Formal audiences. How it works: The Ministry for Foreign Affairs' introducer
Vietnam's ambassador Mr Tran van Hinh with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs' introducer Kerstin Asp-Johnsson. Photo: royalcourt.se
The flags are flying outside the Ministry for Foreign Affairs on Gustav Adolfs Torg, as four new foreign ambassadors prepare to submit their credentials to The King at the Royal Palace of Stockholm. Today, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs' introducer Kerstin Asp-Johnsson will be accompanying Vietnam's ambassador during the formal audience.
"As an introducer, I'm there to help the ambassador. There may be questions before the formal audience, and if the ambassador wants I'm also available to help with questions and advice throughout his or her posting in Sweden." Serving as an introducer is an honorary role, and those who are asked to do so have a background as an ambassador. Kerstin Asp-Johnsson has worked at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs since the late 1960s, and has served as cultural attaché at the Swedish Embassy in London, as Swedish ambassador to Portugal and Finland, and as Director of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs' diplomat programme. At the end of 2010, she was appointed as an introducer by the Swedish Government. "But the role was not entirely unfamiliar to me. During my time as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs' Head of the Protocol Department, I sometimes stepped in as an introducer. Now, the role is a way of keeping in contact with the diplomatic corps and colleagues within the Ministry for Foreign Affairs after a long career with the ministry." Are you the first woman to have worked as an introducer? "No, I'm the second. Karin Ahrland was the first. She was appointed in the mid-90s. But I'm the first woman to have had an introducer's uniform made. My male colleagues wear a diplomat's uniform. My uniform consists of a long black pencil skirt with a jacket embroidered in gold thread on the collar and cuffs. The embroidered pattern is the same as on the men's uniform: olive branches, which symbolise peace and diplomacy." Around a hundred ambassadors work in Stockholm, together with a number of concurrently accredited ambassadors. The latter are posted in another country, but are also accredited in Sweden and therefore submit their credentials to The King. Formal audiences are normally held eight times a year. Kerstin Asp-Johnsson is one of three introducers serving on this particular day. In the morning, she collects Vietnam's ambassador Mr Tran van Hinh and four of his colleagues from the ambassador's official residence. From there, they travel in the Royal Mews' cars to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. At the Prince Royal's Palace on Gustaf Adolfs Torg, they sit in the Blue Room together with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs' Head of the Protocol Department and ministry officials who work with issues relating to Vietnam. "An informal discussion takes place, which often involves the ambassador's home country and topical issues. When the Crown Equerry gives the signal to leave for the Royal Palace of Stockholm, I escort the ambassador to the Royal Mews' horse and carriage which is waiting on Gustav Adolfs Torg. In the parade coupé, I sit on the left-hand side of the ambassador." On arrival at the Royal Palace of Stockholm, ambassador Mr Tran van Hinh and Kerstin Asp-Johnsson are met by two chamberlains and a steward, who lead them in a procession via the East Staircase up to the Bernadotte Apartments.
The stairs are flanked by members of the Grenadier Guard in parade uniform, with music provided by the Armed Forces Music Corps. Photo: royalcourt.se
"In the first room, I present the serving lord-in-waiting and in the second room I present the master of ceremonies, both of whom welcome the ambassador to the Royal Palace. At the threshold to the third room, Queen Lovisa Ulrika's Dining Hall, I announce the ambassador and present the First Marshal of the Court, the Chief of Military Staff and the Grand Master of Ceremonies to the ambassador. The First Marshal of the Court then leads the ambassador through Queen Lovisa Ulrika's Drawing Room and the Audience Chamber to the East Octagonal Cabinet, where the ambassador is received by The King."
The First Marshal of the Court Mats Nilsson leads ambassador Mr Tran van Hinh through Queen Lovisa Ulrika's Audience Chamber to the East Octagonal Cabinet, where he is received by The King. Photo: royalcourt.se
Are the ambassadors nervous? "Yes, sometimes they are, particularly if it's the first time they've submitted their credentials. This is a ceremonial occasion, and we have an impressive traditional ceremony that dates back several centuries. The ambassadors often say that they appreciate their audience and discussion with The King." How does the ceremony here compare with other countries? "When I was received in Portugal it was by the head of State, the then President Mario Soares, together with his advisers and senior representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The audience took the form of a discussion with several people present. When I submitted my credentials to the President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari, the discussion was similar to in Sweden. In Sweden, this takes the form of a private discussion between The King and the incoming ambassador, with no one else present." At the end of the audience, ambassador Mr Tran van Hinh asks to present his colleagues. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs' introducer Kerstin Asp-Johnsson then greets The King. After taking his leave, the ambassador departs — accompanied by the introducer — in a procession led by the lord-in-waiting and the two chamberlains, following the same route by which they entered. At the East Gate, the Royal Mews' cars wait to take the ambassador and his retinue and the introducer back to the official Vietnamese residence, where Kerstin Asp-Johnsson takes her leave.
The Royal Mews' car takes the ambassador and the introducer back to the official Vietnamese residence. Photo: royalcourt.se