“The election will not take the life out of Folkemødet, Folkemødet will breathe life into the election … and it needs it.”
It was in this fashion that Winni Grosbøll, Bornholm’s mayor, threw down the gauntlet in her speech to open Folkemødet 2015.
Determined that the fifth anniversary of the ‘People’s Meeting’ on Bornholm will be something to celebrate, Grosbøll said: “It may be a small anniversary, but it is still an anniversary.”
After tracing the history of the event – from the first year when “people said that no-one would come” to last year’s record-smashing 60,000 attendees – Grosbøll asked: “Has it gotten too big, people wondered?” She was then interrupted several times by applause from the opening-day crowd.
The mayor asked the crowd to heed to the theme of this year’s event and “Listen Louder”.
“Listen to the debates. Change your mind. Maybe once a day. The only risk is that you may become a little smarter,” she said.
Grosbøll brushed aside concerns that many MPs and other politicians decided to give this year’s Folkemødet a pass to concentrate on electioneering back home.
“There are still over 2,000 arrangements and plenty of politicians debating over the next four days,” she said.
Two out of many
Although she grimaced a bit as she broached the subject, Grosbøll cited Folkemødet’s wide variety of options when she mentioned the two arrangements that have garnered most of the media attention this year: appearances by Dutch anti-Islamist politician Geert Wilders and Georgios Epitideios from the Greek ultra-nationalist party Gyldent Daggry.
“Two arrangements out of over 2,000,” she mused. “The question is: do we draw lines in the sand as to what democracy and debate are? Do we set frames and the corners?”
The crowd applauded at the obvious “no” answer, and then applauded even louder when she said: “I hope that their appearance is to help further dialogue and discussion and not just to provoke,” perhaps reflecting on her decision to not allow a Mohammed cartoon drawing contest at this year’s meeting.
Security concerns remain high, and Wilders’ appearance has been moved from an open-air tent on the harbour in Allinge to Kongeskærskolen, a building made of traditional bricks and mortar.
“You are here because you are interested in what Denmark’s future will look like,” said Grosbøll. “Go out for the next four days and ‘Listen Louder’.”