Desperately seeking the voice of the people (and a free meal)

Journalist Ray Weaver finds that, despite the criticism of Denmark’s biggest political event, Folkemødet is folksy

I came to Folkemødet, the People's Meeting, looking for the vox populi – the voice of the people. An early morning stop at a tent where a Christian group was belting out an early morning folk hymn was perfect – bright faces, drinking coffee and eating a roll with butter, singing on a bright Bornholm morning … folksy.

There is just no way to hit all of the speeches, demonstrations, sing-alongs, programmes and performances that take place every hour on the hour starting at 8am when Folkemødet is in full tilt boogie mode on the Saturday. Decisions must be made … and it is here that I zigged when I should have zagged.

A few steps away from the happy singers, a chalkboard sign advertised that Anne-Mette Rasmussen, wife of former Venstre prime minister and UN honcho Anders Fogh Rasmussen, was giving a talk about “Her life as First Lady”. I know, I know, but I figured I'd drop my preconceived notions just this once and give it a chance. 

Danes learn the value of scepticism at an early age (Photo: Scanpix)

I lasted three minutes. 

As soon as Fru Rasmussen began waxing poetic about the times that she, Anders and the kids spent with George and Laura Bush in big black limousines and at Camp David, I realised that my prejudices may have been spot on this time. As I was leaving, she was regaling the rapt mostly Venstre-ites with a tale about her time on the TV dancing contest ‘Vild med Dans’. nope, not much to do with the common folk here.

A ramble away from the political tents and the main stage down the hill into the hundreds of stands, booths and tables set up around the harbour in Allinge got me a bit closer to the true heart of Folkemødet. 

Here were the community groups, the heath nuts, the tree huggers, the peaceniks, the nurses. You name it. If it has a cause, a charter or a business card, it was giving something away in Allinge. Hats, tote bags, pens, keychains, T-shirts, balloons, DVDs, reams and reams of pamphlets. And food. I had a fresh morning roll and coffee with the nurses, popcorn with alcoholics support group Blue Cross, a smoothie with some bunch promoting sustainable agriculture and bottled waters from … everybody. 

You could survive the entire weekend without spending a krone on food or drink, a fact not lost on several vendors that paid for space and were in it to earn some cash. Carsten, the young man running the fish’n chips stand where nary a customer could be found called it “a real problem”.

A portrait of the journalist as a worried man

When I was a kid my parents would drag us to a home expo that came to the Timonium fairgrounds outside of Baltimore, Maryland every year. There were guys in bad suits hawking aluminium siding, cooking shows, putting greens where you won a loaf of bread for a hole in one, and, everywhere you went, people stuffed something in your hand to eat or with a logo on it. Often it was something to eat with a logo on it. Folkemødet, away from the politicos and down among the grass-roots groups, is the same experience. When I spoke with Folkemødet founder Bertil Haarder (Venstre) last week, he mentioned the importance of those groups and volunteers.

“Denmark is a country of volunteers and associations, and they play a major role at Folkemødet,” he said.

These are earnest folk, the true believers. The guy that gave me my free blood pressure screening at the Stop High Blood Pressure booth nearly had a stroke himself when he saw my numbers. After resisting his efforts to trundle me off to the nearest casualty, I listened to his rap regarding salt, fat, alcohol and coffee. He wanted to call my wife. These folks are serious.

Politics is the name of the game this weekend, so eventually I am going to have to wander up to the main stage and listen to one party or the other tell me why they are better for Denmark than the other party that was just telling my why they were better.

I hope the food is good.