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Europe|Again in Norway, Events Provide Test for a King’s Mettle


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Again in Norway, Events Provide Test for a King’s Mettle


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Photo King Harald V of Norway served as a symbol of patriotism after the July killings, as his grandfather did in defying Nazis in 1940. Credit Casper Hedberg for The New York Times

OSLO — The government buildings where Anders Behring Breivik set off a bomb are still cordoned off, under repair, and bullet holes still mar the primitive buildings on the island of Utoya, where he then proceeded to murder scores of children.

Seventy-seven people were killed on July 22, and Norwegians are not through grieving. They want to return to business as normal, said their monarch, King Harald V, but that is not yet possible.

“I think it still lies in the future how we will cope with this in the long run,” the king said in a rare interview last week. “We haven’t got to the stage where people have gotten mad yet. I think we’ll go through that as well. That has to come and go before we are finished with this. And we have to let that happen.”

King Harald, 74, was crowned in 1991 and has reigned during an oil-and-gas-driven economic boom. He is the country’s first native-born king since the 14th century, the grandson of Norway’s first king after the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905. That king, who took the title Haakon VII, was imported from Denmark but made his reputation forever by his refusal in 1940 to surrender to Nazi Germany.


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July 22 was King Harald’s test, and he is considered to have passed it — making a moving speech to the nation that night, meeting with anguished families, weeping at a national memorial service, and serving as a visible symbol of Norwegian patriotism and solidarity.

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“Now it’s important that we stand together and support each other, and that we don’t let fear take over,” he said that night to a shaken country.

A jovial man with a ready laugh, the king plays down his contribution, saying that “many people did the right things.” As for his own role, he said: “I’ve always had the feeling that in times of crisis, that’s what we’re here for, really. That showed in 1940, and we’ll see if this will come out the same way. You do what comes natural to you, and if that’s correct, all the better for that. Everything was going very quickly, and you have to work on intuition.”

But for a man who has never quite had the common touch of his father, King Olav V, King Harald still moved the nation after July 22, reaching out as best he could to those in grief and shock. Asked in an interview in his office at the palace what he took away from those meetings, he paused for a moment, then spoke with a puzzled honesty.

“I don’t know what I came away with,” he said. “I hope they came away with something.”

It was “a very strange experience,” he said. “I felt very helpless, really. All these families who had either just got someone back from this or had just got the message that they weren’t coming back; it was a very strange atmosphere. Wherever you turned there were people in grief.”

He stopped again, then laughed, to break the mood. “When I came out I said to my wife I’d never hugged so many people I didn’t know!”

Photo A woman wounded in the rampage on July 22 that left 77 people dead in Norway. Credit Svein Gustav Wilhelmsen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

King Harald caused considerable controversy in 1969 by marrying a commoner, Sonja Haraldsen, but that helped cement the “Norwegianness” of the family, which was Danish and British. His son, Crown Prince Haakon, has done the same, causing another controversy by marrying a single mother, a divorced woman who admits to having had a rebellious youth. But the future king and queen were also prominent after July 22, as they appeared at a huge rally and he gave his own moving speech.

The couple were on their honeymoon on Long Island on Sept. 11, 2001, and visited ground zero a year ago; King Harald and Queen Sonja first went in October 2002 and will go again this month. Unusually, they will visit in the company of four other Nordic heads of state or royal representatives: the king and queen of Sweden, the presidents of Iceland and Finland, and the crown prince and princess of Denmark.


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“It’s very rare,” King Harald said, laughing again. “It happens at weddings and that sort of thing, but not so often.” A Norwegian architectural firm, Snohetta, designed the museum pavilion for the ground zero memorial, a source of pride here.

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After July 22, which many Norwegians feel marked their country like the Sept. 11 attacks did the United States, there is a new resonance to the royal visit to ground zero. But asked if he would feel different this time, the king said, “I would think so, I don’t know, let’s see.” But in Norwegian history, he said, “people will say before and after 22 July 2011, it will be a milestone like 9/11 in America.”

The king and his wife will also commemorate the centennial of the American-Scandinavian Foundation after a visit to the Norwegian-American heartland of the Midwest, in Minnesota and Iowa. There are more than 5 million people who identify as Norwegian-American and keep strong ties to Norway, he said, whose own population is only about 4.8 million.

The king arrived in the United States at the age of 3 when his family fled the Nazis. He spent his first two years of school in Washington and remembers meeting President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his 1945 inauguration. His father and grandfather spent most of the war in London, with the government-in-exile.

His grandfather was only 36 when he was chosen to come from Denmark to be king. “He didn’t know anybody, he didn’t know who he could trust and who he couldn’t, and had to find out for himself what Norway was all about,” King Harald said.

He came to know his grandfather very well, he said. “He did a very wise thing,” demanding a plebiscite on whether Norwegians wanted him as king. “So many times when he was in trouble with our politicians, he said, ‘Ah, remember, I’m elected, too!’ ”

Asked whether July 22 would define his reign, as 1940 did for his grandfather’s, King Harald said simply: “I don’t know. History will tell.” But he said he remembered seeing a photograph of his grandfather driving himself off in his car to meet with the Germans in April 1940, when he said his famous “no.”

“He drove alone in his car,” the king said, with admiration. “But he never drove alone in his car. He always had his A.D.C.,” his aide-de-camp, “with him. But this time there was nobody. I’m sure he didn’t think he was coming back.”

Norway is in good hands, he said. Learning to be king is a “lifelong learning period,” he said, but his son, the crown prince, passed his own test on July 22. “He came up with some very good ideas, and he made a strong speech,” his father said. “He did very well. We’re a very good team, I think.”

A version of this article appears in print on October 16, 2011, on Page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Again in Norway, Events Provide Test for a King’s Mettle. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

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