Folkemødet & monarchy: Denmark’s paradox of politics

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. A line from the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.

An officer of the palace guard says this after the ghost of the dead king appears, walking over the palace walls. Apparently, there is nothing rotten in Denmark. On the contrary! Denmark is a progressive and well-run country. What about the Danes?

They are probably among the most well-informed people in Europe. They like to read and get facts about everything. They also like discussing and debating over things. This is obviously one of their keys to success. However, they are not opinionated at all. Not the slightest.

They are open and forward thinking. Inventive and innovative too. They like to blend seemingly unrelated things, with the sole purpose of getting the best out of everything.

Take their political life for example. They love democracy and fight to preserve it. At the same time, they won’t give up on their beloved monarchy. Long live the Queen! They may be right or left, but the lines are blurring. It doesn’t matter. They take politics seriously, but not too seriously, rather informal we would say.

Read on to find out more about Denmark’s “paradox of politics”.

Top of the class democracy

Denmark has one of the highest quality democracies in the world. Recent research pointed out that democracy in Denmark ticks all the boxes of the checklist.

From freedom and the rule of law to representation and decision making. Well done Denmark!

And guess what! There is a direct correlation here. How can a country with so much trust and quality and so low corruption not be so democratic?

The education system fosters this democracy as its foundation is to make students get critical thinking. Knowledge is good but everybody sharing their opinions is better.

No teacher will come into the classroom, teach for an hour and then say “thanks for today”. Material is presented to the students and then it is all about discussing and debating it.

They agree to perhaps disagree. And that’s normal and healthy.

Let’s meet at the Folkemødet!

Danes take politics seriously but not too seriously. Um, in the sense of formality at least. Similarly to the Danish language which is considered pretty much informal, the Danes like it that their country’s politics are informal too.

One of the most important political events of the year is the Folkemødet. It means “people’s meeting”. It’s a 4-day political festival taking place in the remote Danish island of Bornholm. Whoever wants to attend must travel to Sweden (oh yes!) and then take the ferry to the island of Bornholm, remotely situated in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

Then they must drive through the island’s winding roads in the countryside, for long, in order to get to the festival. But this is part of its charm. And another manifestation of Danish equality. Everyone (including party leaders, MPs, politicians and ordinary people) have to go through the same “hassle” to get there.

The Folkemødet is an open and equal opportunity to discuss and debate about all things political in Denmark. There are open dialogue and more than enough draft beer. Everyone can ask tough questions to others. All opinions are respected and valued.

This is a true democracy, right? An informal one too!

What about monarchy?

The Danish monarchy is over 1000 years old, one of the oldest in the world. Despite the Danes’ liberalism, there are hardly any signs that the monarchy is to be abolished.

It went through many transformations: from absolute to constitutional with the new Constitution of June 5th 1849. Hence, June 5th is celebrated (#not?) as Constitution Day.

Typically it is sort of the country’s National Day but not really one. It is not an official public holiday and there are no parades and celebrations other than some public speeches by politicians. Danish informality rules!

Modern-day sentiment about the monarchy is overall positive. Although back in the 20th century less than half of the Danes appreciated monarchy, today the majority likes to have their Queen. Blame it on her, Queen Margrethe II!

She actively managed to pursue the interests of the Danish people internationally and really acts as a uniting figure for the country. Plus, she is a reason for Denmark’s booming tourism too.

You may meet her on the streets of Copenhagen and maybe it will not be considered impolite to call her by her first name, like “Hej Margrethe”. What an informal culture!

Image: Mark Gray / VisitDenmark