Tag Archives: Denmark

Is Denmark a small ethno state?

This is my first post on this blog for a very long time. I have finally felt impelled to write something after watching a live transmission of Carles Puigdemont’s appearance in Copenhagen university. It was an interesting event, all conducted in English. Sr Puigdemont was very impressive, especially in answering questions.  What most got me raging was the contribution of Marlene Wind, professor in European politics and law at the university. (thanks Marlene) Her presentation was one of the most ill-informed, ignorant and condescending speeches I have had the misfortune to hear. Even Donald Trump might have been a bit ashamed at her ignorance.

I will not bother to refute most of her distortions, Sr Puigdemont did a pretty good job of that. However I was particularly struck by Marlene Wind’s accusation that independence for Catalunya would be very bad as it would be a small state defined by ethnicity. This, according to Marlene Wind would be dangerous. I am not particularly in favour of states that are defined by ethnicity. Not quite sure why she singled out small states. Surely large states defined by ethnicity would be even worse? However even if we stick to small states, it would seem that Marlene is as ignorant of Danish society as she obviously is of Spain and Catalunya.

A brief comparison between Denmark and Catalunya would indicate that of the two countries, Denmark is incomparably a state defined by ethnicity, while Catalunya is clearly not.

Let us start with size, since this seems to be of some importance to Marlene Wind. Denmark is slightly larger in area – approximately 50,000 square km to 32,000 square km for Catalunya. On the other hand Catalunya is significantly more populous, with some 7,500,000 people, compared to 5,750,000 living in Denmark. Let us call it a draw and accept that both Denmark and Catalunya are relatively small countries.

With smallness not really a relevant factor, let us look for evidence or indications of ethnicity as the defining factor. Though Denmark is changing, it is still overwhelmingly a homogeneous country, with around 88% of the population of Danish origin. This is clearly not the case in Catalunya.  I do not have up to date figures, but people of Catalan origin are likely to make up no more than half the population, if that. Most of the rest come from other parts of Spain, while around 15% of the population is non Spanish. One thing seems to be very clear and that is that Catalunya is not in any sense a country defined by ethnicity. On the other hand it would seem that Denmark does fit that bill quite nicely.

If we turn to language, a similar picture emerges. While most Danish people will speak at least one other language, probably English, this is not the official position. The language of Denmark is Danish and I think that only Danish is used in Parliament. Public schools teach through the medium of Danish, even if they do teach other languages. Contrast this with Catalunya, where both Catalan and Castillian are official languages. MPs can speak in either language in Parliament.  Public schools in Catalunya are all bi-lingual. Though perhaps not quite as proficient as Danes, most Catalans will also speak a third and sometimes a fourth language. As is the case with Carles Puigdemont. On the language issue, if either country is to be accused of ethnic nationalism it would not be Catalunya.

When it comes to politics there is also a very clear divide between the two countries. While Denmark is rightly regarded as a progressive and welcoming country, it is also home to the far right Danish People’s Party. This is a party that is anti immigration, anti muslim and anti multi-culturalism. This far right party is not some minor aberration, but has 37 MPs in Parliament. Moreover the current centre-right government depends on these 37 MPs for its majority in Parliament. At the very least we have a bit of narrow, nasty ethnicity on the fringes of the government in Denmark.

In Catalunya by contrast none of the various parties that support independence fall into this far right, anti immigration, anti muslim, anti multi-culturalism so beloved of the Danish People’s Party. The exact opposite is the case. All the pro independence parties in Catalunya are actively in favour of an open, plural, pro-immigration society. It is not possible taint the pro independence parties with any kind of ethnic nationalism.

On the other hand some Spanish parties are more like the Danish People’s Party. Both the Partido Popular of Mariano Rajoy and Ciutadans are openly nationalist and anti immigration. It is just that they support Spanish nationalism and Spanish ethnicity.  They also seem to have the full support of Marlene Wind. Which somewhat tarnishes her apparently passionate opposition to ethnically defined states.

In her intervention Marlene clearly implied that small countries which were defined by ethnicity should not be independent. It is just as well that this injunction is not to be applied retrospectively. For then Denmark, as a country that is more clearly defined by ethnicity than Catalunya, would not deserve to continue as an independent country. It could apply to become part of the Federal Republic of Germany. And as Denmark would remain one of the richest parts of this expanded republic, with the highest possible degree of decentralisation, it would not regret having to give up its independence.

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Danish Lessons for Scotland?

danish_flagWhat can we in Scotland learn from Denmark? In particular does Denmark offer us any guide as we approach our referendum on Scottish Independence? Returning from a wonderful holiday in Denmark does not make me any kind of expert on things Danish. However, even a brief visit shows that there are some very positive lessons for us to learn from our Nordic neighbour.

Smaller is Better
Denmark is nowadays a rather small country. It is in fact smaller than Scotland in landmass. Its population is much the same as Scotland’s – just over 5 million souls. Yet this was not always the case. Visits to a few museums bring out just how big and powerful Denmark was once upon a time. As the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs puts it on its website:
“Between the 13th and 17th centuries, Denmark was a superpower whose influence was as powerful as that of the largest European countries.”

Denmark was in fact the hub of a vast empire that included Norway, southern Sweden and the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in northern Germany. It was one could say a kind of early United Kingdom. Yet over the centuries all of this empire was lost. Probably the most traumatic of these losses came in the 1860s with the loss of Schleswig and Holstein to Germany. At a stroke the nation had once again lost almost a third of its total area and population. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website points out:
With the loss of the duchies, Denmark had become smaller than ever. From this nadir the work of national regeneration started with the motto ‘outward losses must be compensated by inward gains’.”

Thus the starting point for the emergence of the Denmark we know today was it becoming smaller. No longer any kind of superpower Danish society began to make the most of what they had, in effect its people, as the country has little in the way of natural resources. Yet this has not stopped Denmark from becoming one of the most prosperous and influential countries in the world. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website is proud to point out:
“For a small country though, Denmark still punches above its weight in many different areas including design, architecture, farming, green technology and pharmaceuticals.”

And all this without the “benefits” of oil or nuclear weapons. This would seem to be a lesson, not just for Scotland, but for England too. The smaller and less military powerful Denmark became, the more prosperous she became.

Nationalist and Open
The losses of territory generated a profound debate among Danes about their country and led to a much more nationalist outlook. The National Museum for Art even has a room dedicated to this debate on Danish identity and nationalism. Though this at times took the form of hostility to foreigners, the majority of Danes have always rejected this form of nationalism.

For decades now Denmark has been one of the most open and co-operative countries in the world. The section in the National Museum which covers Danish art subsumes this within the wider frame of Danish and Nordic Art. Denmark also works closely with its neighbours through the Nordic Council.

20090115 oresundstag DSB ET 4528 (1) 700pxThis co-operation is not just at government level, but extends to business ventures. Most people will have heard of SAS, the jointly owned airline which operates on behalf of all three Scandinavian countries. With the building of the bridge linking Copenhagen with Malmö a new cross border rail company was set up. This service covers most of southern Sweden and the area to the north of Copenhagen.

The lesson here is that working jointly and co-operatively with your neighbours is the norm in Europe today. Nobody exists or wants to exist in splendid isolation. Yet Denmark retains and values its independence, as does Sweden and Norway. The people of these countries must be bemused by the scare stories from British Unionists as to how independence will mean the end of joint working and co-operation between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Pride in Denmark
From what we saw on our recent trip, Denmark is a very beautiful country. It is also clear that the Danes are immensely proud of their country and proud to be seen to be Danish. The national flag was to be seen flying everywhere. Across streets, in windows, in gardens and just about anywhere. It must have struck Danes as rather odd that some Scots could regard displaying the Scottish flag at sporting events as something to be frowned at.

The lesson here is that while Denmark has its own problems, Danes do not talk their country down. Nobody in Denmark is ever likely to suggest that their country would be better off by becoming a part of a larger country.

It can be the same for us in Scotland. We too can become a more prosperous and more equal society. Just like the Danes did, we can use our talents and our resources to build a better future for all. One we can all be proud of.

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