Surrounded By Enemies

In 1936 the Norwegian poet Nordahl Grieg was asked by the chairman of the Norwegian Student’s Society to write a poem that could serve as a motto for its members. The result was 14 stanzas that Grieg called Til Ungdommen, ‘To Our Youth’. Seen in the light of its time, with fascism emerging around the world, it is no surprise that the leitmotif of the poem is that if you feel you are surrounded by human beings who threaten you with hate, force and violence, you should fight back with love, freedom and peace. If you can make your enemy go through life carrying “sunshine, bread and spirit” he has no hand free to carry the sword, is Grieg’s message to the youth.

Grieg died as a war correspondent in 1943 but his poem is still sung to the melody of Danish composer Otto Mortensen today whenever Norwegians, Swedes or Danes gather to exercise their democratic right to protest against something. Almost too often, if you ask me. Early last week it was sung by 30-odd Danish protesters raging against the felling of a bunch of half rotten firs in Østerild Plantation to make room for a wind turbine testing facility, half of them in mourning over the “massacre of nature”, the other half full of woe and despondency at the prospect of having the view from their houses disturbed by a few wind turbine blades.

But only a week later, after the incomprehensible tragedy in Oslo and on the island of Utøya last Friday, the poem has regained its rightful proportions. If you watched any news coverage of the event, you’ve probably already heard it. If not, here’s what it sounds like when 200,000 Norwegians insist on fighting terrorism by “protecting the beauty, the warmth, as if we carried a child gently in our arms” at the town square in Oslo last Monday (Grieg’s original poem, a somewhat bland attempt at an English recreation, and a literal translation can be found here):

The message of the poem and the attitude of the Norwegians was rammed home by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in his speech at the memorial ceremony at Oslo Cathedral:

“We are a small country, but a proud people.

We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values.
Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. But never naïvety.

No one has said it better than the Labour Youth League girl who was interviewed by CNN:
“If one man can create that much hate, you can only imagine how much love we as a togetherness can create.” “

I don’t care if he’s a Social Democrat and I’m not. I want a Prime Minister like that in my country.

Unfortunately I and my fellow Danes are not blessed with politicians of such stature. Not because of a general inadequacy in our gene pool, but because we, the people, don’t possess the intellectual refinement it takes to recognise true courage and fruitful reason when it’s right in front of us.

Our internalisation of Grieg’s poem furnishes an incisive example of that. In Denmark, the song isn’t known by its title, but by its first line, Kringsatt av fiender, ‘Surrounded by enemies’. And its point about standing firm in your belief in the power of good when facing evil has gone completely over the heads of the Danes.

Two hours. That’s how long it took from the death of 76 people in Oslo and on Utøya on July 22nd until Danes began to use the absurd tragedy to once again assure themselves that this was just another example of how Denmark was the best country in the world. Our 24 hour news channel, TV2 News, saw no reason to wait for the actual facts of the event before they constructed the narrative. Instead of using the airtime to talk to people who actually knew what was going on, like say Norwegians, they invited two Danes to the studio: the historian, Scandinavia whiz and royal family connoisseur Lars Hovbakke Sørensen and the TV station’s own ‘terror expert’ Niels Brinch.

Both of them quickly and briskly determined that these horrible acts had the unmistakable watermarks of Al Qa’ida and were the inevitable result of Norway’s “naïve and political correct resilience against enhanced border controls and surveillance of the lives of civilians”. They got so caught up in their own misconstrued version of reality that even when the first descriptions of the tall, blond Norwegian-speaking perpetrator started to roll in, they still held on to their theory explained by Hr. Brinch as “an example of Al Qa’ida’s new strategy of using home-grown Muslim converts who are able to operate under the radar of homeland security”.

Later the next day when the identity, motives and inspiration of the culprit were known as being respectively: 1) Christian Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, 2) killing as many as possible of those responsible for ‘the Muslim invasion of Europe’, and 3) Denmark’s attitude towards immigration, Danes had the choice between self-examination or construction of a new narrative that could reinstate Denmark to its natural position as the envy of the rest of the world. You’ve probably already guessed the chosen path.

In the latest ISSP International Values Survey only 24% of the Danes disagree with the postulate that one should defend one’s country even if it’s doing something wrong. So when everyone could read in Breivik’s Manifesto that “Of all the Western nations, Denmark has mounted the strongest popular resistance against Islamisation” and “In contrast to Denmark’s defiance, other Scandinavian countries surrendered to Islamic pressure as fast as humanly possible”, 76% of the Danes had a problem.

The solution was this: Breivik wasn’t inspired and encouraged by the deeds of the Danes – he was just completely misunderstanding the words of the Danes.

So that’s the situation in Denmark right now. We are not in any way discussing the 24 revisions we’ve made to the Immigration Law since 1984. We are not discussing why Denmark heads the list of countries voicing agreement with the ISSP postulate that “interaction with foreign cultures is a threat to our own”. We aren’t discussing if limitation of immigrants’ right to vote is counterproductive to successful integration. We are not talking about the implications it has for our national character that we calculate the income and expenditure of different ethnic groups in our national budget. We are not debating the reasonableness of punishing Danes who fall in love with non-Danes. We are not confronting our government ministers when they tell us that “certain nationalities only come to Denmark to lay a burden on our society”. We are not discussing the validity of our conception of ‘difference’ as ‘hostility’ and how it constantly constitutes the paranoia of being ‘surrounded by enemies’.

The only thing we’re talking about in the wake of events in Norway is that we are defenceless victims of Anders Behring Breivik’s misinterpretation of the frank and open debate culture that is the envy of every other country in the world.

I disagree. Words don’t kill. Opinions in the hands of undisputed ignorants kill.

Let me exemplify this by sharing my opinion about what should be the destiny of the killer from Norway.

I don’t want him to rot in Hell or whatever kingdom of death his sick and twisted belief system provides him. Here’s what I want for Anders Behring Breivik: I want him to rot in the Kingdom of Life. I want to make sure he stays alive long enough to comprehend the scale of the evil that he has perpetrated. And for the rest of his, hopefully, many living days I want him to witness the fruitful interaction of different views and ways of as many cultures, nationalities, political parties and ways of life as possible. But whenever he looks one of us in the eyes I want that useless piece of shit motherfucker to see only this: The expression of disgust at one man’s deeds mixed with the firm belief in the goodness of mankind, as demonstrated by Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway.

By Peter Andreas • July 28, 2011
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The Price of War

At precisely 4 am on the morning of April 9th, 1940 the first Nazi soldiers crossed the border between Denmark and Germany at Padborg in Southern Jutland. Two hours later King Christian X and his government capitulated and Denmark was officially a province of The Third Reich.

The governing coalition of parties, the Social Democratic Party and the Social-Liberal party with the misleading name The Radical Left, Det Radikale Venstre, invited two of the right-wing parties, The Conservative People’s Party and the farmer-friendly party with the even more misleading name The Left, Venstre, to form a common government under the principles of co-operation with the occupying Nazi forces.

The negotiations were understandably hard and lengthy. It was the Social Democratic Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning’s opinion that the only way to keep the Danish Nazi Party and their newly arrived southern friends away from destroying democracy was to accept the lesser of two evils, and he presented the idea of what was later known as The Co-operation Policy to the King. That circumstance also presented the first of many absurdities of the occupation: the people’s highest representative had to ask the King’s permission to govern according to the rules of democracy. (That’s still the situation for a Danish PM today, actually …)

The King agreed, on one condition: Since the Foreign Minister Peter Munch from Det Radikale Venstre had been the architect of the neutrality policies towards Germany in the preceding years, he was no longer a friend of King Chris and considered persona non grata in his government. Stauning sacked Munch. So far so good.

Now the PM needed the Conservatives and Venstre on board, but that was to prove considerably more difficult than convincing the King to give up his kingdom. What followed in the next few months more resembled a hawker’s market than serious political negotiations. The Conservatives had actually been quite fascinated with fascism in the early 1930s resulting in several members of the Conservative Youth Organisation marching through the streets with an alarming number of stiffly extended right arms, but they were also one of the first political movements to identify and distance themselves from the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s reign in the late 1930s. Their reservations over The Co-operational Policy sprang from the difficult choice between futile resistance or the less heroic pragmatism.

Venstre’s hesitation was of a different kind. These guys had their ideological roots planted deep in the lush farmlands of rural Denmark. They entered the negotiations with the same attitude as they had entered any farmer’s market through centuries, haggling with the Social Democrats over the price of their participation in a national unity government. Since Hitler had announced that Denmark was now the pantry, or Speisekammer, of The Third Reich, the prices of their crops had sky-rocketed so they saw no reason to make their best customer unhappy. But to be an active member of a government together with the Social Democratic Party that had had the temerity to fight for higher wages for farm workers down the years was almost too much for their self-understanding. The price of their participation was pinioned unions, a 20% drop in wages for farm workers, termination of the right to strike – and the introduction of ‘employment committees’ channelling the unemployed, and therefore state-subsidised, workforce to their fields as free labour.

So deals were made, agreements signed and ministers appointed. The Co-operational Policy was a matter of fact, officially until August 29th, 1943 but unofficially for the duration of WW2. And the Danes more or less continued with their humdrum daily lives. Actually Danish lives were some of the humdrummiest in the world during WW2. If you think that counting casualties is a fair way of measuring the price a nation has paid for involvement in a war, only Cuba and Mexico made a better deal than Denmark did. Estimates are that a little over 2,700 Danish soldiers gave their lives during the war. 16 on the day of the invasion, 63 as members of the allied forces, approx. 650 members of The Resistance – and 2,000 as members of the Nazi forces at the Eastern front. That’s about 0.08% of the population. Compare that to Belgium’s 86,000 (1.02%), Indonesia’s 4,000,000 (5.76%) or Poland’s appalling 5,000,000 (18.51%) casualties and you pretty much get the idea behind the horse sense of The Co-operation Policy.

Civilian casualties are estimated at approx. 1,000 – the largest single chunk hereof was 125 killed during an allied air strike against what the pilots thought was the Nazi headquarters but unfortunately turned out to be a Catholic school, so of the 125 killed that day, 86 were children and 18 were nuns.

But the number of casualties is inversely proportional to the level of heroism in the Danes’ narrative of the Occupation. There is no end to the tribulations that Danes had to endure, no song unsung about the agony that swept across the country in the form of coffee rations and nightly curfews. And most important of all – the self-sacrificial efforts to transport Jews across the Øresund in fishing boats to Sweden’s safer shores. Over and over and over again I and everybody else who has attended a Danish state school or just fallen into conversation about WW2 with any Dane have had our ears bent with the valour of the fishermen who regardless of their own safety hid the collective number of 8,000 Jews in the cargo holds of their minuscule fishing smacks and sailed the whole night (!) to save Danish Jews from the concentration camps.

The stories of ‘The Miracle at the Øresund’ are correct as such but only up to a point. What no-one seems eager to mention is that the fishermen weren’t unmindful of their own wallets, since the quiet tuck-tucks from the nocturnal boat trips were accompanied by the loud ka-chings of the 1,000 kroner per yamaca that was the fare for freedom. That’s 20,000 kroner (EUR 2,700/USD 3,900) in today’s money. Or 400,000 kroner in tax-free earnings per trip. In the only book ever written about this, The Expensive Escape, published – and ignored by Danes – in 2010, the author estimates that during the two weeks of the rescue mission 250 million today-kroner (EUR 34 million/USD 49 million) changed hands. A quaint twist to this story is that it is exactly the same amount of money that is going to come out of the public purse in financing the idiotic enhanced border patrol that’s effective from today at, among other places, Padborg in Southern Jutland. More about that in a moment.

On the night of May 4th, 1945 the occupying Nazi forces capitulated. In the morning of May 5th all hell broke loose.

21,800 persons were detained by The Resistance. Not the actual Nazi soldiers since they were protected by what was later known as The Geneva Convention and transported safely back to their respective Bundesländer. The detainees were those who had already been named ‘traitors’, Landssvigere, most of them because their names were on a secret list called The Central Records, Centralkartoteket, produced by The Resistance during the final years of the occupation. But a substantial number of people were seized simply because ordinary citizens had fingered them as ‘Nazi friendly’. On top of those seized by The Resistance, an additional 16,800 were arrested by the police and 2,000 were held as POWs by the allied forces so a total of 40,000 people were put behind bars to await trial.

Danish women who had been dating Nazi soldiers, field mattresses in layman’s terms, had their hair cut off by force and were driven through the streets in open trucks; yelled at, spat at and stoned by the huddling masses. Many ordinary citizens grabbed the opportunity to settle private disputes by simply yelling “TRAITOR!” at someone they didn’t like and gunning them down before they had the opportunity to defend themselves. Historians estimate that three times as many Danes were killed by Danes in the first five days after Liberation Day than Danes killed by Nazis during the five years of occupation.

On June 1st, 1945 some sort of civilisation kicked in with the event of the so-called Judicial Battle, Retsopgøret. Technically speaking it was a set of laws called The Collaborationist Laws, but their level of civilisation was so-so, since it is one of the pillars of a civilized justice system that you cannot be punished for deeds that weren’t illegal at the time you did them – a principle the lawmakers disregarded due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and made The Collaborationist Laws retroactive. It was now made a crime, punishable by death in some cases, to do exactly what the Danish Government had obliged its citizens to do 5 years earlier: co-operate with the Nazi occupational forces.

The Judicial Battle was fought with little honour. 13,500 people were found guilty. 10,000 were imprisoned, 3,000 for 3 years or more, 66 for life. 103 were sentenced to death out of which 46 were actually executed, the last in 1950.

Almost all those punished were ‘the little fish’. A woman owning a laundry in the small town of Esbjerg got 6 months in prison for pressing Nazi uniforms from the nearby barracks. Two huge construction companies that had made millions by using concentration camp prisoners as slave labour in Germany, Lithuania and Poland got away scot-free. And the owner of the Danish Industrial Syndicate, The Rifle Syndicate in daily speech, who had made even more millions by producing and selling weapons to the Nazis had absolutely nothing coming to him. Except of course a sole concession for all Danish oil production in the North Sea that the company still holds today.

Appalled? Don’t be. The worst is yet to come:

During the last months of WW2, millions of German civilians were fleeing from the horrors of the war. 244,500 came to Denmark – wounded from air raids, malnourished and sick from dysentery, typhoid and starvation. They were all interned in camps ringed with barbed wire because of the ‘danger’ of them sliding into general Danish population making it difficult to deport them again when things had cooled down, so they had little or no access to food or fresh water. When the authorities asked the Danish Doctor’s Association for help in March 1945 the only answer was a short note: “Considering the present conditions of the country it is not the Association’s belief that it can offer any relief assistance to the German refugees.” No more, no less.

From January to December 1945 13,493 people died of diseases that could have been cured. 7,746 were children. Let’s take that one more time, shall we?

7,746 children detained in camps ringed with barbed wire died in one year because Danish doctors refused to treat them. For the sole reason that they were German.

Five one-year-olds in one hole. One “unknown”.

Strangely enough that wasn’t what our erstwhile Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen referred to almost 60 years later in 2003 when he held a speech at The Naval Academy and said this:

“The doctrine from August 29th, 1943 should be that if you take our values of freedom, democracy and human rights seriously, then we’ll have to make an active contribution to defend them. Also when odds are difficult. Even when unpopular decisions have to be made.”

Mr. Rasmussen wasn’t referring to his own party, Venstre’s haggling over the prize of their participation in the Co-operation Policy either.

He wasn’t referring to his own decision to form a coalition government in 2001 with a party whose chairman has stated that “Muslims breed like rabbits” and whose voters have the highest approval rate of the opinion that dictatorship is better than parliamentarianism (20% – I’m not kidding!).

He wasn’t referring to the fact that of all the statesmen around the world who lied about weapons of mass destruction in the prelude to the war in Iraq, he’s the only one still denying that he was lying.

Today 8 years after his speech, it’s still unclear to me what Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggests the alternative to the Co-operational Policy should have been. Maybe he just thinks that more Danes should have died in World War 2.

He is now the Secretary General of NATO, a position he got by a whisker in 2009. He needed Turkey’s vote but had difficulties getting it because of his reactions during The Cartoon Crisis. But he got the Turks on board eventually. The price for that was an active contribution to the closure of the Kurdish TV station ROJ TV’s headquarters in Denmark, even though he had vigorously defended the Kurds’ right to freedom of speech on several occasions, including a couple of state visits from Turkey’s Prime Minister.

Where does all this lead, you might ask. Well, it all leads to this very day.

Since the end of WW2, huge efforts have been made by statesmen to ensure that nothing of its like could ever happen again. Different solutions have been suggested, but if you ask me, the most fruitful of them is the idea that countries who mutually benefit from trading goods and services have nothing to gain and everything to lose by going to war with each other. In Europe that first resulted in the so-called European Coal and Steel Community, which later through many detours turned itself into the European Union with a total of 27 member states – including Denmark.

One of the pillars of the EU is the common market; a term describing the freedom of movement of goods, people and capital among its member states. Borders are counterproductive to a common market, so in 1985 The Schengen Agreement was formed removing passport control, customs declaration and other obstacles to free trade. Denmark joined the Schengen area in 2001 and removed its barriers from the borders with Sweden and Germany – including the one at Padborg in Southern Jutland.

But there’s a war going on in Denmark right now. A war between political parties, and they are fighting over a very tiny territory commonly known as The Chair of the Prime Minister. The final battle will take place no later than November 12th since that will be exactly four years since the last election for our parliament, Folketinget. Venstre is the principal governing party at the moment, but it is completely dependant of the votes of three other parties and a couple of independent MPs. A single vote can turn the fortunes of war in favour of the opposition.

One of the parties supporting the coalition, The Danish People’s Party, Dansk Folkeparti, is built on the idea that being in favour of something is just too boring. What one really should do in politics is be against lots of things. So they’re against people who are not Evangelical Lutheran by faith. They’re against resocialisation of criminals – especially those criminals who are not Evangelical Lutheran by faith. They are against every lifestyle that’s not a nuclear family. They are against the Danes’ right to marry foreigners, in particular those foreigners who are not Evangelical Lutheran by faith. They are against the EU. But most of all they are against the Schengen Agreement.

So their price for keeping Venstre in the Prime Minister’s chair at the budget negotiations this spring was “a heavy rearmament and a permanent and visible control of the Danish borders” since “there has been a substantial rise in cross-border crime in Denmark, especially property crime committed by foreign gangs, smuggling of drugs, weapons, persons and large amounts of money(…)”

But there’s a problem with that agreement. Well, two problems, actually. First of all, there has NOT been a substantial rise in cross-border crime in Denmark, but every time someone has presented the crime statistics made by the Danish police to Dansk Folkeparti they have answered that they have made their own statistics because they are against official statistics in general.

The second problem is, that if you want to enjoy the benefits of the Schengen Agreement, you CANNOT have heavily armed, permanent and visible control at your borders – it’s a quid pro quo thing.

So what does a Prime Minister do if he wants to keep both his chair and his country inside the Schengen Area? He lets his Tax Minister do the English translation of the agreement with Dansk Folkeparti and … No wait, let me rephrase that: He lets his Tax Minister REWRITE the agreement with Dansk Folkeparti in English making sure that all the things that violate the Schengen Agreement are left out and replaced by a fairy tale about “road equipment (…) constructed with a high focus on the safety on persons and traffic while ensuring flexible and efficient handling of traffic” at the borders and hope no-one will notice the popping of champagne corks at Dansk Folkeparti’s offices in Folketinget.

Unfortunately, someone did notice.

So right now Denmark is paying the price for shutting its doors to its neighbours. We are under intense scrutiny by the other countries in the EU, of which several have suggested that visa applications should now be obligatory for all Danish travellers. The German EU minister of the Hessen Bundesland Jörg-Uwe Hahn has suggested that German tourists should find somewhere else to go on holiday. (That’s actually good advice in general since Danish consumer prices are the highest in the whole of EU).

But a low ebb was reached when Germany’s Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer wrote an article in the Danish newspaper Berlingske stating that:

“Those who seek re-nationalisation and want to turn back the wheel, those who long to get back to national currencies or even border controls, deny the core results of Europe – freedom and welfare.
(They) play with the fire of nationalism. A phenomenon which we for decades so earnestly have wished to put behind us (…) after the indescribable sufferings that were visited on the European continent in my country’s name.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

By Peter Andreas • July 6, 2011
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It’s too late for the Danes

Hi. Again.

It´s been a year since I have written anything here. The reasons for the lengthy pause are many, but principal among them is the fact that summarising the downsides of your country is pretty hard work. Not because of the amount of registered shortcomings that pile up on one’s desk during the process, but because it gets difficult, if not impossible, to go about your daily business among your countrymen without blending those realisations into the equation. You constantly have to remind yourself that the downsides of Denmark don’t apply to the individual Dane, but to the national character as a whole. At some point that circumstance just got unmanageable. So I needed at break.

But now something has happened that has reinvigorated my interest in the keyboard. Actually, it’s more pertinent to say that something has happened that has so filled me with anger and disgust that I’ve decided to change the focal point of this blog from just describing the absurdities of Denmark to sounding an urgent warning to everyone: Keep as far away from Denmark as you possibly can!

The triggering factor is as follows:

Right now, our parliament Folketinget is negotiating the fiscal plan for our country for the next 10 years, the so-called 2020 Plan. In relation to this, it is of course expedient to calculate the expected income and expenditure, so we know what we’re dealing with. And it’s equally prudent to break down the income and expenditure into different budget headings so you know which knobs to turn up and down to make everything balance.

But this time the MPs are using a calculating principle hitherto unseen. Government officials from five different ministries have made a report splitting up the income and expenditure into different ethnic groups.

No, your eyes do not deceive you. Government officials from five different ministries have actually made a report splitting up the income and expenditure into different ethnic groups. According to this report “immigrants and descendants from less developed countries” (Danish new-speak for ‘Muslims’) “constitute 15 billion kroner in expenses for Danish society” whereas “immigrants and descendants from more developed countries” (Danish new-speak for ‘everyone other than Muslims’) “constitute 2 billion kroner in earnings for the Danish society”.

Now, if I really – I mean REALLY – extend my lenience to include some sort of sense in making this account, I would conclude from it that Denmark has been failing totally in absorbing Muslim immigrants into the labour market, since paying taxes from wages is the most efficient way to contribute income to a society.

But that’s not the conclusion the Danes are deriving from this arithmetical problem. According to the Minister for Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs, Søren Pind, (I’ll explain the ‘ø’ in a later post) we should use this report to conclude that “It is not inconsequential which people arrive in our country. I have no scruples about introducing additional immigration barriers to those who we can suspect of intention to lay burdens on Danish society.” According to today’s newspapers, a substantial majority of MPs agree. The spokesman on the subject from the leading opposition party, Henrik Dam Kristensen even “welcomes the initiatives.”

I’ve always intentionally avoided using the word ‘racism’ here on Downsides of Denmark because calling anyone a racist stops a potentially fruitful dialogue instantly. But there are no other words to describe this attitude. Using the report to advocate the opinion that Muslims come to Denmark with the expressed intention of being a burden to society is nothing else than good old-fashioned bigotry.

So there you have it. Danes have finally fallen over the ledge and gone from casual racism to government-sponsored racism. And from this position, there is no way back. I see no other future for Denmark than the process so depressingly and concisely described by Senator Robert F. Kennedy at the City Club of Cleveland on April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his colour or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.”

For Denmark, this situation is not a question of ‘when’. It’s a matter of ‘right now’.

By Peter Andreas • May 2, 2011
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27 Comments

Sneak peek

The next post is all about sammenhængskraft, ‘cohesiveness’ – the thing on every Dane’s lips every other minute. Let me wet your lips with this tasty treat: an example of how cohesiveness still has to find its way from words to deeds.

The words:

“The message to immigrants who want integration in Denmark is that if you want and show willingness to make active efforts and respects the Danish culture and democratic values, you can become a part of Danish society (…).”

Review of Objectives, “New rules for obtaining permanent residence”, The Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs , March 2010.

The deeds:

“The rules for voting rights in municipal and regional elections are changed, so they only apply to resident aliens when they have resided in Denmark for 4 years. The current rules grant the right to vote to resident aliens after 3 years.”

Item 22, “New rules for obtaining permanent residence”, The Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs , March 2010.

By Peter Andreas • March 17, 2010
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The Cross That Danes Must Bear

A week ago 50 year old managing director Karsten Riise Kristensen complained to the Danish Ministry of Justice that there is an image of the Crucified Christ on the inner sleeve of his Danish passport. As Mr. Kristensen states:

“I have a faith but I’m not a follower of any religion. I don’t believe in religious systems. Actually, I resigned from the Church of Denmark when I was 20 years old, so why should I be forced to carry a symbol of a system that I left?”

And Kristensen is firm in his belief of freedom from religiously infused citizenship apparel. He’s ready to take his complaint all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, should the Ministry of Justice not comply with his demand of erasing Jesus from the passports.

So far, the Ministry isn’t reacting. Neither are the Danes according to a majority in the parliament Folketinget. Jesus stays in the passports.

Let me give you a (very) brief update on the relationship between Danes and Jesus.

Before the Danes met Jesus, they believed in the Norse Gods, a merry fellowship of skull-smashing bearded brutes that told the Danes that if they died on the battlefield they would go directly to Valhalla and spend life in eternity eating meat and drinking mead and engaging in inter-Vikingial skull-smashing until the Last Day of Ragnarock when über Norse God Odin would summon them to fight against the evil skull-smashers of Asgard.

Jesus was born 965 years before the then King of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth, stated that all Danes believed in Jesus and his father, God. His announcement was made through the proper official channels of the time, a rune stone with a brisk statement specifying: “I’m Harald, son of Gorm and Thyra. I won all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian!” on one side and a relief of the Crucified Christ on the other. This stone, named the Jelling Stone after the village where Mr. Bluetooth saw fit to erect it, is also known as the Birth Certificate of Denmark.

jellingsten
The Birth Certificate

Danes were Catholics until 1536 when the then King Christian III decided that all this buying of indulgence and sending tithe to Rome was a load of bollocks, so from now on all Danes were Protestants and the church was a matter of state and Mr. Christian didn’t need the Pope because Chris was fully capable of taking care of his own clergymen, thank you very much.

Then democracy kicked in and in 1849 the Danes made themselves a constitution, the Grundlov. And when they reached the point of deciding their beliefs, their only frame of reference for dealing with these matters was 900 years of some head of state telling them what to believe in. “You are evangelical-Lutheran because I say so!” had been the mantra of the then King Frederik VII.

But the Danes were firm believers in democracy now so they became perky: “No, everybody should have the right to believe in whatever they want – except for you. YOU be evangelical-Lutheran, Mr. F!” and gave that circumstance its own paragraph, §6 to be precise. So it’s a constitutional right of every Dane – except the King or Queen – to make their own kind of peace with whatever kind of deity or lack thereof that they choose.

Today surveys show that only 5-6% of Danes believe in God.

But.

82% of the Danes are members of the Church of Denmark and pay 1% of their combined income in Church Tax. Around 72% of newborn Danes are christened in churches. 42% of all weddings take place in churches. Danish priests are civil servants whose education and wages are paid for by the state.

This peculiarity derives from §4 in the Grundlov. In the concise linguistic tradition of Harald Bluetooth it states that “The evangelical-Lutheran Church is the Danish people’s church and as such supported by the State.” So you see, it’s in the law that a particular church is the Danish one –  and everything Danish is good. That’s why a vast majority of Danes believe in not separating church and state and most Danes will tell you that Denmark, even though thoroughly secularised, has Christian values deep in its core and if you dig for that core they will tell you that it means we are compassionate, forgiving and love our neighbours.

So Denmark is full of grace, according to Danes. Let’s elaborate on that. Let’s go to Germany, the home of Martin Luther.

In his famous Theses Luther stipulates that salvation doesn’t come at the price of following rigid rules and regulations but is a gift from God to everyone and the only price you have to pay for eternal happiness is to meet the world with grace.

Unfortunately Danes have entered this bargain like cheap used car dealers and have done everything they can to pay as little grace as possible for the eternal happiness that they put in the marketplace of State-building Solutions. They have fully embraced the concept that the similarly German but much later theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”.

Bonhoeffer was killed by the Nazis a few days before WW2 ended in 1945 for his role in the German Anti-Nazi Resistance. Bonhoeffer was serious about his grace, you see. He thought that grace without repentance, the willingness to change ones behaviour, was cheap. If you discover harmful doings that inflict unhappiness on your neighbour, you should make an effort to stop those harmful doings - practice ”costly grace”, not just feel sorry for him and turn the other cheek.

We’ve already covered the Danes’ attitude towards change, so let’s not go deeper into that now. Let me just give you an example of the fact that when believing gets tough, Danes choose not to believe.

During the last year, Denmark has seen two different but equally high-profile cases of whether or not people should be forced to leave the country.

Case 1:

Back in the late 1990s a Danish woman called Camilla Broe played an active role in arranging the transportation of some 100,000 Ecstasy pills from the Netherlands to Miami, USA. She has confirmed this herself. When the American police confront her with their investigation in 2001 she goes back to Denmark where she was protected under the rules of extradition between Denmark and USA.

But those rules were changed as a part of the new Anti-Terrorism Act of 2007. This means that Camilla Broe can be extradited to USA for trial and, if found guilty, returned to Denmark to serve her sentence. In September 2009 she arrives in Florida, but the trial ends in February 2010 with the charges being statute-barred. By 1st of March she’s back in Denmark pending the ruling of the Miami Prosecutor’s complaint about the first ruling.

Case 2:

During the last 12 years around 17,000 Iraqi citizens have applied for asylum in Denmark. Approx 12,500 have been granted asylum and 4,500 have had their application denied. Of the latter, 4,200 have left the country as of May 2009, but 282 have refused to leave due to the violent situation in the regions of Iraq that they fled from originally. On the 15th of May last year the Danish Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs declares that it has signed an agreement with the Iraqi government about forced extradition, and on 16th May, 70 Iraqis seek refuge in the Church of Brorson in Copenhagen.

The night between the 12th and 13th August the police enter the church and start putting the Iraqi families on flights to Iraq.

So far so good.

Camilla Broe hasn’t denied taking part in drug trafficking. But she claims that it was a result of Battered Woman Syndrome; that her actions should be seen as the consequence of the violent domestic environment she endured at the time. She also states that since the criminal acts that she is charged for happened 12 years ago and that she is now the sole provider for a daughter, the charges against her should be dropped.

The Iraqis had all received and taken note of the refusal of their asylum application, but claimed that the situation in Iraq was too violent to make it possible for them to comply with the Ministry’s decisions and that several of them had been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by Danish doctors. They also claimed that their children were born and raised in Denmark, had never visited Iraq and only spoke Danish since that was the language spoken at school.

Two cases pleading for the compassion, forgiveness and neighbour-loving of Danes. But with one difference: To meet Camilla Broe with grace would also constitute criticism of the American Justice System. No problem there. Never waste a good opportunity to badmouth foreign countries. But to meet the Iraqis with grace would constitute criticism of the Danish Justice System – and we can’t have that now, can we?

This difference showed up immediately in opinion polls.

60% of Danes think that Camilla Broe should be acquitted of all charges, 18% even think she should be paid some sort of compensation for her troubles. 27% think the trial against her should be allowed to proceed.

53% of Danes think that the extradition of Iraqi families was the right thing to do. 54% find it all right for the police to enter the church at night and transport men, women and children away in buses to prisons and airports. 32% think they should have been allowed to stay due to extraordinary circumstances.

So if you ask the Danes about Jesus, they will tell you that he is welcome to stick around and do his grace-thing as long as he also does something Danish while he’s here. They will even comply with most of his demands for the human race as long as it doesn’t in any way, shape or form impair the Danes’ right to love themselves unconditionally.

That’s why Mr. Kristensen will have to come to peace with the fact that the Crucified Christ will be represented in the colour of dusty beetroot in his passport for eternity.

dansk-pas-med-jesus

By Peter Andreas • March 10, 2010
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12 Comments

Holy Hygge (part 2)

Back at the beginning of the millennium a woman on the island of Bornholm felt something in one of her breasts that wasn’t supposed to be there. I can’t imagine the agony this woman, her family and all others who have faced the threat of cancer, have gone through. But I’m pretty sure that all the women of Bornholm have found some consolation in the fact that the Danish health care system provides every citizen of the country with free and cutting-edge treatment. No matter what the illness. No matter what the price.

The Bornholmians have been told all their living years that even though they are geographically detached and pretty far away from the rest of the country out there in the Baltic Sea, equal treatment means equal treatment, so if anything is wrong with them and the expertise to cure it is somewhere to be found in the Kingdom, help is at hand.

But there’s something on Bornholm called ovre. I guess the best translation will be to ask you to think of the term ‘over there’ and then get lazy and just think of ‘over’. Ovre means ‘everything in Denmark that is not Bornholm’.

Bornholmians have a love/hate relationship with ovre. On one hand the island is in no way big enough to support itself. The amount of sunshine, smoked herring and granite just isn’t sufficient to keep 42,000 people self-sustained. Especially not the granite, since that would mean literally carving up the island piece by piece and exporting it to vain house-owners all over the world. On the other hand the island has been under Swedish, German, Soviet and Danish supremacy through the centuries, so even though peace has reigned in the last 64 years there’s still a great animosity towards everything and everyone from any ovre lurking around in the back of the Bornholmian brain.

The woman’s cancer was cured. But she lost one breast. She lost the breast because the freeze microscopy facilities needed to perform a breast preserving treatment was only available ovre and the doctors at Bornholm Central Hospital and the mayor of Bornholm County had agreed to not let ovre boast about their fancy equipment and steal their patients and therefore did not inform women with breast cancer about the possibilities modern treatment provide and their rights to choose freely from any facility in the country. Five women lost breasts unnecessarily before someone intervened.

And what happened then? How did Denmark cope with the fact that five women were mutilated in the name of Bornholmian hygge? The two doctors are still working at the same hospital. Their boss has commented on the incidents with only one word: “unfortunate”. The Bornholm County Mayor first stated that the decisions were made because the removal of the breasts improved the patients chances of survival, but that was immediately denied by the doctors from ovre. Then he changed his explanation to: “There was a waiting list for breast preserving treatment” but that was firmly refuted by several hospitals around Denmark. Then the mayor went silent, perhaps because the then Minister of Health stepped onto the scene and called the events “unacceptable and irresponsible” but apart from looking and sounding a bit upset – did nothing.

The five women each received compensation averaging 34,000 kroner. That’s about 4,000 euro or 6,400 dollars or a tad more than the average Dane earns per month. Or what a cancer specialist earns in a week at Bornholm Central Hospital. Quite a bargain – one breast for one month’s pay. That’s the amount that says: “something was wrong” but not nearly enough to say “something was very, very wrong”.

Apart from that – nothing happened. There were no angry letters from citizens to politicians. There was no public outcry demanding those responsible should be held accountable. The mayor still enjoys a blossoming political career. The then Minister of Health is now our Prime Minister. And the Danish Cancer Society – whose expressed purpose is to “ensure optimal conditions for those living with cancer and its consequences” called the amount of compensation “adequate”.

But what about Danish society as a whole? I suppose it could be considered a civilized reaction to this wretched state of affairs to refrain from anger and just make sure that nothing like this could ever happen again by giving the whole health care system a thorough going over. But going over systems means changing systems and we know how Danes respond to change, don’t we? Change compromises hygge. NEVER, EVER compromise the hygge.

So Danes did the opposite of reducing the problem with local patriotism. They scaled it up and took it nationwide. Last year the European Commission had to threat the Danish government with sanctions for not allowing all Danes to use their right to seek the best possible treatment anywhere in the EU. Several cancer patients died after being declared incurable by the Danish health system even though both German and Swedish hospitals were able to treat them.

The Danes’ reaction to this? Nothing.

Because nothing must disturb the hallowed ground of hygge. Not even death.

By Peter Andreas • February 23, 2010
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19 Comments

Holy Hygge (Part 1)

I’ll bet you’ve already heard of hygge. Actually, I’m willing to make the bet more interesting by putting 100 kroner on the fact that you’ve been told that it’s a good thing. That hygge is a curled-up-on-the-sofa-in-November-with-dimmed-lights-a-good-movie-popcorn-and-a-dearly-beloved-under-the-rug kinda thing.

I’m afraid you’ve been lied to.

There’s nothing likeable about hygge at all. Except if you like keeping your air intake at the absolute minimum level required to keep your vital organs working or otherwise celebrate conditions where externally imposed stimuli are completely absent. Nevertheless hygge is not only a state of mind that Danes escape to now and then to catch their breaths in the humdrum of modern life. It’s the mother of all downsides of Denmark, so to fully understand our unfortunate national character, we need to scrutinise the phenomenon intensely. Hence the two-piece split-up of this post.

Let’s start with pronunciation, which implicates the ability to master the Danish way of dealing with both the Y-vowel and the sound of the double consonant GG.

If English is your native tongue, you’re in trouble with the Danish Y. There simply are no words in your language that encompass this sound. The best thing you can do is to purse your lips as if you were going to say “OH” but make the sound of “EE” instead. The GG’s are easier – you can find help in “bragging” or “gagging”.

If you’re German, it’s ein Klacks für dich. Think of “Ü” and you’re there. GG shouldn’t cause trouble either.

Now French. Think of your word for “naked” – “nu” – and you’ve got it. The GGs could be a challenge for you, but try doubling the first G-sound in “demagog”. (I’m aware of your… special needs… regarding the H in the beginning. Try letting air pass from your throat and out of your mouth without adding any sound. Like a sigh of despair.)

For the Spanish readers it’s easier to explain what not to do: Don’t use the sound of Y in your ‘word’ for “and” – “y” – and don’t just double the G-sound from “gringo” because it would just mess you up.

If you speak Mandarin you could practise your Ys by calling out for your friend Yu. Regarding the GGs – I’m afraid I have no idea… Perhaps my friend Liyuan can be of assistance.

Now let’s move on to the actual meaning of the word hygge. The problem is that it’s possible to find words in almost every other language that’s approximately the same as some of the original aspects of the hygge concept. The cosiness that applies to locations in English speaking countries. The Gemütlichkeit that can develop among Germans. Or the douillet in French cafés. All of them describing a certain feeling of happiness, individually or in groups, deriving from feeling safe and shielded from circumstances or people that could inflict harm. But none of them come anywhere near what hygge has disintegrated into in Denmark.

We adopted the word from Norway, probably because Norway was Denmark once. But as with so many other aspects of life, all the different and interesting nuances of the concept that thrive in Norwegian culture have been eroded by the general Danish brutishness. So all that’s left now is one single characteristic: recognisability. And that brings us to the heart of the matter.

Hygge in Denmark is the condition of complete absence of anything we haven’t seen before. Because new things have the mere possibility of imposing danger. You can find proof of that in how we use its antonym, uhygge. That means ‘scary’ in Danish. We use it to characterise scary movies or the perspectives of war. Perhaps this circumstance makes the meaning of hygge clearest to all you lucky non-Danes out there. I’ll bet another 100 kroner on the fact that you wouldn’t find ‘not cosy’ a fulfilling description of what’s going on in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ or life in the jungle in Vietnam in the early 1970s.

The perverted philosophy of life that hygge has become offers a variety of paradoxes in Danish culture. I’ll give you a few examples, but  my advice is not to try to understand them, because that would mean that hygge has infected you and hygge is known to be incurable.

1: Equality

On the surface Danish society looks like it has a stream of fairness running through its veins. No one is homeless. No one is filthy rich. Distribution of wealth through high taxation is welcomed with a smile by everyone. The workplace culture is dominated by a sense of consensus, not by tyrannical bosses.

But if you scratch the surface the uhyggelige truth emerges immediately: 5,000 people are homeless. The ten richest families collectively account for a fortune of 320 billion kroner which equates to around 20% of our gross domestic product. 70% of  Danes find moonlighting okay (the number for immigrants is 18% by the way…).

The number of psychopaths in managerial positions is four times higher than in the society as a whole. The number of compensations paid out by insurance companies for personal damages induced by bad managers has risen 50% during the last 3 years.

And if you present these figures to Danes, they’ll either question the validity of the statistics or say that it’s their firm belief that it’s worse in other countries. Why? Because acknowledging the truth would mean that changes should be made. And change compromises hygge.

2: Tolerance

At first glance, Danes seem quite tolerant. They will tell you that they believe that everyone has the right to practise their religion as they please. That gay people can kiss and hold hands in the street, even marry each other if they want to. That everyone is entitled to their quirks and a variety of foibles in the local community only adds charm to the neighbourhood.

Here’s the reality check: In the late 1960s and early 1970s a substantial number of Muslim citizens came to Denmark. It took more than 30 years before they were permitted to be buried outside Christian graveyards. Not a single minaret has been allowed to be built yet and the vast majority of mosques are refurbished cellars or apartments. This week the government decided to give 100,000 kroner to any Danish citizen of ‘non-western origin’ that leaves the country for good.

Gay people can marry – but not in churches. Last week a famous football player published a book (probably written while he was serving a sentence for beating up his ex-wife) in which he states that he “really hates gay people, they are fucking disgusting” and “admires Hell’s Angels for not doubting their masculinity”.

That led a famous actor to yell angrily at him in a TV show they both attended the other day. Not because of the obvious bigotry or sick fascination with violence. But because the book had stirred up a commotion that “completely ruined the hygge!” in Denmark. The head of communications at the Danish Football Association stated that gay men should “pay respect to the majority that could feel unsafe when confronted with viewpoints of minority groups”.

The number of lawsuits between neighbours has risen 300% during the last 5 years.

So you see, there are no limits to what Danes will do to defend the sanctity of hygge by oppressing anything and anyone who dares to be different and deny any truth that challenges them to change things. I think this also explains the extremely high suicide rate in our country compared to the rest of the western world. And I’m not alone in this theory. The brilliant British novelist V. S. Naipaul wrote about it in a letter to his friend Paul Theroux in 1995:

“If you are interested in horrible places, I can recommend Denmark. No one starves. Everyone lives in small, pretty houses. But no one is rich, no one has a chance to a life in luxury, and everyone is depressed. Everyone lives in their small well-organized cells with their Danish furniture and their lovely lamps, without which they would go mad.”

In Holy Hygge (Part 2) I’ll take you through a couple of examples of the fact that Danes are willing to put up with self-mutilation – even death – to defend this relic of the hygge cult.

By Peter Andreas • November 16, 2009
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45 Comments

Warm-up

Just thought I would share a little snippet of research for the next post with you beforehand:

Last week a famous football player published a book (probably written while he was serving a sentence for beating up his ex-wife) in which he, among other things, stated that he “really hates gay people, they are fucking disgusting” and “admires Hell’s Angels for not doubting their masculinity”.

That led a famous actor to yell angrily at him in a TV-show they both attended the other day. Not because of the obvious bigotry or perverse fascination of violence. But because the book had stirred up a commotion that “completely ruined the cosy atmosphere” in our country.

There’s a handful of kudos to you if you can guess the subject of the next post. And no – it’s not football. Or homosexuality.

By Peter Andreas • November 10, 2009
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11 Comments

But… but…

Do you know that very special feeling that solely derives from listening to someone saying something that’s so blatantly wrong that it renders you speechless? Normally, when you hear a claim or an argument that’s obviously built on false assumptions, contributing your knowledge of the state of reality to the discussion is the only right thing to do. I think that correcting wrongs is one of the strongest urges of the human race, actually. And thereby also one of the urges that’s most difficult to bridle.

But sometimes the wrongness of the claim or argument is of such vast proportions that it makes your urge to correct it so vehement you can almost taste it. The things you want to say are so plentiful that it’s too much for your articulacy to handle  and all that comes out of your mouth is: “But…”.

And then you get your act together and you formulate your rebuttal to perfection and you’re just about to take it into practical application when your brain says: “Wait a minute! If the person in front of you has not been able to determine the level of absurdity of his or her conception by his or her own capability, what are the chances that what can be said in the amount of time you are willing to spend on this thing, will do the job?” And your brain realizes that it’s a futile endeavour and all that comes out of your mouth is: “But…”. Again.

Do you know that feeling?

I do, because I study Danes all day long.

Let me give you an example: In Denmark we have something called Efterløn, an early retirement plan that makes it possible for practically everyone who has been working for 30 years to retire at the age of 60 instead of the 67 years of age that otherwise qualifies every single Danish citizen for State Pension. When this was first introduced in 1979 it was a brilliant idea, if you ask me. The difference in physical degradation caused by different jobs was much bigger than it is today. The health of a 60-year-old lawyer was simply much better than that of a worn down 60-year-old  farmer or factory worker. And on top of that the unemployment rate of young Danes was out of control at the time.

All in all, it simply made good sense to let the more fragile part of the workforce out of the pen and frolic on the green pastures of the society that they had built themselves.

Things have changed now. A report from the Labour Market Commission recently showed that the health of citizens on Efterløn is the same as those still in labour. And the number of 60-67-year-olds with jobs is only half the average of the other member countries of the OECD. The cost of this is 37 billion kroner per year in pensions and lost taxes. You could run 9 fully staffed and equipped Central Hospitals for that amount of money. Every economics expert you can think of has been begging the Danes to reform Efterløn for years.

Surveys on this subject are frequently made and published. They more or less all show that the amount of Danes who find Efterløn a life-threatening danger to Danish economy is around 80%. And the percentage of Danes who think that Efterløn should NOT be the subject of even the subtlest of adjustments is – you guessed it: 80%!

This is where the but-buts kick in.

Here’s another one for you: Danes use the word ‘integration’ a lot these days. And they always use it in sentences that somehow point out that ‘successful integration of different cultures’ means that all other cultures have conformed to the Danish one.

Small clusters of descendants of Danish immigrants are scattered all over the world, from Dannebrog, Nebraska to Tandil, Argentina. It has been obligatory for every Danish Prime Minister for the last 50 years to visit at least one of these during his reign (‘her reign’ has yet to find use in the Danish language) and just as obligatory to laud the community for its efforts to “uphold its Danish roots and values through generations”.

But… but…

The Danish version of ‘but’ is men, but don’t throw the English word into oblivion if you’re in the process of becoming Danish. Saying it out loud can help you practise one of far to many different but undistinguishable pronunciations of the letter ‘å’ as in ‘båt!’ which is Danish for the sound from the small bulb horns that circus clowns carry around.

Båt-båt…

By Peter Andreas • October 30, 2009
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23 Comments

This time it’s personal

A few comments have been directed more towards myself than to the subject of their respective posts. I guess the story of my life is also one out of 5 million other small pieces of the history of Denmark for the last 41 years, so this post is all about me and how I came to loathe the Danes and their ridiculous little country and their unmerited complacency and their peculiar love of dragging their intellectual knuckles on the ground as they walk through life.

I should warn you that the post is a little wordier than usual, but hey – I’m a complicated man.

I was born in the fall of 1967 in Copenhagen. My mum’s dad owned a small provisions business at the harbour supplying the ships with victuals and the seamen with liquor. My grandmother was a seamstress. My dad was made an orphan at the age of five, raised by nuns for a few years and then adopted by a Member of Parliament in desperate need of good publicity.

My parents met each other at the university so it was paramount to them that my name reflected their astronomical levels of knowledge and insight. And since this was the late sixties, “it was very important for us that you were named after a provo”, as they have often told me. Peter Andreas Heiberg was the right man for the job, apparently.

Heiberg lived from 1758 to 1841, was a writer and translator in a time of absolute monarchy – not a period of Danish history where mocking the nobility and criticising the King’s decisions would pass unnoticed. He was banished on Christmas Eve, 1799 and lived the rest of his life working as a clerk at the Foreign Ministry in Paris, France. His wife divorced him and many years after when his adult son visited him for the first time, he had gone blind. He died forgotten, poor and alone. Thank you ever so much for the christening gift, mum and dad.

In 1972 my parents had the audacity of sharing their attention to me with a brother. My response to that was beating him up on a daily basis until I received a well-deserved knock-out in 1981. Today he’s my best friend.

My dad spent the most of my childhood by almost finishing courses of study. He’s almost an architect and almost a civil engineer. In 1981 he summoned the strength and passed an exam as a mural paintings restorer and spent the rest of his working life rubbing and scratching tiny chalk whitening flakes off church walls around the country.

My mum was more determined in her ventures. She graduated as a social worker when I was 5 and has spent her career helping the homeless, saving children from violent homes and nursing mentally handicapped citizens.

They are both retired now. At this moment my mum is in Beijing on vacation and my dad is probably sharing a few pints with the locals at one of his favourite watering holes.

My brother and I were born and raised in socialist surroundings. Both our parents are proud members of the Socialist People’s Party, Socialistisk Folkeparti or SF, which occupies political territory a little to the left of the Social Democrats but far away from thoughts and ideas that include violent revolts or politbureaus. It was formed by people who were excluded from the Communist Party in 1958 because they had criticised the Soviet Union’s reaction to the uprisings in Hungary in 1956. Its chairman was lucky enough to break his leg at the party’s first election in 1960, so he campaigned from a hospital bed and SF entered our parliament Folketinget with 11 seats out of the 179 available and sent the Communists into oblivion. They have (almost) always supported the Social Democratic prime ministers since then, but have never held ministerial offices themselves.

My parents’ version of socialism is… pragmatic. They have owned property. They have christened both their children in churches. They have raised my brother and me to follow our ambitions, even if they include helping the evil multinational companies’ never ending efforts to enrich themselves on behalf of the working class. Once, when they were called to a meeting at the school where I was a 3rd grader and told that they should stop me from reading ahead on my homework because I was ‘getting out of level’, my parents just laughed and gave me more books.

But they have always demanded from us that we should show gratitude for living in a country where education and healthcare is free for all and unemployment doesn’t mean you have to spend the nights curled up in cardboard in dark alleys.

Except for the two summers I spent at Feminist Camp (more about that in a later post), every summer holiday of my childhood was spent on a bike, traversing the country from top to bottom, which sounds more energetic than it is, since you can never be farther away than 600 kilometres from anything in Denmark (except if you count in Greenland or The Faroe Islands, but they don’t seem to want to be counted in any more).

Every once in a while our parents would call the pedal-horse convoy to a halt and ‘give us the land’ as they called it. Spectacular scenery, a dolmen on top of a hill, a sunlit clearing on a hot July afternoon – they would tell us that this was ours no matter who claimed ownership of the actual property. This was ours because it was Danish and we were Danes. At the time we had no idea what they were talking about, of course, and pretty much had all attention directed towards laying out a strategy for relieving them of the private ownership of a couple of ice creams.

In 1982 our family moved from Copenhagen to a small town called Svendborg on the island called Fyn. Smack dab in the middle of Denmark, yes, but in the middle of nowhere if you asked me at that time. I was stunned. Copenhagen is not a big city by most standards, but Copenhageners are of the firm belief that it’s enormous. Arriving in Svendborg presented me with a change of culture that seemed impossible to endure at first. But I settled in, got friends, got my own apartment and completed upper secondary school with usable grades in 1986, still thinking that my future lay in astrophysics. Boy, was I wrong.

My plan was to spend a year or two having fun and then go to university and learn how to discover and inhabit other planets. And what could be more fun than getting paid for spending time in a bar? Little did I know that it was in the dense fumes of tipsiness and tobacco that I should find my vocation.

When you’re a bartender you have the responsibility of your guests well-being. And the first prerequisite for that is a cheerful and non-hostile atmosphere. Getting people to behave properly is a challenge – getting drunk people to behave properly is known to be almost impossible. But for some reason I was pretty good at it. A few months in, I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve made my living by adjusting people’s behaviour in different directions. From buying more coffee or chewing gum or cement factories to wearing a condom more frequently. I’ve spent some 20 years riding on the back of a society that’s gotten richer, healthier, more secure,  and better educated every year. According to most theories of human behaviour that should create the foundation for a people who would develop into being more generous, more tolerant, more optimistic and more likely to base it’s decisions on rational thinking. But for the Danes, something went horribly, horribly wrong along the way.

My suspicion of this was first awakened in 1999. I was hired by The Danish Refugee Council to do a  fund-raising campaign for the benefit of the refugees from the barbaric civil war in former Yugoslavia. The Danes’ history of providing means of survival for other nationalities in dire straits offers plenty of proof that this should not be an insurmountable task. Showing the actual living conditions of those in need usually did the trick. But our research showed, that the Danes either refused to acknowledge the authenticity of the hardship that these people had endured or simply ignored it. They couldn’t care less. But none of the participants of our surveys failed to mention how well-renowned Denmark was all over the world for always ‘being there’ when help was needed.

Instead we made the campaign all about helping the heroic Danish men and women struggling to make things right in Kosovo. Not a single picture of refugees. Lots of pictures of Danes. The amount of kroner collected sky-rocketed.

Something broke inside me during the weeks I spent on this project. Really? This was it? That’s what 50 years of perfect living conditions does to a people? Frosty indifference to those not as privileged?

But there were more shoes to sell, more cars to be wanted by more Danes so I just kept on truckin’ and made ads showing Danes wanting shoes and cars, hoping that it was just a phase. That reason would pull us through. Boy, was I wrong again.

A few years ago a writer was working on a school book about Islam. This guy had previously written books on the subject, one of them suggesting that we should spray menstrual blood on the Koran to teach the Muslims a lesson about equal rights of the sexes. This time he had cast his attention on the fact that drawing pictures of The Prophet Mohammed is considered extremely poor taste in some circles of Muslim society. I know a couple of the cartoonists that he asked to make drawings of exactly that for his book, both of them politely saying no to the job because you never get very far by spitting in people’s faces before trying to change their convictions.

A newspaper ran into the story and concluded that the only right reaction to this was to buy and print a number of cartoon drawings making as much of an insult to The Prophet as possible with the expressed intent of ‘mucking and ridiculing’ Muslim beliefs. Just to celebrate freedom of speech, you know.

I lost all hope for Danishness that day. All the spectacular views and the dolmen-dressed hills and the sunlit clearings were instantly reduced to sickness-invoking symbols of pure and unleashed stupidity. The whole thing with the cartoons showed that Danes lack even the simplest ability to engage in meaningful relations with cultures other than their own. And by that we lose the chance to play a part in shaping the world.

Despite my upbringing, I’m not a socialist. I believe in the idea of the welfare state; I’m indisputably a product of it myself, but there’s too much envy in socialism for my taste buds. I’m not a Neo-Conservative either. Or a Social Democrat. Or a nihilist. I believe that all the privileges and possibilities that we can agree to help each other achieve should be made instrumental for a higher level of human development. We should contribute our experiences and techniques to the collective pool of ideas and efforts of the world so that other countries can use the best of them to build better societies and develop new tools for society-building that we can use and so on.

I know this must sound incredibly banal to most of you, but for Danes it’s not even an option to consider.

So to sum things up and in response to the questions in the comments about why I’m doing this: I did love you once, Denmark. But I have serious doubts about ever being able to love you again. Because by meeting the world as a miserly, paranoid fool you produce the very proof that your way of doing things leads to failure.

And that really pisses me off.

P.

By Peter Andreas • October 22, 2009
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25 Comments

Downsides Of Denmark

Peter Andreas

43-year-old ad man. Very disappointed with his country and people.