Thursday, 30 April 2009

Notable architects: Carl Ludvig Engel (1778-1840)








Carl Ludvig Engel is best remembered as the creator of Helsinki’s beautiful neoclassical centre. His empire architecture has often been considered a branch of Prussian neoclassicism, but, as the late art historian Nils Erik Wickberg stressed, there is also a significant Russian influence. Engel visited St Petersburg in 1813 and in 1815-1816.
Engel was born and educated in Berlin, but following Prussia’s defeat by Napoléon in 1805/1806 prospects in his native country seemed bleak. Engel therefore went eastwards to try his luck in Tallinn, where he became town architect. A few years later he received some commissions in Turku, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland.
In 1812 Emperor Alexander I moved the Grand Duchy’s capital to Helsinki, which had been the victim of a great fire a few years before. In 1814 Engel came into contact with Johan Albrecht Ehrenström, the chairman of the Commission for the Rebuilding of Helsinki, who soon asked Engel to come and use his skills in Helsinki.
Engel arrived in 1816 and stayed until his death in 1840, although he sometimes contemplated going back to Prussia. Ehrenström had planned the new capital; Engel came to build it. He wrote to a friend back in Prussia: “My dearest wish seems to be granted; I get an almost unlimited field on which to use my gifts, something which only a few architects are granted, and I can count myself among those happy, as the luck to build an entire town is something very unusual”.
The first picture shows an evening view of Senate Square, which became the focal point of the new city. At its eastern end is the Senate House (1818-1822), which is still the seat of the Finnish government; at the corner is the Bock House which Engel rebuilt as the residence of the Governor General (1817-1819).
Towering over the Square is the Cathedral (1830-1852), seen in the second picture, which was not completed until after Engel’s death and then altered in a way he would not have approved of.
At the west end of the Senate Square, as a pendant to the Senate House, is the University House (1828-1832), seen in the third picture. In the fourth photo is the Union Street; the University House can be seen on the left, followed by the National Library of Finland (1836-1844) and the buildings of the former Cantonist School (1823-1825), which are now used by the University.
In the fifth picture is the former Society House (1831-1833), now the City Hall. The sixth photo shows the Naval Barracks (1817-1820, last parts built 1986-1989) at Katajanokka (Skatudden in Swedish) which is now the offices of the Foreign Ministry.
The seventh photo is the Othodox church of St Alexandra the Martyr in Turku (Åbo) (1838-1846) and finally a former noble mansion in Tallinn (1809-1814), which is now the office of the Chancellor of Justice.
Among Engel’s many other buildings in Helsinki are the Guards Barracks (1820-1822, now the Ministry of Defence), the Astronomical Observatory (1831-1833), the Old Church (1825-1826) and the Orthodox Church of Holy Trinity (1825-1826).

Four killed in attack directed at Queen Beatrix

During the celebrations of the Dutch national holiday, Queen's Day, in Apeldoorn today four people were killed when a 38-year-old man drove his car at great speed towards an open-top bus carrying Queen Beatrix and members of her family. The car narrowly missed the royal bus and crashed into a monument to Queen Wilhelmina, killing four and injuring thirteen. A Dutch public prosecutor later said it was a deliberate attack directed at the Queen.
Queen's Day is celebrated annually on the anniversary of the birth of the late Queen Juliana. Queen Juliana, the present Queen's mother, would have turned 100 today.

A video of the attack:

http://www.vgtv.no/?id=22245

Articles on the attack in The Guardian and The Times:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/30/queen-beatrix-car-deaths

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article6200367.ece

Historian reveals that Skaugum was not a gift

In yesterday's Budstikka the historian Dag T. Hoelseth revealed that the Skaugum estate, since 1929 the home of the heir to the Norwegian throne, was after all not a gift to the then Crown Prince Olav, as has been commonly believed until now, but that King Haakon had to pay for it.
It was the diplomat and self-styled Baron Fritz Wedel Jarlsberg who in connection with Crown Prince Olav's and Crown Princess Märtha's wedding in March 1929 contacted the royal family and offered them his estate Skaugum in Asker as a home for the Crown Prince and Crown Princess. The offer was gladly accepted by the royals, particularly after the plans to rebuild Oscarshall Palace had been scrapped.
Hoelseth reveals that Wedel in August 1929 demanded that King Haakon should pay for the "gift". The King paid 120,00 kroner, which is roughly the equivalent of 3,500,000 NOK today.
King Haakon's biographer Tor Bomann-Larsen says he has come across the same information in his work on the fifth volume of his biography, which is expected to be published in 2011.

http://www.budstikka.no/sec_nyheter/article240271.ece

On this date: The 63rd birthday of the King of Sweden

Today is the 63rd birthday of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. When he was born at Haga Palace on 30 April 1946 it came as a great joy and relief to his parents, Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Sibylla – they already had four daughters, but at the time only princes could inherit the throne and therefore the Bernadotte dynasty’s future had for a time seemed threatened. Tragically Prince Gustaf Adolf was killed in a plane crash less than nine months after the birth of his son.
The prince was given the names Carl Gustaf Folke Hubertus and the title Duke of Jämtland. YouTube has an interesting video from his christening in the Palace Church on 7 June 1946. The godparents were his great-grandfather King Gustaf V; his grandfather Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf; Crown Prince Olav of Norway; Princess Juliana of the Netherlands (who would herself have celebrated her 100th birthday today); Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark; Crown Princess Ingrid of Denmark; his maternal grandfather Duke Carl Eduard of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; Count Folke Bernadotte af Wisborg; and Countess Maria Bernadotte af Wisborg.
A famous photo was taken after the christening, showing Prince Carl Gustaf with his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather. King Gustaf V had himself been held over the font by his great-grandmother, the Dowager Queen Desideria, when he was baptised in 1858. Desideria was the widow of the founder of the Bernadotte dynasty and by having known her as well as the present King of Sweden Gustaf V came to span seven generations of Bernadottes.
YouTube has a video from the christening:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lntgZAJuNbk

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Canadian State Visit to Norway



The Governor General of Canada, Michaëlle Jean, and her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond today began their three-day state visit to Norway. They were received by the King and Queen and the Crown Prince and Crown Princess at a welcoming ceremony in the Palace Square, followed by a wreath-laying ceremonies at the National Monument and Canadian war graves at the Western Cemetery as well as visits to the Parliament and the Prime Minister. Later tonight there will be a state banquet at the Royal Palace.
After two days in Oslo the Canadian guests will spend the final day visiting Tromsø. It is the second Canadian state visit to Norway ever and comes seven years after King Harald and Queen Sonja visited Canada.
In the autumn the King and Queen are expected to pay a state visit to South Africa’s new President Jacob Zuma, eleven years after they visited President Nelson Mandela.
There have been rumours in Norwegian media that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France will pay a state visit to Norway this year. He accepted an invitation from King Harald when meeting with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Paris in May last year, but normally a longer period of preparation is necessary before a state visit can take place. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands is also expected to pay a state visit to Norway in a not too distant future.

The complete schedule for the Canadian state visit can be found at the Governor General's website:

http://www.gg.ca/gg/sv/norway2009_e.asp

Michaëlle Jean also writes about the state visit in her blog:

http://www.citizenvoices.gg.ca/en/blogs/rideau_hall/243

Monday, 27 April 2009

Book news: Marshal Bernadotte

On 8 September this year Albert Bonniers förlag will publish Jean Bernadotte - Mannen vi valde by the bestselling but sadly not always very reliable journalist Herman Lindqvist. While many biographers of King Carl XIV Johan have chosen to focus more on his early life than on his reign, Lindqvist's book will deal only with the 47 years before Bernadotte was elected Crown Prince of Sweden in 1810.
Some information on the publisher's website:

Left-wing election victory in Iceland

After seven decades of right-wing rule, the people of Iceland have voted in a left-wing majority government.
The conservative Independence Party, which has been in government for eighteen years, has been justly blamed for the collapse of Iceland's economy last year. Having allowed the banking sector to grow to ten times the size of the country's BNP, the state could not possibly save the banks when they collapsed, throwing Iceland into a deep financial crisis.
After widespread demonstrations Geir Haarde's conservative government resigned in January and was replaced by a left-wing minority government formed by the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement, led by interim Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir.
In this weekend's general election the Social Democratic Alliance won 28.8 % of the votes and 20 seats in Parliament, up by 2 from the previous election, and the Left-Green Movement 20.9 % and 14 seats (+5). The Independence Party received 22.9 % and 16 seats (-9). This gives the left-wing coalition a majority of 34 out of 63 seats in Parliament.
The election results also mean that there will be 43 % women in Parliament, which is a historic high for Iceland. Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir is also the country's first female Prime Minister, although Iceland had a female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, in the years 1980-1996.
Partipication in the election was 85 %.

Articles in Klassekampen and The Guardian:

http://www.klassekampen.no/55986/article/item/null

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/26/iceland-election/sigurdardottir

Sunday, 26 April 2009

ANC wins election, but looses majority

Final results from South Africa's general election show that the ANC received 65.9 % of the votes. This is nevertheless the party's weakest result in elections after the end of apartheid fifteen years ago. It means that the ANC looses its 2/3 majority in Parliament, which it has held since 2004 and which gave the party the possibility to change the constitution without support of other parties. The result also means that the ANC's controversial presidential candidate, Jacob Zuma, will be elected President of South Africa when Parliament convenes. The turnout for the election was 77 %. More in The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/25/south-africa-elections-anc-zuma

Friday, 24 April 2009

New books: Biographies of Russian rulers


Yet another biography of the Empress Ekaterina II (called “the Great”) of Russia was published in Britain last month. Simon Dixon, who is professor of Russian history at University College London, is the author of Catherine the Great, which is published by Profile Books. The book focuses more on court culture, art and philosophy than on politics (the coup which brought Ekaterina II to power and ended in the murder of her husband is for example dealt with only briefly and in passing) and I was left with the impression that the author generally stays on the surface and rarely delves more deeply into things.

http://www.profilebooks.com/title.php?titleissue_id=565

Another of the Romanov dynasty’s most remarkable rulers, Pyotr I, was also the subject of a British biography published last month. Peter the Great is written by Derek Wilson and published by Hutchinson.

New books: One royal engagement and one many hope for

Hardly a month had passed since the engagement of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Daniel Westling was announced before Jenny Alexandersson, for some years a royal reporter at the leading Swedish weekly Svensk Damtidning, was ready with her book on the engagement. Förlovningen 2009 is published by Schibsted Förlag in cooperation with Svensk Damtidning. It is a rather typical commemorative book which includes some background information on the couple, the story of their relationship, something on earlier royal weddings and engagements, something on the weddings of their various friends – and a lot of pictures.

http://www.schibstedforlag.se/Shop/Article/View/?articleId=1043

For a long time now the press has also been eagerly speculating about a possible engagement between Prince William of Britain and his girlfriend Kate Middleton. Meanwhile Mainstream Publishing in Edinburgh in early April released Kate: Kate Middleton: Princess-in-Waiting, a book by the journalist Claudia Joseph which seems to deal almost as much with Kate Middleton’s family history as with herself.

http://www.rbooks.co.uk/product.aspx?id=1845964209

The historian A. N. Wilson was not much impressed in his review in The Guardian on 12 April:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/apr/12/kate-middleton-book-review

Claudia Joseph herself had an article on Kate Middleton’s family history in The Mail on Sunday on 23 March:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1163716/Revealed-Secrets-Middletons-money-Kates-ancestors-fortune.html

Even though she is not yet even engaged to Prince William and no-one can know for sure that she ever will be, this is actually the second book on Kate Middleton. The first, William’s Princess: The Love Story that will Change the Royal Family Forever by Robert Jobson, was published back in 2006.

The interior of Haga Palace

Today's Aftonbladet has an interesting graphic presentation of the interior of Haga Palace, the current state guest house and future residence of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling:

http://gfx.aftonbladet-cdn.se/multimedia/archive/00911/hagaslott_911676w.jpg

Aftonbladet also has a short interview with Princess Birgitta, who herself grew up at Haga:

http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/victoriagiftersig/article4981113.ab

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling to live at Haga Palace


It has been announced that Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and her fiancé Daniel Westling after their wedding will live at Haga Palace in the Haga Park in Solna, just outside the city of Stockholm.
Since 1966 the rather small palace has been at the disposal of the Swedish government, which has used it for meetings and conferences and as a guest house for prominent foreign visitors. It was Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt who made it known at a press meeting earlier today that the government had now decided to return the right of disposal to the royal family, an offer the court had gladly accepted.
The neoclassical Haga Palace was built 1802-1805 by the architect Carl Christoffer Gjörwell on the orders of King Gustaf IV Adolf. Just across the road is Gustaf III’s Pavilion, which had been built by Olof Tempelman for King Gustaf III in 1787-1790, and behind is the ruins of the huge Haga Palace, a Swedish Versailles designed by Louis-Jean Desprez which was being built for Gustaf III. However, the building of this large palace was stopped when Gustaf III was assassinated in 1792. His son, Gustaf IV Adolf, soon found his father’s pavilion too small to accommodate his growing family and therefore ordered a new building from Gjörwell.
Following Gustaf IV Adolf’s deposal in 1809 Haga Palace was put at the disposal of his aunt Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta, the new queen, and it became known as the Queen’s Pavilion. As crown prince the future Oscar I sometimes stayed there with his family, while his daughter-in-law, Princess Teresia, the widow of Prince August, had her permanent home there until her death in 1914. The next inhabitant was Prince Erik, the mentally handicapped youngest son of King Gustaf V. Prince Erik died in the autumn of 1918 and Haga Palace was thereafter briefly opened up to children who had lost their homes as a result of World War I.
The next – and most famous – royal inhabitants were Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Sibylla, the present King’s parents, who moved in following their marriage in 1932. At Haga they raised their four daughters, Princesses Margaretha, Birgitta, Désirée and Christina, thereafter forever known as “the Haga princesses”. In 1946 the family was completed by the birth of Prince Carl Gustaf, but only nine months later Prince Gustaf Adolf was killed in a plane accident.
A few years later Haga Palace was badly in need of repairs and in 1950 the widowed Princess Sibylla and her children temporarily moved to the Royal Palace in Stockholm. They soon found that they liked their new life in the city and chose to remain at the Royal Palace when the renovation of Haga was completed. As a result of this King Gustaf VI Adolf decided to renounce his royal right of disposal in favour of the government.
The pictures show Haga Palace in early March this year.

The royal court's press release:

http://www.kungahuset.se/ovrigt/pressrum/hovetmeddelar/aretsarkivhovetmeddelar/kronprinsessanochdanielwestlingkommerattbopahagaslott.5.6b0698e911fa8f90058800010932.html

The government's press release:

http://www.regeringen.se/sb/d/11817/a/125035

Articles in Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet:

http://www.dn.se/nyheter/sverige/kronprinsessan-flyttar-in-pa-haga-1.850599

http://www.svd.se/nyheter/inrikes/victoriaochdaniel/artikel_2784881.svd

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

What to see: The Parliament Building, Helsinki







The Parliament of Finland was established in 1906, eleven years before the country achieved independence from Russia, and replaced the four estates which had made up the country’s Diet. This necessitated a new building, as neither the House of the Estates or the House of Nobility, where the Diet had met, was big enough to accommodate a unicameral parliament.
Eliel Saarinen, one of Finland’s most famous architects, won the initial competition for the design of a parliament building, but his project was never carried out. A second competition in 1924 resulted in the current Parliament Building, designed by the architect Johan Sigfrid Sirén (1889-1961). The building process started in 1926 and the house was inaugurated on 7 March 1931.
Sirén’s Parliament Building is one of the most prominent examples of the “retroclassicism” which was popular in the Nordic countries in the 1920s and 1930s. The main façade, built of reddish granite, is entirely dominated by fourteen slim Corinthian columns, while the mostly classicist interiors also have touches of art deco and functionalism.
The Session Hall, where Parliament meets, lies at the centre of the building. The circular room has seats for the 200 MPs and is topped by a yellow dome with an oculus, supported by tall Corinthian columns. The Session Hall runs through three floors and has public galleries on two levels. Behind the Speaker’s seat is Wäinö Aaltonen’s five sculptures “The Pioneer”, “The Toil of Thought”, “The Future”, “Faith” and “The Harvester”.
Besides the Session Hall the most imposing room in the Parliament Building is the Hall of State, with floors and window recesses made of Swedish and Italian marble. In the hall there are busts of five Speakers of Parliament who went on to become Presidents of Finland.
Like most national assemblies the Finnish Parliament has needed more space with the years and has been extended in 1978 and 2004. Today there are six buildings which all in all cover some 56 000 square metres.
The pictures show the Parliament Building’s main façade to Mannerheim Street; the façades’ colonnade; the MPs’ seats and the public galleries in the Session Hall; the Hall of State; a detail of the columns and ceiling in the cafeteria; and the marble staircase.

Exhibition on Alexander I in Turku


This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Peace of Fredrikshamn in 1809 when Sweden lost Finland to Russia following the disastrous war of 1808-1809. To mark the anniversary the Castle in Finland’s former capital Turku (Åbo in Swedish) has an exhibition on Emperor Alexander I of Russia, who became Grand Duke of Finland in 1809.
The exhibition is called “Aleksanteri I – Hurmuri ja hallitsija” (“Alexander I – Charmör och kejsare” in Swedish) and lasts until 4 October this year. To accompany the exhibition there is a catalogue edited by Marita Söderström with texts in Finnish, Swedish and Russian.
The pictures show Turku Castle and a detail of one of many replicas of François Gérard’s portrait of Alexander I. This copy used to hang in the Supreme Court in Helsinki and is now in the National Museum of Finland.
(The National Museum of Finland’s grand exhibition on the events of 1809 closed last Sunday, but will open at the Royal Armoury in Stockholm in June.)
Some information on Turku Castle's website:

Falling support for Swedish monarchy

Yesterday an opinion poll about support for the Swedish monarchy was presented at a seminar hosted by the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg.
The poll showed that the percentage which is completely in favour of the monarchy has fallen from 52 % in 1995 to 42 % today. If one counts in those who are positive, but less certain, the monarchy enjoys the support of 63 % (down from 67 % in 1995).
The number of people who are absolutely in favour of a republic has nearly doubled since 1995 - up from 5 to 9 %. If less certain republicans are included, 17 % of the populace count as republicans, compared to 11 % fourteen years ago.
Swedish Television (SVT) has a short article on the poll:

http://svt.se/2.22620/1.1528225/motstandarna_till_monarkin_blir_fler?lid=puff_1528234&lpos=rubrik

Bush aides to be brought to justice?

Recently CIA documents released on the orders of President Barack Obama confirmed the widespread use of torture on prisoners of the Bush administration's so-called "war on terror". The files showed that some prisoners had been tortured up to nearly 200 times with the approval of George W. Bush's administration.
Banning the use of such interrogation methods was one of the very first acts of Barack Obama when assuming office in January, but his announcement a few days ago that CIA agents who had carried out the torture on orders from the Bush administration would not be prosecuted came as a disappointment to many human rights activists. This is in contradiction of the Nuremberg principles which say that each individual is responsible for his or her actions and cannot claim innocence by insisting that one just carried out orders.
During a White House press meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan yesterday, President Obama did however indicate that those persons in the Bush administration which authorised the use of torture, which includes former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, may risk being put on trial.
The perhaps most evil member of the Bush administration, former Vice President Dick Cheney, reacted to the President's remarks by shamelessly calling for the CIA to release documents which he claims show that torture works!
The use of torture is a grave crime against humanity. If the USA ever again shall be able to talk human rights with other nations they must prosecute those of their own citizens who carried out the torture and those who sanctioned it. Cheney should be prominent among those put on trial.
President Truman had a sign on his desk which read "The buck stops here". They are perhaps less willing to admit it, but ultimate responsibility for the crimes committed by the Bush administration rests with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
An article in The Washington Post on President Obama's remarks:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/21/AR2009042101692.html?hpid%3Dtopnews&sub=AR

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

What to see: Princess Charlotte Frederikke's tomb, the Vatican


While many know that the former Queen Christina of Sweden found her last resting place in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, few are aware that a princess who might have been queen of both Denmark and Norway rests in the Camposanto Teutonico next to St Peter’s.
Princess Charlotte Frederikke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1784-1840) was the first wife of the man who in 1814 briefly reigned as King Christian Frederik of Norway and later as King Christian VIII of Denmark in the years 1839-1848. Unlike many royal marriages of the time, theirs was obviously a love match. They married in 1805, had their only surviving child (the future Frederik VII) in 1808 and divorced in 1810 after it had been discovered that the Princess had an affair with her music teacher, Edouard du Pouy. That Prince Christian Frederik himself had a roving eye did not matter much at that time, when moral standards were very different for men and women. Apparently the couple only wanted a temporary separation, but a divorce was pushed through by King Frederik VI.
The Princess was banished to the small town of Horsens at a safe distance from Copenhagen. She met her ex-husband again when he returned from Norway in 1814, but no reconciliation was achieved.
In 1829 Princess Charlotte Frederikke moved to Rome, where she converted to Catholicism. She died in Rome on 13 July 1840, shortly after her ex-husband had ascended the throne of Denmark, and was laid to rest in the Germanic cemetery in the Vatican.
After her divorce she never again saw her son, who it would turn out had inherited perhaps too much from her both in looks and personality. When he became king in 1848, Frederik VII made sure that a suitable memorial was erected on his mother’s grave in the Vatican - it was executed by the sculptor Jens Adolf Jerichau in 1848-1849. 170 years after her death its upkeep remains the responsibility of the Danish Embassy in Rome.
The pictures show Princess Charlotte Frederikke’s tomb and a portrait of the young princess by F. C. Grøger, which hangs at Rosenborg Palace in Copenhagen.

Monday, 20 April 2009

What to see: The Presidential Palace, Helsinki



Facing Helsinki’s harbour is a string of notable buildings, many of them in the empire style. To the far right is the Presidential Palace, which was originally a private mansion, built by Pehr Granstedt (1746-1828) for the merchant Johan Henrik Heidenstrauch in 1816-1820. Granstedt was a fortifications officer-turned-amateur architect and his drawings were changed and corrected first by Giacomo Quarenghi and then by Carl Ludvig Engel.
At the same time an imperial palace was being planned in Helsinki, which was first meant to be situated where the Cathedral now is. Other options were also proposed, but in the end the state purchased Heidenstrauch's mansion in 1837 and turned it into an imperial palace, the official residence of the Emperor or Russia as Grand Duke of Finland.
The job of transforming the mansion into a palace worthy of the Emperor was given to Carl Ludvig Engel, who had already been the architect of most of Helsinki’s beautiful empire centre. Engel demolished the timber storehouses located at the back of the palace and replaced them with an entire new wing.
The work on the new imperial palace was completed in 1845, five years after Engel’s death. It was however only in 1851 that a member of the imperial family, namely the future Emperor Alexander II, came to stay at the Palace. As Emperor-Grand Duke he came to Helsinki three times (in 1856, 1863 and 1876) and stayed at the Palace every time. The last Emperor to stay at the palace was Alexander III, who came with his family in 1885. In 1915 his son, Nikolay II, made his only visit to Helsinki as Emperor, but chose to stay in his railway carriage rather than at his Finnish palace.
With the 1906 introduction of a unicameral parliament in stead of an assembly of the four estates a new throne room was needed and another wing was added at the back side in 1904-1907, designed by the architect Jac. Ahrenberg.
During the final years of the First World War the Palace served as a military hospital. After the fall of the monarchy it became briefly the seat of the executive committee of the Russian Soldiers' and Workers' Soviet, but it was damaged by German bombs in April 1918. Following the election of Prince Friedrich Karl of Hesse-Cassel as King of newly independent Finland the Palace was restored by the architect Gustaf Strengell and the interior designer Harry Röneholm in anticipation of the King's arrival.
In the end the King never came and it was decided that the Palace should be the official residence of the President of the Republic of Finland and some alterations to the building were carried out in 1919-1922. The last but one president actually to live in the Presidential Palace was Juho Kusti Paasikivi, who served as president 1946-1956. His successor, Urho Kekkonen, was disturbed by the heavy traffic outside the Palace and after half a year he chose to live at the villa Tamminiemi (Ekudden in Swedish), which had been donated to the state for the President’s use in 1940.
Kekkonen also had his office at Tamminiemi and only came to the Presidential Palace once a week to receive visitors. When Kekkonen resigned due to illness in 1982 he was allowed to stay at Tamminiemi for the rest of his life and his successor Mauno Koivisto therefore moved into a flat in the Palace while a new presidential villa was being built.
The current President, Tarja Halonen, and her husband live at this new villa, Mäntyniemi (Talludden), which was built between 1989 and 1993 by the architects Reima and Raili Pietilä. President Halonen does however have her office at the Palace, which is also where she hosts a grand gala reception on Independence Day (6 December) each year. Visiting heads of state will also appear with President Halonen on the Palace’s balcony, as when she received Russia’s President on a state visit earlier today.
The Palace’s grandest room is the Hall of Mirrors, a grand conception with Corinthian columns carrying a gallery which goes all the way around the hall. Guided tours of the Palace used to be arranged, but today it is no longer open to visitors. A virtual tour of the Palace is on the other hand available at the President's official website:

http://www.presidentti.fi/netcomm/news/ShowArticle.asp?intNWSAID=34190&LAN=FI

“One assembly less”


The latest issue of the weekly newspaper Morgenbladet has an article by Håkon Gundersen on the demise of the Lagting, one of the two divisions of Norway’s semi-bicameral parliamentary system which will cease to exist on 1 October this year.
Rather than introducing a bicameral system of the sort which is known from for example the United States, the Norwegian Constituent Assembly of 1814 opted for a rare system of semi-bicameralism, inspired by the constitution of the Batavian Republic, which already then had ceased to exist.
This means that the entire Norwegian Parliament has been elected at once every fourth year, but thereafter elects ¼ of its members to sit in the Lagting, while the remaining ¾ become members of the Odelsting. This separation is only in use when Parliament is dealing with bills and means that the Lagting acts as some sort of upper house which has the power to return the Odelsting’s decisions if not approved. If approved in the Lagting the bill becomes an Act of Parliament and thereafter it needs only the King’s sanction to become law.
For about a century the party balance has however been the same in the Lagting as in the Odelsting, which means that the outcome will be the same in both “chambers”. Today debates in the Lagting are rare and its sittings are generally over in minutes (or even less – the record is 27 seconds).
On 20 February 2007 Parliament passed an amendment to the Constitution which did away with the semi-bicameral system from the next general election, meaning that on 1 October 2009 a pure unicameral system will be introduced. The amendment was passed by 159 votes against 1 (Sverre Myrli, a Labour MP, voted against). It is probably no exaggeration to say that it was the most major amendment of the Constitution since 1814, but passed mostly unnoticed by the media at the time.
Morgenbladet’s article erroneously claims that there are only scheduled two more sittings of the Lagting – one on Tuesday next week and then the final one on 18 June. There will however also be sittings on 14 May, 4 June and 16 June.
The article can be found at the following link:

http://www.morgenbladet.no/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090417/OAKTUELT/294030542

The pictures show interiors of the Lagting Chamber in Oslo's Parliament Building.

Monday, 13 April 2009

What to see: The Throne Room, Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen


The oval Throne Room at Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen is often counted as the most successful of the architect Thorvald Jørgensen’s interiors. The Throne Room was also one of the last rooms in the palace to be finished.
The foundation stone of the third Christiansborg was laid in 1907, 23 years after the disastrous fire which destroyed the second Christiansborg. When the Palace was nearly finished King Christian X announced, to the fury of the Parliament’s powerful Finance Committee, that he would not be moving to Christiansborg after all, but rather stay at Amalienborg. The Finance Committee “punished” the King by withdrawing four of the Royal Apartment’s rooms from the King’s use. The Velvet Room at the other end of the Royal Apartments thereafter served as temporary throne room from 1924 to 1933. Eventually the four “confiscated” rooms were returned to the King’s use and the Throne Room could become what it was intended to be.
The oval-shaped room has silk wallpaper and curtains from Lyon, while the pillars’ green marble is of Norwegian origin. Around the room runs a copy of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Alexander frieze – the original, which was rescued from the second Christiansborg, is today in the Alexander Hall. The ceiling has a painting by Kræsten Iversen which shows the myth of how Dannebrog fell down from the sky during the Battle of Lyndanis in 1219.
The thrones are both designed by the architect Gustav Friedrich Hetsch and were also rescued from the fire in 1884. The King’s throne is on our left, the Queen’s on the right. The difference in height is explained by the fact that they did not originally stand together, but in separate throne rooms for the King and the Queen at the second Christiansborg.
The parquet floor has a straight line leading from the thrones to the door – a reminder of those days when people were expected not to turn their backs on the monarch and should thus leave the presence walking backwards.
Munich was one of the cities the architect Thorvald Jørgensen visited on his educational trip of Europe. A Bavarian influence can be traced in some of his work and the Throne Room at Christiansborg has something in common with the Queen’s Throne Room in the Munich Residence’s Königsbau.
The Throne Room is still used for receiving foreign ambassadors, but the Queen does not sit on the throne. It is from the balcony outside the Throne Room that a new monarch is proclaimed, after which the sovereign greets the people for the first time. In 1972 it was Prime Minister Jens Otto Krag who from the balcony shouted three times: “King Frederik IX is dead. Long live Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II!”

Sunday, 12 April 2009

On this date: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Less than a month before the Second World War in Europe ended, President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States suddenly died during a stay in Warm Springs, Georgia, on 12 April 1945.
The next day the newspapers’ list of casualties in the armed forces started with the entry: “Roosevelt, Franklin D., Commander-in-Chief […]”.
The statue of FRD which overlooks the harbour of Oslo was paid for by public subscription. It was done by Stinius Fredriksen and unveiled in 1950 by the President’s widow Eleanor in the presence of the Norwegian royal family. The President was a close friend of the Norwegian royal family, particularly Crown Princess Märtha, who, with her children, lived in exile in the USA during the war.
President Roosevelt’s friendship with another exiled royal, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, is highlighted in a recent documentary which is now available on DVD, Léif Lëtzebuerger… – Charlotte: A Royal at War, written and directed by Ray Tostevin.

Plans for British Diamond Jubilee in 2012

Today's Times has a short article about plans being made for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, which will be celebrated in the summer of 2012:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6078532.ece

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Book news: Biography of Frederik VI

On 20 September this year, Politikens Forlag will publish Frederik 6. - En biografi by Jens Engberg, retired professor of history at the University of Aarhus. It will be only the second biography of Frederik VI, following Jan Møller's book from 1998, which was not very thorough.
Frederik VI was the only son of the mad King Christian VII and the unfortunate Queen Caroline Mathilde. He was only 16 when he assumed power in a palace coup in 1784 but only became king upon the death of his father in 1808. After the British terror-bombing of Copenhagen in 1807 he aligned his country closely to France in the Napoleonic Wars. The results were catastrophic, culminating in the state bankruptcy and the loss of Norway. Frederik VI was very popular at the time of his death in 1839, but historians have been, and still are, divided in their opinions of him.
In recent years there has been a row of serious biographies of Danish monarchs. Marie Hvidt's biography of Frederik IV was published in 2004, followed by Jon Bloch Skipper on Frederik IX in 2005, Knud J. V. Jespersen on Christian X in 2007 and Ulrik Langen on Christian VII last year.
The picture shows a bust of Frederik VI by Bertel Thorvaldsen which can be seen in Thorvaldsen's Museum, Copenhagen.

Oscarshall Palace to reopen in August

Oscarshall Palace in Oslo, which has been closed for restoration work since 2005, will open to visitors again on 26 August this year. It had been hoped the work would be completed before the start of the summer season, but this was not possible. Therefore Oscarshall will only be open between 26 August and 30 September this year.
The neo-Gothic pleasure palace was built between 1847 and 1852 by the architect Johan Henrik Nebelong for King Oscar I and Queen Josephina of Sweden and Norway. Situated on the peninsula Bygdøy it can be easily reached by bus from the centre of Oslo in 10-15 minutes and now that modern facilities have been added Oscarshall will hopefully attract many visitors.
More on Oscarshall Palace at the Royal Court's website (in English):

http://www.kongehuset.no/c28590/artikkel/vis.html?tid=28704

In Aftenposten on 18 March Poul J. Neubert, who was earlier attached to the Royal Court's Department of Royal Properties, expressed concern over how the restoration has been carried out, particularly the use of materials and techniques:

http://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/debatt/article2984667.ece

His criticism was rejected as unfounded by Nils Marstein, Director General of the Directorate for Cultural Heritage:

http://www.fortidsminneforeningen.no/nyheter#a4540

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

President Obama on nuclear disarmament

...a word his predecessor could not even pronounce.
Barack Obama has returned to the USA after his first visit to Europe as president. After eight years of George W. Bush and his neocon administration many Europeans were reassured to hear an American president talk what sounded like reason.
In Prague President Obama delievered an excellent speech to a crowd of thousands. This was his first major address on foreign policy after his inauguration and he used it to pledge himself and his country to working for a world without nuclear weapons:
"Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st. And as a nuclear power - as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon - the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it.
So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. This goal will not be reached quickly - perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change".
The entire speech can be found at the website of the US embassy in Prague and is well worth reading:

http://prague.usembassy.gov/obama.html

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The Bernadotte bicentenary

In 2010 Sweden will celebrate not only the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling, but also the bicentenary of the Bernadotte dynasty. Although it did not actually come to the throne until 1818, it was at the meeting of the four estates in Örebro on 21 August 1810 that the French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, Prince of Pontecorvo, was elected Crown Prince of Sweden. When adopted by King Carl XIII in November, the Crown Prince changed his name to Carl Johan, and the new heir to the throne soon became the real ruler of Sweden. In 1818 he succeeded as King Carl XIV Johan.
An exhibition in Örebro is being planned for next year and possibly the Musée Bernadotte in Pau, located in the house where Bernadotte was born in 1763, will also mark the bicentenary with an exhibition. An exhibition on Carl Johan, Emperor Napoléon I of France and Emperor Alexander I of Russia is also being planned – it will be shown at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm and at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg next year.
The journalist Herman Lindqvist, the author of many bestselling but not very reliable history books, has announced that he is writing a biography of King Carl Johan. Lindqvist will give a lecture in connection with the book at the Royal Palace in Stockholm on 3 October this year.
The Polish-born, Emmy-winning documentary maker Gregor Nowinski is currently at work on a documentary series on the Bernadotte dynasty. It will consist of three hour-long episodes and be broadcast on TV4 next winter. Nowinski has earlier made the much-acclaimed documentary on the powerful, secretive Wallenberg family and this spring TV4 will air his new documentary on the publishing family Bonnier. Information on the Bernadotte documentary and an interview with Nowinski can be found at TV4’s website:

http://www.tv4.se/1.730275/2008/11/24/atten_bernadotte_portratteras_i_ny_dokumentarserie

http://nyhetskanalen.se/1.734962/2008/11/24/tv4_dokumentar_om_kungafamiljen


On a more scholarly level, the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation is funding an interdisciplinary research project called The Making of a Dynasty. Information about the project can be found at the following links:

http://www.nationalmuseum.se/sv/Forskning/Forskning-pa-Nationalmuseum/Pagaende-forskningsprojekt/En-dynasti-blir-till-Medier-myter-och-makt-kring-Karl-XIV-Johan/

http://www2.hist.uu.se/research/projekt.aspx?action=area&areaid=17

So far the project has published one book: Scripts of Kingship: Essays on Bernadotte and Dynastic Formation in an Age of Revolution (2008), edited by Mikael Alm and Britt-Inger Johansson, distributed by Swedish Science Press in Uppsala.

http://www.ssp.nu/nyheter/opuscula/scripts.htm

http://www.hist.uu.se/Forskning/Publikationer/Opuscula/H%C3%A4ften%C3%A5ren2001/Opuscula37/tabid/1780/language/sv-SE/Default.aspx

An article summarising the history of the Bernadotte dynasty was published by the magazine Populär Historia last year and can also be found online (in Swedish):

http://www.popularhistoria.se/o.o.i.s?id=54&vid=266

The picture above shows Brynjulf Bergslien's equestrian statue of King Carl XIV Johan outside the Royal Palace in Oslo.

At the end of the road: The seven Louises

Princess Luise of Prussia died on 23 March this year, aged 91. Many will remember her from the Danish documentary series A Royal Family (2003), where she was the oldest royal interviewed.
Her death marks the end of an era in two ways: The Princess was the last surviving member of the Prussian royal house to be born before the end of the German monarchies in 1918 and she was also the last in a line of seven generations of mothers and daughters who were all given variations of the name Louise.
The first was the legendary Queen Luise of Prussia (1776-1810, née Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), consort of King Friedrich Wilhelm III and best remembered as one of Napoléon I’s staunchest adversaries.
Her youngest daughter, Princess Luise of Prussia (1808-1870) married Prince Frederik of the Netherlands and their daughter Louise (1828-1871) became the consort of King Carl XV of Sweden and Norway. Their only daughter Louise (1851-1926) married King Frederik VIII of Denmark and was the mother of eight children.
The eldest daughter among them, Louise (1875-1906), married Prince Friedrich of Schaumburg-Lippe and showed some creativity in naming her eldest daughter Marie Louise (1897-1938). She married back into the Prussian royal house when she entered into matrimony with Prince Friedrich Sigismund of Prussia in 1916. Princess Luise (1917-2009) was their only daughter and had no daughter herself to carry on the Luise tradition.
Her Royal Highness Princess Luise Viktoria Margarete Antoinette Sieglinde Alexandrine Thyra Stephanie of Prussia was born in Berlin on 23 August 1917. In 1942 she married Hans Reinhold (1917-2002). They had one son, Manfred Reinhold, who was born in 1943, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1949 and the Princess never remarried.
In 1945 the Princess and her son had to flee westwards to escape the advancing Red Army. Eventually she was given an apartment at Bückeburg Castle, the ancestral seat of her mother’s family, where she lived for the rest of her life and where she died two weeks ago. Princess Luise’s last resting place will be in the park of Glienicke Palace on the outskirts of Berlin, which was the country house of her branch of the Prussian royal house from 1824 to 1918.

http://www.preussen.de/de/heute/aktuell/trauer_um_prinzessin_luise_von_pressen_%281917-2009%29.html

The picture shows a replica in Berlin’s Friedrichswerderkirche of Christian David Rauch’s statue of Queen Luise of Prussia on her tomb in the mausoleum in Charlottenburg Palace Park in Berlin.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Speculations about the Saudi succession

At the end of March King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia appointed one of his younger half-brothers, Prince Nayef, second deputy prime minister. As the King himself is prime minister and his younger brother, Crown Prince Sultan, is first deputy prime minister, this has been interpreted as a sign that Prince Nayef will be the next Crown Prince.
Their father, King Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud, was believed to have fathered 37 sons by 16 wives, and since his death in 1953 the throne of Saudi Arabia has passed from brother to brother among his sons. King Abdullah is the fifth son so far to sit on the throne, which he inherited on the death of King Fahd in 2005.
The King is now believed to be 84 years, while the Crown Prince is 82 and suffering from cancer. According to analysts this means that Prince Nayef, said to be born in 1933, could be King of Saudi Arabia sooner rather than later.
More details in an article in The Guardian today:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/06/saudi-arabia-succession-monarchy

What to see: Christiansborg Palace Church, Copenhagen



One of Scandinavia’s most beautiful interiors can be found in Christiansborg Palace Church in Copenhagen, built by Denmark’s most famous neoclassical architect, Christian Frederik Hansen (1756-1845). The drawings for the church were ready in 1810 and the church was built between 1813 and 1826.
C. F. Hansen’s brand of the empire style was noticeably Roman and Christiansborg Palace Church was obviously inspired by what he saw on his journey to Rome in 1783-1784. Hansen was particularly fascinated by the many cupolas he saw in the churches of Rome and the Palace Church’s cupola is one of its most prominent characteristics. One would naturally think of Pantheon as an inspiration, but more important were probably the church of Sant’Andrea in Via Flaminia (by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, 1554) and the ancient mausoleum Tor de’ Schiavi outside Rome.
Christiansborg Palace Church is today all that remains of the second Christiansborg Palace, built by the same architect after the first Christiansborg had burnt down in 1794. The second palace of that name was completed in 1828, but that grand structure also burnt down in 1884. Only the Palace Church was saved from the flames. The foundation stone for the third (and current) Christiansborg Palace was laid in 1907, built in concrete to prevent yet another palace fire.
The third Christiansborg Palace is still standing, but during the night of 6-7 June 1992 Christiansborg Palace Church was ravaged by fire. The fire in the roof was most likely started by the fireworks of the Whitsun carnival and soon spread to the entire roof. The greatest damage was done when the cupola collapsed and fell into the church’s interior, smashing much of those interior pieces which had not been removed. The masses of water did further damage.
Luckily it was deemed possible to rebuild the church. This was done under the leadership of Jens Fredlund at the architectural firm Erik Møllers Tegnestue. The beautifully executed work was completed at the end of 1996 and on 14 January 1997 Christiansborg Palace Church was re-inaugurated at a service of thanksgiving to mark the silver jubilee of Queen Margrethe II.
The first royal occasion to take place in the Palace Church was the wedding of Frederik VI’s daughter, Princess Vilhelmine Marie, to her second cousin, Prince Frederik (VII) Carl Christian, on 1 November 1828. It was the parish church of the royal family until 1926 and served as one of Copenhagen’s regular parish churches between 1930 and 1965. Among the many royal events which took place in the Palace Church were the confirmations of the future kings Christian IX (1835), Frederik VIII (1860) and Christian X (1887, together with his brother, the future King Haakon VII of Norway). Princess Thyra married the Duke of Cumberland there in 1878 and in 1897 it was the scene of the wedding of Princess Ingeborg to Prince Carl of Sweden and Norway.
The church has also seen the lyings-in-state of King Christian IX in 1906, Frederik VIII in 1912, Christian X in 1947 and Frederik IX in 1972. Queen Alexandrine’s funeral was held there in 1953 and in 2000 Queen Ingrid became the first consort to lie in state for 204 years. Queen Ingrid had never been fond of the Palace Church as it was, but came to appreciate it after the restoration work brought back its original colours and materials.
In May 2004 Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary became the first royals to marry in another of C. F. Hansen’s churches, Copenhagen’s Cathedral. It seemed only natural that the christening of their firstborn child and heir, Prince Christian, was held in Christiansborg Palace Church on 21 January 2006.

New books: Gustaf IV Adolf


On 13 March, the 200th anniversary of the deposal of King Gustaf IV Adolf of Sweden in a palace coup, Fischer & Co published a biography of the unfortunate monarch. The book is written by Mats Wickman and titled En kunglig tragedi – En biografi om Gustav IV Adolf.
This is the first proper biography of Gustaf IV Adolf since Professor Sten Carlsson’s Gustaf IV Adolf – En biografi was published in 1946. While the nickname “Galenpannan” (“The Madman”) gives a good lead to how writers of the 19th century tended to portray Gustaf IV Adolf, Carlsson was the first to give a more balanced portrayal of him. Mats Wickman follows closely in Professor Carlsson’s steps.

http://www.fischer-co.se/1100/1100.asp?id=3449

On Wednesday this week Bokförlaget Forum will release another book on Gustaf IV Adolf, I stormens öga - Gustaf IV Adolfs regeringstid och revolten 1809 by Christopher O’Regan, a prolific writer on the Gustavian era. The book will be a sequel to O’Regan’s earlier Ett märkvärdigt barn – Gustaf III:s son (2007), which dealt with the early years of Gustaf IV Adolf.

http://www.forum.se/Bocker/Bokpresentationssida/?Isbn=9789137133539

Sunday, 5 April 2009

On this date: The Queen who never was

Today is the 55th anniversary of the death of Crown Princess Märtha, the lost queen of Norway. The Crown Princess died at the National Hospital in Oslo at 4.28 a.m. on 5 April 1954, aged only 53. She was mourned by an entire people but of course most of all by her husband, the future King Olav, who never got over her death.
One of Crown Princess Märtha’s last surviving contemporaries, the legendary former party secretary of the Labour Party, Haakon Lie (now 103), wrote about her in his latest book Slik jeg ser det nå last year: “What was a tragedy was that Crown Princess Märtha died much too early. I think Märtha was intellectually superior to Olav, and she was in all ways a great girl. We lost a great queen with her”.
Crown Princess Märtha died just two weeks after her silver wedding. To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the wedding the Royal Court recently published a special report on the royal wedding of 1929 at their website.

http://www.kongehuset.no/c26939/nyhet/vis.html?tid=77613

The above photo shows Kirsten Kokkin’s statue of Crown Princess Märtha in the Palace Park in Oslo, unveiled in 2007. Similar statues were erected in Washington, DC in 2005 and in Stockholm in 2008.

Yet another Rasmussen becomes Prime Minister of Denmark

Before setting off for her Easter holiday at Marselisborg Palace in Århus, the Queen of Denmark at 1.30 p.m. today received Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who came to submit his resignation. An hour later the Queen received Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the Finance Minister and deputy leader of the Liberal Party, and on Fogh’s advice appointed him Prime Minister of Denmark. Løkke temporarily keeps Fogh’s ministers, but a cabinet reshuffle is expected after Easter.
The leaders of the major opposition parties, Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Social Democrats), Villy Søvndal (The Socialist People’s Party) and Margrethe Vestager (Danish Social Liberal Party), have all called for a general election following Fogh’s resignation. They argue that Løkke’s handling of the financial crisis as Finance Minister leaves much to be desired and that the people voted for Fogh, not Løkke, in the general election in November 2007. The latter claim is however a bit far-fetched as Denmark does not have direct election of prime ministers. Fogh’s coalition partner, the Conservatives, and his ally the Danish People’s Party have both also made it clear that they do not want an election – an election which, according to the opinion polls, most likely would have led to victory for the opposition and Helle Thorning-Schmidt becoming Prime Minister.
The Danish Constitution of 1953 also does not require a general election when a Prime Minister resigns. A similar situation occurred in 1993, when the Social Democrat Poul Nyrup Rasmussen succeeded the Conservative Poul Schlüter as Prime Minister without an election.

An article (in English) in Politiken about the change of Prime Minister:

http://politiken.dk/newsinenglish/article684859.ece

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Denmark’s Prime Minister to be the next Secretary General of NATO

Earlier today it was decided that Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Prime Minister of Denmark, will take over as Secretary General of NATO on 1 August. He returned to Denmark from the NATO summit in Baden-Baden earlier this evening and will submit his resignation as Prime Minister to Queen Margrethe tomorrow. He will be succeeded by Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who is currently Finance Minister and deputy leader of Fogh’s Liberal Party.
It was only on Thursday, after months of speculations which in the end almost paralysed political life in Denmark, that Fogh confirmed his candidature for the NATO post. On Friday it was expected that he would be appointed following a dinner for the NATO countries’ leaders in Baden-Baden, but opposition from Turkey, which has been critical of Fogh’s handling of relations with the Muslim world, meant that no decision was reached. Earlier today rumours said he had lost his chance, but in the end his appointment was announced in the afternoon.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been Prime Minister of Denmark since 2001, when he succeeded the Social Democrat Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. Under Fogh’s leadership the Liberal Party that year surpassed the Social Democrats as the largest party in Denmark for the first time since 1924. Thus Fogh was able to form a coalition government with the Conservative People’s Party, relying on the far-right wing Danish People’s Party for a majority in Parliament. He also succeeded in winning the general elections of 2004 and 2007, which makes him the only Prime Minister from his party ever to survive an election since parliamentarianism was introduced in Denmark in 1901.
Denmark has changed in many ways under his leadership and present and future historians will find much to deal with in Fogh’s tenure as Prime Minister. He quickly reshaped the role of Prime Minister, on which he left a more personal mark than any of his predecessors in the 20th century. His harsh immigration policy has been criticised abroad, but seems to enjoy support from a majority of the Danish policy and is also considered an important reason for his electoral successes.
In a 2002 interview, he announced his wish for a more active Danish foreign policy and his contempt for the past century’s “disgraceful policy of adaptation”. The following year he threw Denmark into George W. Bush’s illegal war against Iraq and remained Bush’s perhaps most loyal friend abroad until the end of the Bush administration two and a half months ago. His handling of the row over Jyllands-Posten’s caricatures of the prophet Mohamed in 2005 also earned him many enemies in Muslim circles, troubles which it seems will follow him into NATO.
“He succeeded in putting Denmark on the map”, the historian Steffen Heiberg writes in Politiken today. “But the price was a weakening of the country’s security. Unlike great power enemies 100 or 200 years ago, terrorism is not threatening Denmark’s existence, but it is a threat against the security of the country’s citizens, whom the state has the duty to protect. In addition comes increasing antagonism between different groups in society. Denmark is no longer safe. That is what we have gotten out of seven years with a prime minister who wished Denmark to be in front”.
One would think NATO should have been able to find a more suitable leader, someone less conflict-seeking than Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Annual report of the Norwegian Royal Court

Yesterday the Norwegian Royal Court published their annual report for 2008. The report can be downloaded in PDF from the court’s website:

http://www.kongehuset.no/c27428/binfil/download.php?tid=77709

The “Royal Diary” section included in the annual report lists 177 official engagements performed by the King in 2008, 103 by the Crown Prince, 67 by the Queen, 51 by the Crown Princess, 16 by Princess Astrid and 7 by Princess Märtha Louise.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

At the end of the road: Guttorm Hansen (1920-2009), former Speaker of Parliament

Guttorm Hansen, former Speaker of the Norwegian Parliament, died earlier today at the age of 88.
The death of a former Speaker of Parliament has not occured since Hansen's successor, Per Hysing-Dahl, passed away in 1989.
Guttorm Hansen was born on 3 November 1920 and worked as a mechanic and journalist before being elected to Parliament for the Labour Party in 1961. He remained an MP until 1985 and was leader of the Labour Party's parliamentary group 1971-1972.
He turned down three offers of a cabinet position, but served as Speaker of Parliament 1973-1981, a position which is the second highest-ranking in Norway, following the King in precedence. His way of conducting the position became almost a norm which was closely followed by his successors.
Hansen was the author of 21 books, including two volumes of political memoirs.
The current Speaker of Parliament, Thorbjørn Jagland, today paid tribute to Hansen as "one of the most significant parliamentarians after the war":

http://www.stortinget.no/no/Hva-skjer-pa-Stortinget/Nyhetsarkiv/Pressemeldinger/2008-2009/Guttorm-Hansen/

More on the passing of Guttorm Hansen in his local newspaper Namdalsavisa:

http://www.namdalsavisa.no/Nyhet/article4239005.ece

The picture shows a slightly cropped version of Håkon Bleken’s 1994 portrait of Guttorm Hansen, which hangs in the Parliament Building in Oslo.

"The reluctant princes"

Patrick Barkham has a rather interesting article in The Guardian today on how the roles of Prince William and Prince Harry are developing:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/apr/02/prince-william-prince-harry

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Bernadottes in Bologna and Pontecorvo

On the final day of their state visit to Italy last week, the King and Queen of Sweden visited Bologna. That city has old links to the Bernadotte dynasty – King Carl Gustaf’s great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Josephina of Sweden and Norway, was created Princess of Bologna by her step-grandfather, the Emperor Napoléon I, shortly after her birth in 1807.
Another of the King’s ancestors, King Carl XIV Johan, was also given an Italian principality by Napoléon (who was also King of Italy). Between 1806 and 1810, when still a Marshal of France, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte reigned as Sovereign Prince and Duke of Pontecorvo, a small town between Rome and Naples.
Bernadotte himself never set foot in his principality and I have frequently wondered if any other member of the Bernadotte dynasty has ever visited Pontecorvo. Recently I finally found the answer when going through King Gustaf VI Adolf’s photo albums and scrapbooks at the Bernadotte Library at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. In one of them were three pictures taken during a visit the then Crown Prince of Sweden paid to Pontecorvo in 1949.
The picture shows what Pontecorvo looked like when I was there in January 2008.