Prospects of the city: A dodo called Danish democracy – The Post

Prospects of the city: A dodo called Danish democracy

‘Valg’, the Danish word for election, also means choice, but is it? (photo: istock)
June 20th, 2015 7:00 am| by Per Smidl
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In which the prospector reflects on the deterioration of democracy that has taken place in his native Denmark during his lifetime and in particular since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A dodo called ‘Democracy’
Seeing that we Danes have now become afraid of participating in demonstrations (for fear of arrest, detention and possibly losing their jobs), afraid of exchanging certain kinds of private information or expressing thoughts of a critical nature via mail or telephone, not to mention speaking out at work, this prospector herewith declares the following.

As long as a democracy is alive (reflecting the genuine political competition for power of different interests in society) and the government is still, if not afraid of them, at least respectful of the single individuals that together make up the population, it makes good sense for citizens to vote in its elections.

But when democracy has died (when it no longer reflects the above mentioned genuine competition for power between the differing interests) and when all that is left of it is a ritualistic set of election rules and regulations for the selection of representatives to the ruling bodies, and when – finally and as a result – the population has come to fear the government, then it is time for the citizen to stop voting as a signal to the power structure that it is no longer in accordance with it and no longer wishes to grant its government legitimacy.

Semantically curious
My pretext for writing this is the fact that my words will be published on the very same day that the majority of the Danish population is being asked to go to the polls. Whether I want it to be or not to be, this day in June is election day in Denmark – or, as we say, ‘choice’ day.

In English there is both the word ‘election’ and the word ‘choice’. The two words are not interchangeable. In Danish there is only the word ‘valg’, which means both depending on the context. In this way, when there is an election in Denmark it is implied semantically (and very strongly) that what we, the Danish people, are presented with is a choice – a real choice between the campaigning faces staring down at us from the trees and lampposts of our city.

However, since the faces are all different from one another, the fact that every one of them (with very few exceptions) belongs to parties that are very much the same and forced to conform to party discipline is obscured.

Contradictory choices
This contradiction regarding the apparent difference between the candidates (on the posters they represent both sexes and have different size noses etc) and the striking similarity of the parties in which they have pawned the freedom of their character naturally confuses the Danish voter – or, as we say, ’chooser’.

To make matters worse, Danish ‘choosers’ are not asked to cast their ‘vote’ but rather to cast their ‘voice’ – an act that renders them voiceless and mute until the next time a national election is called, at which point they’re given their voice back to be cast once more into the same old urn where it is cremated and turned into ash.

This prospector chooses to keep his voice to himself in order to raise it in the right places and when he deems fit.

Per Smidl


Per_Smidl_web

As the author of the 1995 essay ’Victim of Welfare. An Essay on State and Individual in Denmark’ and 2011 novel ’Wagon 537 Christiania’, Per Smidl is no stranger to controversy. After 12 years of self-imposed exile in Prague, he is back in his native Copenhagen, a city he will always have a unique perspective on.