The Danish Democracy system has been lauded all over the world of progressiveness. But why? Gresë Sermaxhaj found out.
Danish students talk the most to their parents and friends about political issues on average compared to other countries, and they also have the most trust in other people and the government.
To understand more on the issue, I have been following the Crossing Border’s work on Youth Participation in Democracy in Denmark, and Frederik Strauss Rasmussen, Intern, Crossing Borders sat down to speak with me more about what makes the Danish Youth participation in Democracy unique.
In this piece, Frederik, who is doing his internship as part of his master’s degree in Advanced Migrations Studies at Copenhagen University, elaborates also his experience and opinion about why youth engagement in a country’s democracy is important towards an inclusive society.
His future aspiration is to help young people to take action and give them the tools to create a better world, and after finishing reading this interview you will be introduced to one more young activist who is making the world brighter for everyone.
The Uniqueness of the Danish Youth Participation in Democracy
Although Rasmussen finds it hard to pinpoint what makes Denmark unique regarding this matter, as he respects each different culture in the rest of the world, when asked about this, some ideas come to his mind.
“One is the Danish welfare state. We are a very rich country with many social benefits such as free healthcare, free education (which we also get paid for) and a security net which we call ‘flexicurity’, which provides financial support when we get sick or unemployed.”
Almost naturally, with such vast national resources and such a small population, every individual vote counts towards how these resources should be allocated and spent.
“Most young people know that if they want society to benefit them, they must give their vote,” says Frederik, who loves working in international communities as it helps him understand the world.
He further reminds us that Danish society is built on high taxes, a big public sector and a strong sense of trust towards other individuals, its government and its institutions, like the courts.
In his opinion, this togetherness and trust is one of the biggest reasons they can enjoy such a privileged society.
“It is also the ‘association’ or ‘union’ culture which is so unique about Denmark. This began at the end of the 1800’s, where fishermen, dairymen, butchers and peasants joined forces in an attempt to boost their business and rebel against the upper class who enjoyed mass land ownership and economic power.”
At the same time, they introduced the freedom of assembly.
“This has created what we know today as associations or unions, which are deeply embedded in the system and culture of Denmark.
“This normalisation of being part of a union is something which I believe has greatly promoted democratic participation here in Denmark.
“In my opinion, it is these things combined which is what make Denmark unique.”
Speaking to Youth Time, he underlines that change won’t happen unless one does something about it.
“I personally believe that if I missed an opportunity to vote for something, it wouldn’t be justifiable to then later complain about it.”
Crossing Borders Enhancing Youth Participation in Democracy
At Crossing Borders, they also uplift the community.
“We work together to reach a common goal and consensus, without focusing on differences like colour or religion. We see our organisation as being very diverse, with our team from all different backgrounds.”
Crossing Borders also has a project in Kyiv, Ukraine called ‘Kyiv Democracy Hub’ that works specifically towards promoting democracy to young people in the country.
“Alongside our Ukrainian partners we organize activities like training, debates and panel discussions etc., providing a space for dialogue and giving the young people the tools to act towards issues both in their local and global society.”
The reason behind this project is because of the distrust among the Ukrainian youth towards their government and public initiatives.
This is an example of how trust in a political system is needed to foster youth’s political participation, and how they try to empower these young people to take action on their own.
A Space for Youth to Express their Opinions
While reading this article on this matter, I understood that the global report by the IEA International Civic and Citizenship Study identified Danish youth as the most democratic-minded among 38 nationalities.
When asked about what other democracies can learn from the story of mobilising and engaging young people in the Danish democracy, Frederik finds it hard to answer-but he says that providing space for young people to express their opinions and explore their interests is the way forward.
“When young people get the space and opportunities to express themselves, they feel more motivated to engage. In Denmark we rank very high globally regarding freedom of speech, we are protected against censorship and we have a very low rate of corruption and oppression.”
Already from primary school, there is a big focus on educating the young people on how to think independently and democratically.
We also have a culture of non-formal teaching that a lot of young people usually attend when they are transitioning to another school level.
“I think this idea of non-formal teaching, outside of the normal school hours, is something which other countries could definitely take inspiration from. Lessons can be shaped to whatever the young people wish to learn about, and is great for inspiring and motivating the youth to think about what is important to them.
Below, he shares with our readers a few interesting things he found researching the topic:
According to the IEA ICCS 2016 report the Danish youth scored very high when the following things:
1) Danish students talk the most to their parents and friends about political issues on average compared to other countries.
2) They have the most trust to other people and the government
3) They rate their classroom environments as very open.
The high rate of personal talks about politics amongst friends and family is something that DUF highlighted in their annual Democracy Analysis of 2020. According to that report, the four activities that the Danish youth are participating the most in are:
1) discussing politics with friends or family (64%)
2) signing signature petitions (41%)
3) buying or deselect certain goods for political, ethical, or environmental reasons (32%)
4) writing, sharing, or commenting on a policy online (19%).
And these are the things that they participate the least in:
5) Participating in a political event (13%)
6) Participation in a demonstration (13%)
7) Writing letters to editors or participating in debates (6%)
8) Participated in political campaigns (5%)
9) Contacted an official or politicians (3%).
10) Finally, 23% have not participated in any political activity.
Commenting on these findings, he adds, an interesting point here is that both reports concluded that many Danish youth discuss politics with their relatives and friends on average compared to other countries.
“The simple point that politics and democracy are so freely discussed in social settings, is most definitely a contributing factor to the strength and uniqueness of Danish youth participation in democracy.”
He believes the more you talk about a topic, the more engaged you naturally become and the more confident you become about sharing your opinion.
“The Danish youth also rated their classrooms as being ‘very open’, something which motivates young people to share their ideas and opinions, knowing it is in an environment which they feel free and can trust.”
A Message to The Youth: Be Patient and Hard-Working
Being a young activist himself, Frederik has a message to all the young people out there striving to do better by their communities-but facing various challenges.
“I would say that patience and hard work are the way forward.
“Challenges can be frustrating. Some are worse than others and some you will fail, but I try to view them as something that can help me grow as a person.”
He also emphasises; change does not come quickly or easily, but the more challenges you face, the stronger and more experienced you become and the more challenges you will overcome on the next attempt.
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