Danish culture builds bridges to India – The Post

Danish culture builds bridges to India

Classic diplomacy is not always the most effective way to mutual understanding between people. This is one of the main reasons Denmark has opened a cultural institute in New Delhi

June 30th, 2019 5:00 pm| by By Eric Schoon, Translation: Stephen Gadd

Ever since the idea for what is now called the Danish Cultural Institute was born in an occupied Denmark during 1940, the aim of the initiative has been to spread Danish culture in the world and use culture as a springboard for understanding between people.

At present, the Danish Cultural Institute has seven departments worldwide. They represent Danish culture in Belgium, Brazil, China, the Baltics, Poland, Russia and from January 19 this year, in New Delhi, India.

Copenhagen Post visited the newly-opened institute in May and talked to the institute’s head, Thomas Sehested, about his vision for an expanded cultural co-operation between Denmark and the cultural giant that is India.

Cultural tensions
And there really was a need for a new tone in the co-operation between the two countries. The background for this was, in short, that official relations between Denmark and the world’s largest democracy, India, had not been optimal for the last few years.

The reason was an extradition case from 2007, where Denmark refused to extradite a Danish citizen for trial on charges of terrorist activity in India back in 1995. To begin with the Danish ministry of justice gave the green light for extradition, but the decision was countermanded by the Danish courts.

India reacted by freezing co-operation between the two countries and cancelling official visits and conversations between Indian and Danish civil servants. The situation was unfortunate for both parties, so the news that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Danish counterpart Lars Løkke Rasumussen had shaken hands on a deal renewing co-operation during Modi’s visit to the Nordics in April last year was received with considerable joy and relief . This included, among other things, the opening of a Danish cultural institute in New Delhi.

Let the lawyers sort it out
The leaders of the two countries simply agreed that the purely legal complications arising from the extradition case ought to be handled by the judicial system and that this disagreement ought not to stand in the way of closer co-operation between the two democracies.

The new cultural institute was inaugurated on January 19 this year at a separate address that is not part of the Danish embassy with an impressive ceremony. Among those participating were the DKI secretary general Camilla Mordhorst, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and the chairman of the board of the Carlsberg Fund, Flemming  Besenbacher – as well as a number of Danish and Indian cultural personalities.

400 years of Danish interest in India
Next year it will be 400 years since Denmark began a co-operation with the mighty country in the east by establishing Tranquebar on the coast of the Bay of Bengal in what is now the state of Tamil Nadu. More than 200 years was to pass before Denmark gave up its official presence and handed over its possessions – that apart from Tranquebar also included the trading station at Serampore (or Frederiksnagore) – to England in 1845.

Before we departed we had also managed to establish the first modern university in Asia. It was situated in Serampore that from 1829 had the status of being Denmark’s third university town after Copenhagen and Kiel. Denmark carried on building energetically on the bridges that were constructed and has shown great interest in the development of the fast-growing country ever since.

Backdrop for celebration
It is therefore completely natural that the upcoming 400th anniversary of Danish-Indian co-operation should provide the framework for a long series of cultural events. The leader of the new Danish Cultural Institute in New Dehli, Thomas Sehested, has big plans for this occasion in particular.

With his background as an historian and with a passion stretching over many years for India and its colourful culture, there is absolutely no doubt that he will make an active contribution to ensuring that the new Danish-Indian cultural co-operation will start off with a bang.

Ever since the idea for what is now called the Danish Cultural Institute was born in an occupied Denmark during 1940, the aim of the initiative has been to spread Danish culture in the world and use culture as a springboard for understanding between people.

At present, the Danish Cultural Institute has seven departments worldwide. They represent Danish culture in Belgium, Brazil, China, the Baltics, Poland, Russia and from January 19 this year, in New Delhi, India.

Copenhagen Post visited the newly-opened institute in May and talked to the institute’s head, Thomas Sehested, about his vision for an expanded cultural co-operation between Denmark and the cultural giant that is India.

Cultural tensions
And there really was a need for a new tone in the co-operation between the two countries. The background for this was, in short, that official relations between Denmark and the world’s largest democracy, India, had not been optimal for the last few years.

The reason was an extradition case from 2007, where Denmark refused to extradite a Danish citizen for trial on charges of terrorist activity in India back in 1995. To begin with the Danish ministry of justice gave the green light for extradition, but the decision was countermanded by the Danish courts.

India reacted by freezing co-operation between the two countries and cancelling official visits and conversations between Indian and Danish civil servants. The situation was unfortunate for both parties, so the news that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Danish counterpart Lars Løkke Rasumussen had shaken hands on a deal renewing co-operation during Modi’s visit to the Nordics in April last year was received with considerable joy and relief . This included, among other things, the opening of a Danish cultural institute in New Delhi.

Let the lawyers sort it out
The leaders of the two countries simply agreed that the purely legal complications arising from the extradition case ought to be handled by the judicial system and that this disagreement ought not to stand in the way of closer co-operation between the two democracies.

The new cultural institute was inaugurated on January 19 this year at a separate address that is not part of the Danish embassy with an impressive ceremony. Among those participating were the DKI secretary general Camilla Mordhorst, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and the chairman of the board of the Carlsberg Fund, Flemming  Besenbacher – as well as a number of Danish and Indian cultural personalities.

400 years of Danish interest in India
Next year it will be 400 years since Denmark began a co-operation with the mighty country in the east by establishing Tranquebar on the coast of the Bay of Bengal in what is now the state of Tamil Nadu. More than 200 years was to pass before Denmark gave up its official presence and handed over its possessions – that apart from Tranquebar also included the trading station at Serampore (or Frederiksnagore) – to England in 1845.

Before we departed we had also managed to establish the first modern university in Asia. It was situated in Serampore that from 1829 had the status of being Denmark’s third university town after Copenhagen and Kiel. Denmark carried on building energetically on the bridges that were constructed and has shown great interest in the development of the fast-growing country ever since.

Backdrop for celebration
It is therefore completely natural that the upcoming 400th anniversary of Danish-Indian co-operation should provide the framework for a long series of cultural events. The leader of the new Danish Cultural Institute in New Dehli, Thomas Sehested, has big plans for this occasion in particular.

With his background as an historian and with a passion stretching over many years for India and its colourful culture, there is absolutely no doubt that he will make an active contribution to ensuring that the new Danish-Indian cultural co-operation will start off with a bang.