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The great democratic experiment

Photograph: iStock

Text: Narcis George Matache

What is Denmark, in essence? Once you unbundle it from the Danish language, frikadelle, snaps, Olsen's and Jensen's, Viking history and the obsession with the question "What makes one a Dane?" Denmark is one of the most remarkable democracy experiments humanity has ever seen!

What other country in the world can say that it has a yearly tradition of celebrating democracy? The three fundamental rights that allow the existence of democracy are at play come the 5th of June; people gather (freedom of assembly) in parks to listen or give speeches (freedom of speech) at events organised by local associations (freedom of association).

You might wonder, what is so special about democracy in Denmark? Most of the countries in the world are democratic today. So why call Denmark the great democratic experiment? To answer these questions, we need to look back at its history. This country was once a class-based society, in which the royals, nobles and clergy used to thrive at the expense of the farmers and the workers. Motivated to end the exploitation and aware that they represented the majority of the population, the workers and farmers organised and fought hard to obtain the right to candidate and vote.

So, you can say democracy in Denmark is the people's project. Danish society changed forever with the implementation of the 1849 Constitution (Grundloven) and the subsequent changes to it. It became an arena where competing interests battle for the power to change rules and allocate resources.

Organised workers created trade unions to negotiate their salaries and working conditions and formed the Social Democratic party. Farmers created agricultural associations where they negotiated prices and marketplace conditions and formed the Venstre (Liberal) party. Intellectuals gathered and formed the Social Liberal Party (Radikale Venstre), while landowners and nobility created the Conservative Party. It became apparent to every member of society that active participation was needed if their interests were to be protected.

Since 1849, the continuous struggle that characterised the Danish democracy has blossomed into a society that can take pride in a high turnout every time voters are asked to vote. However, how does one obtain the "high turnout" that is mostly a pipe dream in most democracies?

There are three important parts:

Education – Read and learn about democratic values in school.

Practice – Make sure you join associations that are similar to mini-societies. Here you will learn to debate, acquire knowledge, challenge arguments, compromises and vote for people and proposals.

Trust - in the democratic institutions.

"Danish society changed forever with the implementation of the 1849 Constitution (Grundloven) and the subsequent changes to it."

90% of the population is a member of at least one association, 70% participate actively, and 40% have a leadership position on the association's board. On average, a person in Denmark is a member of 3-4 associations. And democracy doesn't mean only elections for the Parliament, the local councils or the regional ones. Democracy is also present in your everyday life; you can influence the conditions at the school where your child attends by joining the school board, affect the conditions in your neighbourhood by joining the housing association and/or the district council, and even changing the conditions at your utility companies by joining the consumer boards. The list goes on…

Active participation is vital to join the great democratic experiment that is Denmark. If you organise, you can have a say, and your ideas can be financed and become a reality. If you don't organise, you pay the price despite contributing to the common money pot; you won't have a say over how that money is used. Imagine Danish society as a chess table, where different groups are engaged in the game of power. The unorganised groups represent the pawns on the table, and who has the lowest involvement in the game of power? You guessed right, it's us, the non-Danes. We are one of those pawns on the chess table. Unfortunately, we are the sacrificial pawn.

This means that some groups, to gain a competitive advantage, use the sacrificial pawn. They can enforce what we view as strange rules (finalisation of citizenship by a handshake), they can deport us (Syrian refugees being sent home), they can take opportunities away from us (the reduction in the number of English-speaking places in universities), and they can make you feel less equal - all in the name of gaining political capital.

Now, we have an option. We can continue being sacrificial pawns, or we can organise. The time has come for us to join Denmark - the greatest democracy experiment on Earth.

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