As I made my way to the Royal Palace in Stockholm yesterday for the regular “changing of the guard”, I knew something was different about this time. The crowds were much larger than the last time I’d been here, which I simply put down to the much warmer weather.
As I looked around, I noticed there were also a number of television crews. As well as SVT, there were also crews from Norway and Germany. The Queen of Sweden has German heritage, so I thought it might have something to do with her. And then I noticed a roped off area, with a sign saying it was “for press only”. The possibility of a little bit of “press exclusivity” always excites me, and so I wandered over and asked the bloke behind the media counter what was going on. “It’s the King’s birthday. He’s 67 years old”, he told me with a large beaming smile.
Though I’m sure there were quite a few Swedes in the crowd, my ears told me the crowd consisted mostly of Germans, Russians and Italians. I’m not sure how many of them knew it was the birthday of the king. Although I didn’t actually see it myself, I heard the cheers when the royal couple came out on the balcony and waved to everyone.
“How interesting”, I thought to myself, “that the King has his birthday on the day before May Day”. May Day, you see, is quite an important public holiday here. Unlike in Australia, where it’s joined the list of holidays we have but don’t really know why (hey, we celebrate Labor Day in October in NSW), there are parades and speeches here.
As I watched the speeches briefly at Sergel’s Torg today, I noticed the involvement of good old fashioned Communists. The Communist Party was, until fairly recently, a minor but significant force in Swedish politics. Even though the current government is a “centre-right” coalition, the Social Democrats have been in power for most of the last century. And when I say “centre-right coalition”, I suspect few if any of the Swedish government could find a home in the modern day Australian Liberal Party. “They’re all lefties in Sweden”, I recall once telling someone, “except when they’re Neo-Nazis”. But that’s another story…