Told that many Norwegians consider him their country's moral voice, Norway's King Harald V waved off the observation. "Oh dear," he said, with a short chuckle. "We are there to serve as long as the people want us to serve them."
After 106 years, they still do. Seven in 10 Norwegians support the monarchy, according to a recent poll. In Minnesota for the first time since 1995, King Harald, 74, talked about climate change, the July 22 massacre, and lutefisk's place in tradition.
Q Your Majesty has expressed concerns about climate change, saying, "We may have been better at counting our money than our days." How can people be best persuaded to look beyond the short-term?
A First of all, we have to accept that something is happening, because we only have one planet. I'm one of those who hopes that it is man-made because then we may be able to do something about it. We see it in the Arctic with the ice melting. Our climate is getting more pleasant, but with more severe storms. The places hit hardest on the globe are those that have the least blame in the whole affair. Many islands in the Pacific, if the sea rises one foot, they'll disappear.
Q After the July 22 massacre, Norway pointedly reaffirmed its values of tolerance and openness. What might young leaders best remember as they meet the challenges of a more diverse population?
A I think they have to remind themselves of the values that really count, the values we all want to stand for. I had the feeling there was the same reaction after 9/11, but it didn't last that long. I hope this lasts. I'm sure we'll go through a period of anger, but we have to do that. There are many emotions still to come before we're finished with it -- if we're ever finished.
Frankly, the week after it happened, it felt like Norway had become a better place. People were talking to each other, people who didn't know each other. There was lots of hugging, and that's not very Norwegian.
Q You've said that one reason you enjoy sailing is that the wind treats you the same way it treats everyone else. Are there challenges to being a king that people may not appreciate?
A There's a saying that you're born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and people may think your life is all just playing, sailing and fun. In my youth, it was difficult to know if friends wanted to be with me because of who I was, or what I was. Our children have gone through that as well. That's why I said that about the wind: If you do the right thing, you get rewarded. If you do the wrong thing, you'll be punished.
Q Is there a particular Norwegian tradition that you hope is kept alive in Minnesota, and does it have anything to do with lutefisk?
A I think Norwegian-Americans in Minnesota may think it has something to do with lutefisk, but it's much broader than that, thank goodness. There are all the things with the sciences -- we visited the Mayo Clinic and met several Norwegian doctors studying there. There are lots of exchange students, so much is about education. It's very important to get to know each other better, because more people here are calling themselves Norwegian-Americans than we have Norwegians in Norway.
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185