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ROYALTY

A Svensson in the palace? Pass the smelling salts

The engagement of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling has underlined, rather surprisingly, that Sweden is still a society that divides along class lines.

A Svensson in the palace? Pass the smelling salts

A royal wedding is the perfect chance, you would think, for royalists to drag out the bunting and warm up for a bit of patriotic ceremonial. But the idea of the princess marrying a middle-class gym owner from northern Sweden has had both über-conservative royalists and metropolitan liberals reaching for the smelling salts.

Dick Erixon, a leading centre-right commentator, argued on his blog that “for a Svensson family to sit on the throne breaks the principles of the monarchy.” He declared that the princess’s decision to marry a man of the people had put him off the royals.

This is an argument articulated surprisingly often in modern Sweden. Presumably Erixon thinks Victoria should enter into an arranged match with some rubicund German princeling with an oversized adam’s apple.

Erixon seems to forget that Sweden’s royal family has always admitted commoners – including the current queen. Was Victoria trying to remind us of this by giving her post-engagement audience under a portrait of Jean-Baptise Bernadotte, the founder of the current dynasty and a provincial lawyer’s son from France?

But Erixon’s problem with Westling is that he is one of that dreaded breed – a Svensson. With a foreigner you can ignore a regional accent; with a Swede, the ordinariness (shudder) is more apparent.

Erixon’s view, while by no means unique, is perhaps somewhat eccentric. But he wasn’t the only one having a dig at the royal engagement.

Indeed, the most common reaction from newspaper leading articles was one of opportunistic snarkiness: ‘a step towards a republic’, said Dagens Nyheter, with more than a touch of wishful thinking. Aftonbladet’s leader pages also managed to craft a call for a republic from the news of the engagement. Sydsvenskan, Skånska Dagbladet and Uppsala Nya Tidning made similar noises.

A majority in the Riksdag would agree with them, according to the most recent survey on the matter, which found that most members supported a republic.

These views are in stark contrast to those of most Swedes. The general population appears to think that Victoria’s betrothal to the future Prince Daniel is a good thing, at least if you believe the polls. They also strongly support the monarchy.

So politicians and the media are almost entirely at odds with their voters and readers. A good chunk of the Swedish political class is holding its nose as the hoi-polloi enjoys a bit of royal romance. Erixon’s view might seem very different from that articulated by the media republicans, but it is founded in the same basic disdain for ordinary Swedes.

Svenssons (to use the slightly patronising term) are the backbone of Sweden – they’re the people who have built up the major Swedish industries and who man the country’s public services. They are also the people who vote in the politicians and buy the newspapers. That one of them is now joining the royal family should surely be a matter of national pride, not metropolitan disdain.

ROYALTY

‘Alone and bored’: A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain’s ex-king

A year after Spain's former King Juan Carlos went into self-imposed exile in the face of mounting questions over his finances, he remains under a cloud of suspicion that complicates his return home.

'Alone and bored': A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain's ex-king
Juan Carlos I's close ties with Gulf leaders have allowed him to live in opulent exile in Abu Dhabi for a year. Photo: KARIM SAHIB / AFP

He announced on August 3, 2020 he was moving abroad to prevent his personal affairs from undermining his son King Felipe VI’s reign and sullying the monarchy.

But his choice of new home — the United Arab Emirates, where some of his business affairs triggered the scandals that tainted his reputation in the first place — only raised Spaniards’ eyebrows further.

Juan Carlos has told his son that he would like to return to Spain “but he won’t come back without the approval” of the royal household, said Jose Apezarena, the author of several books on Felipe.

And the position of the royals is that “until his legal problems end, he should not return”, Apezarena told AFP.

The 83-year-old former king is the target of three separate investigations over his financial dealings, including those linked to a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia that was awarded to a Spanish consortium.

Prosecutors in Spain and Switzerland are looking into suspicions he received kickbacks for facilitating the deal.

The suspicions centre on $100 million (€85 million) that Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah allegedly deposited in 2008 into a Swiss bank account to which Juan Carlos had access.

The other two investigations concern the alleged existence of a trust fund in Jersey linked to Juan Carlos and the undeclared use of credit cards linked to accounts not registered in his name, a possible money-laundering offence.

‘Very bored’

Spanish monarchs have immunity during their reign but Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 following a series of health problems and embarrassing revelations about his personal life, leaving himself vulnerable to prosecution.

While he has not been charged with any crime, the probes have tainted his reputation as a leader of Spain’s democratic transition following the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Outside of the Royal Palace in central Madrid, opinions were divided.

“He is being judged without any evidence, he should be able to come home if that’s what he wants,” said Pura Fernandez, 46, a bank worker.

But delivery rider Angel Galan, 27, was less sympathetic.

“He may have done some great things for Spain but if he committed irregularities I am not sad that he is gone,” he said.

While in exile, Juan Carlos has twice settled tax debts with Spanish authorities for a total of more than €5 million.

But he has otherwise kept a low profile at the villa on the island of Nurai off the coast of Abu Dhabi where he now lives.

“He is alone and very bored,” said Apezarena.

Photo: KARIM SAHIB / AFP

‘Not normal’

When reports emerged in February that Juan Carlos was in poor heath, the former monarch told online Spanish daily OKDiario he was “well, exercising two hours daily” in his only comments to the media since moving abroad.

Abel Hernández, a journalist and expert on the monarchy, said he believes Juan Carlos will return to Spain by the end of the year.

“He has not been charged with anything and has regularised his situation with the tax office. It does not seem normal that he remains outside of the country,” Hernández told AFP.

The scandals swirling around Juan Carlos have provided ammunition for those wanting to abolish the monarchy.

The far-left party Podemos, which is the junior partner in Spain’s coalition government, has called for a parliamentary investigation into Juan Carlos’s wealth.

Felipe, meanwhile, has sought to distance himself from his father.

Last year the king renounced his inheritance from Juan Carlos, and stripped the ex-monarch of his palace allowance after new details of his allegedly shady dealings emerged.

Polls show support for the monarchy has inched up since Juan Carlos moved abroad although a survey published Sunday in conservative daily La Razon found 42.9 percent of Spaniards feel Juan Carlos’s legal woes were hurting Felipe’s reign.

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