In Denmark, democracy came to light more than 160 years ago when the sovereign king gave or accepted a constitution in which his role was practically symbolic.
In the time since then, democracy has flourished. Women won the right to vote in 1915. Labour unions were established, as were cooperative production units, public schools and NGOs. It is said the average Dane is a member of at least five different associations.
Several referendums have integrated Denmark into the EU, and regardless of the outcome of the British referendum this week, most Danes know that Denmark is far better off in the EU. Scepticism is ever-present, but that’s most Danish mentality for you.
The latest development was at Folkemødet festival in Bornholm last weekend. Its location deep into the Baltic Sea makes the island Denmark’s eastern frontier. What started some years ago with a random group of people meeting to debate and hang out in this remote part of Denmark has developed into a massive gathering of more than 40,000 participants of all political denominations.
All lobby organisations are there, as are all the NGOs and businesses. And most important – all politicians are present, speaking and mingling with the general public as they sip beer and coffee while the media laps it up in their columns. All the leading media outlets are there to catch and broadcast it all. Social media experts are also in action within the realms of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
It is peaceful. Some security is present to prevent some lunatic from spoiling the party, but they are discrete and smooth. Last year the provocation came in the form of controversial Dutchman, Geert Wilders, but even that passed by largely unnoticed.
The most remarkable outcome of Folkemødet is that it brings politics down to earth again. Over the years the common man has felt more and more estranged from the elected politicians and the political process. Debates in the oft half-empty Parliament are televised for all to see and citizens are unimpressed. Political parties have lost more than half of their membership and the younger generation, in particular, is increasingly politically inactive – for a number of reasons.
TV has deteriorated the debate by reducing it to one-liners or by using TV hosts who seem to be doing more interrogating than interviewing.
But on Bornholm this gathering somehow manages to restore the intended version of democracy over a long weekend. In ancient Athens, citizens gathered in public squares to debate and Folkemødet has shown that people care for the society they live in. They are curious and well spoken. Organisations and businesses are developing creative new ways of presenting their message and they’re getting immediate responses as the competition for attention skyrockets.
Long live Folkemødet!