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ISSUE 119 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/28/2005

Royal visit mixes tradition, absurdity

By Andrea Horbinski
Opinion Editor

Friday, October 28, 2005

Last Thursday, the entire campus was abuzz about His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon Magnus, but this is America! Unlike the French, we didn’t kill our king, but we did tell him where to shove it.

Yet, I know far more about the House of Windsor than my British friends do. It’s certainly a very grand historical irony that, having cast off our associations with all kings, Americans today are far more royalty-mad than the long-suffering denizens of Europe and other monarchies around the world.

Some countries deal with their royalty misbehaviors on a daily basis, such as Prince Harry masquerading as a Nazi officer, and King Gyanendra of Nepal revoking his country’s constitution and imposing martial law). Thomas Paine would be rolling in his grave, except that he doesn’t have one.

But, if we are royalty-mad, it’s not hard to see why. Undoubtedly there is glamour to royalty, at least from a distance, which our own presidents and vice-presidents certainly lack; it’s probably no coincidence that our most glamorous presidential couple, JFK and Jackie, were in office during the same period of time when Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco. And speaking of marriage, I’m quite certain many St. Olaf women wondered whether Crown Prince Haakon has a wife.

It still seemed odd to me to celebrate Norway’s anniversary by visiting St. Olaf, a college founded by people who left Norway voluntarily and never went back. I was sitting in Boe Chapel (I got the very last seat in the very last row) I realized Crown Prince Haakon’s visit wasn’t as odd as the fact that we here at St. Olaf love Norway so much. We take a very justified pride in being the best of the Norwegian colleges, as well as the “Lutheran Harvard,” but I dare say the average St. Olaf student has very little in common with the average Norwegian (other than the very high probability that they are both tall, blonde and blue-eyed).

Let me count our uncommon ways. First, Norway had a woman prime minister 25 years ago, Gro Harlem Brundtland; 25 years ago, America had a woman vice presidential candidate. Norway possesses significant petroleum stocks which it exports around the world, while America remains hopelessly addicted to oil imports. Norway uses the wealth from its natural resources to fund in part its “cradle-to-grave” Scandinavian social welfare system; America’s social security program is running out of money, we have no national healthcare, and one of my friends calls me “pinko” because I have a button that says “Tax the rich.”

Finally, and perhaps most significantly for St. Olaf, while Norway remains predominantly, nominally Lutheran, like most European countries its citizens are very infrequent churchgoers. I don’t really need to explain the ways in which religion permeates American culture and society. Moreover, Crown Prince Haakon himself didn’t go to St. Olaf; he went to the University of California at Berkeley, and he lived with his girlfriend, a single mother now Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mette-Marit, in an Oslo apartment for several years before marrying her. How many Oles would make similar decisions?

These were my questions as I sat in Boe; to my surprise, President Thomforde answered them. He declared in his opening remarks that Norway is St. Olaf’s “home,” its source of identity, saying that we at St. Olaf can learn from Norway’s example how properly to use a military, a petroleum-based economy, a social welfare system and how to be “people of faith in a secular culture.” Lofty words from a man to whom the Board of Regents has given the boot – on account, rumor has it, of his “liberalism.”

After Thomforde, HRH himself was the soul of graciousness, although he spoke about just two topics, peace and fighting global poverty. Declaring that “peace and development go hand in hand,” Crown Prince Haakon also said that we have a “collective responsibility” to meet the goal of realizing peace in the daily lives of individuals everywhere.

HRH spoke well, but his words portended a deeper disconnect between Norway and we Americans here at Olaf. The United States is currently spreading war around the world, not peace.

If we at St. Olaf heed President Thomforde’s closing remarks, and follow the “example of the people of Norway,” we may yet be able to bring about a more perfect union between the ideals and practices of the Scandinavian country whence we came and the lone superpower where we live now, which would only be for the greater good of all of us.

But would such a union change Norway more, or us? President Thomforde said that we should follow Norway’s example in distributing “the wealth of this place.” If we distribute our wealth even more than we do already, who knows? We may even have our new Science Center built in time for Norway’s bicentennial.

Opinions editor Andrea Horbinski is a junior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in classics with concentrations in linguistics and Japan studies.

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