority of Swedes soon could favor a republic if support for the royals continues to drop at the same pace as in the past 10 years.
“I think it can happen much faster than you think — in the same way as when the old Soviet Union collapsed,” he said.
Associated Press writers Jan Olsen in Copenhagen and Ian MacDougall in Oslo contributed to this report.
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