What does Queen Elsa have planned for Arendelle?
Everybody loves a happy ending, and the final minutes of ‘Frozen’ provide everything you could hope for in an ending. People are laughing, dancing, ice-skating, making out with each other, and generally living up to those ‘happiest nation’ polls that always place Scandinavian nations at the top. But is this happiness going to last? Queen Elsa makes some decisions in those final minutes that have potentially dire political consequences, as we may discover in a sequel: “Frozen 2: I’ve Made A Huge Mistake”. The political situation at the end of the movie is actually a lot more uncertain than the laughing and dancing would have you believe.
If I had been in that royal court, perhaps employed as an adviser to the Queen (somebody please write me this fanfiction. Although bear in mind I can’t ice-skate at all. Actually have you seen those nature documentaries where a big wounded whale is just unsteadily galumphing around and all the nimble sharks are darting in and out of its path? That’s me trying to ice skate), I think there’s four decisions in those final minutes that I would try to persuade her to revisit, in the name of political science:
1) ‘The Extradition of Prince Hans’. Attempted murder, false imprisonment, trespassing on a lighthouse, riding a horse in a built-up area without due care and attention, impersonating Donny Osmond… the list of crimes goes on and on. But I think it’s clear from the movie that he will face human rights abuses if he’s extradited:
“I will return this scoundrel to his country. We shall see what his twelve big brothers think of his behaviour”.
It doesn’t sound like he’s even going to stand trial. Surely it’s better to keep him in Arendelle where he might at least face a jury? High-profile prisoners can often lead to tense international negotiations as the recent case of Edward Snowden (with a name like that he could easily have been a character in Frozen) has illustrated. My main concern here is that simply returning Hans sets a dangerous precedent. Perhaps extradition makes the Kingdom of the Southern Isles happy, but Queen Elsa, come on, just because you’re opening up the gates doesn’t mean you have to develop friendly relations with repressive regimes.
2) ‘Finally We’re Opening Up The Gates’. This brings me to my second point… Queen Elsa says she’ll never close the gates again? That sounds like a security risk to me. Even if we assume she just means that in a narrow sense (opening the literal castle gates rather than implementing open-door immigration and trade policies) that’s a security risk. Not only does it permit free movement into the castle but it also sends a signal about Queen Elsa’s willingness to reform. Let’s not forget this is still an autocratic regime and I don’t think we can assume that Queen Elsa is universally popular. I mean there was quite a lot of destruction throughout the movie. The proletariat might be smiling as the credits roll but we know what they’re thinking. They’re thinking “Eat your pheasant, drink your wine, your days are numbered, bourgeois swine”. If Queen Elsa opens up the gates, this could be seen by reformers as a signal to push the regime for a transition to democracy. At the very least it is likely to usher in a risky era of glasnost and perestroika. These potential political consequences are not explored in the movie (perhaps because it’s hard to find words that rhyme with perestroika).
3) ‘Weaseltown’. The third point, which I am indebted to colleagues at Columbia for pointing out, is that Queen Elsa cuts off all trade with Arendelle’s largest dyadic partner, Weselton.
“Arendelle will henceforth and forever no longer do business of any sort with Weaseltown”
Now, for an explanation of why this is a bad idea, I turned to one of our resident IR experts here at TQP. Michael Flynn explained that in such a situation there’s like to be negative consequences for both states. There’s likely to be pressure from export interests to reinstate commodity trade after a short period, probably contributing to domestic unrest. Both states will suffer from a decline in economic activity, although the specific winners and losers would be dictated by the details of the production chain. But this decision has no positive consequences, other than being able to stick it to the Duke of Weselton. An understandable goal, perhaps, but given that Queen Elsa has a country to rebuild it probably shouldn’t be her first priority. Remember Wandering Oaken’s trading post and sauna? Well, if trade gets cut off, that’s not a trading post any more. That’s just a post. Plus Oaken has a family to feed, and we know he’s not afraid of using violence to achieve his goals. Once again, Queen Elsa is potentially sowing the seeds of revolution (Boix 2003, Skocpol 1979).
4) ‘Corruption’. In the final scenes, Kristoff is given a royal position.
“The Queen’s made you official icemaster and deliverer”
“What? That’s not a thing”
“It’s totally a thing”
By all means keep him in the inner circle, he’s probably key to winning over the troll vote, but this is brazen favouritism. Will the appearance of corruption help fuel the fires of revolution among the disgruntled peasantry? And no offence to the character of Kristoff, but I believe this promotion is unwarranted. He doesn’t exactly exude efficiency. It’s easy to imagine him becoming a symbol of the incompetence and nepotism of the ancién regime, because the perception of corruption is important, just as are actual instances of corruption (Treisman 2007).
Conclusion: Do You Wanna Build a Democracy?
So, by the end of the movie, we’ve got Queen Elsa engaging in extraordinary rendition to a potentially repressive state, cutting off a large portion of her country’s trade, weakening the security apparatus of the regime, and dipping into the royal treasury up to reward family friends. At least one of these decisions – cutting off trade with Weselton – is likely to have immediate negative effects for Arendelle. The other decisions have a more subtle effect on the stability of the regime. Given the moves Queen Elsa has already made, a swift and decisive transition to democracy is probably the best bet at this point, although Przeworski et al (2000) might advise that without a sustainable economy, democracy is unlikely to survive. So in sum, I think alongside its other political messages (http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-26759342), Frozen highlights some of the political problems associated with monarchies. Now I have tried to resist the urge but I can fight it no longer, I must go listen to those songs again.