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12.08.09

Obama Snubs the King

Finally some Europeans are angry with Obama—the very ones who are awarding him his Nobel. Katarina Andersson on the president's decision to decline lunch with King Harald and skip his own Nobel exhibit.

A day before President Obama receives his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, the president’s treatment of his Norwegian hosts has become hot news across Scandinavia.

News outlets across the region are calling Obama arrogant for slashing some of the prize winners’ traditional duties from his schedule. “Everybody wants to visit the Peace Center except Obama,” sniped the Norwegian daily Aftenposten, amid reports the president would snub his own exhibition at the Nobel Peace Center. “A bit arrogant—a bit bad,” proclaimed another Aftenposten headline.

“It’s very sad,” said Nobel Peace Center Director Bente Erichsen of the news that Obama would skip the peace center exhibit. Prize winners traditionally open the exhibitions about their work that accompany the Nobel festivities. “I totally understand why the Norwegian public is upset. If I could get a few minutes with the president, I’d say, ‘To walk through the exhibition wouldn’t take long, and I’m sure you would love the show. You have no idea what you are missing.’”

Meanwhile, the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet is reporting that the president has declined an invitation to lunch with King Harald V, an event every prize winner from the Dalai Lama to Al Gore has attended. (The newspaper’s headline: “Obama disses lunch with King Harald.”)

Also among the dissed, according to news reports: a concert in Oslo on Friday that was arranged in his honor, and a group of Norwegian children who had planned to meet Obama in front of City Hall.

“The American president is acting like an elephant in a porcelain shop,” said Norwegian public-relations expert Rune Morck-Wergeland. “In Norwegian culture, it’s very important to keep an agreement. We’re religious about that, and Obama’s actions have been clumsy. You just don’t say no to an invitation from a European king. Maybe Obama’s advisers are not very educated about European culture, but he is coming off as rude, even if he doesn’t mean to.”

Indeed, judging by statements surrounding the president’s trip to Europe this week, it is beginning to appear as if the European love affair with Obama—which culminated in giving him the Nobel Prize—is over.

The Swedish news agency TT reported today that 44 percent of the Norwegians found Obama's diss to King Harald V to be "rude." Even more—53 percent—are upset about the fact that he is not attending the traditional concert. And by now a third of the Vikings believe that the U.S. president doesn't deserve the Peace Prize. At the same time, 20 different Norwegian organizations have applied for a permit to demonstrate during Obama's visit.

Samuel P. Jacobs: Obama Goes for the Gold But some news outlets are cutting him a bit of slack, noting that he is dealing with two wars and soaring unemployment back home and a new war, and that his main focus this week should rightly be on the climate-change summit in Copenhagen. Taking part in all the activities surrounding his Nobel Prize could send the wrong message.

That may have something to do with Obama’s uncharacteristic shunning of the press. Whereas other prize winners have viewed the standard Nobel Peace Prize CNN interview as an opportunity to address the world for a full hour, Obama seems unwilling to answer any questions at all. There will be no press conference, just a statement from the president.

“It’s very strange that he is unwilling to meet the press,” said Marie Simonsen, political editor at Dagbladet, one of Norway’s biggest daily newspapers. “I’m very disappointed. You get the impression he is not proud of the prize.”

“You just don’t say no to an invitation from a European king. Maybe Obama’s advisers are not very educated about European culture, but he is coming off as rude, even if he doesn’t mean to.”

Obama is the second sitting American president to visit Norway. Ten years ago, President Clinton traveled to the country at the invitation of King Harald. “When Clinton was here he was walking into cafes in downtown Oslo, shaking hands with Norwegians on the street,” said Simonsen. “It doesn’t seem as if we are going to experience something similar with President Obama.”

Katarina Andersson is a New York-based freelance reporter for Swedish Broadcasting. She previously hosted a popular radio talk show in Sweden and covered politics, economy, and arts for numerous Scandinavian media outlets in the U.S. She lives in Brooklyn with her son.