Jacob Christensen

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Project 52 – 2014: Week 27

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A liquor never brewed? Calling a cool glass of water “liquor” is stretching the concept. Still, on a hot day it is one of the best drinks you can have.

Written by Jacob Christensen

July 7th, 2014 at 8:00 am

The Peculiar Danish Obsession with Sweden

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First of all, I might as well admit that I haven’t listened to any episodes of Radio 24Syv’s series “Danmarks Röst” – a programme hosted by Mikael Jalving. Jalving is fairly big on the Danish right, in particular that part which focuses on anti-immigration and anti-islamic politics and convinced that European societies are under a mortal threat from Muslims, multiculturalism and political correctness. You will recognise the stance from parties like PVV in the Netherlands, Front National in France and of course the Republican right in the US. But Jalving is also part of what we might now call a Danish tradition of obsessing with Swedish policies – seeing them as an expression of multicultural political correctness which – surprise, surprise – will somehow lead to the creation of some kind of Muslim controlled polity. My question is this: Given that Denmark and Sweden in many ways are so similar, then why this obsession with Sweden?

One place to begin could be with the observation that Sweden appears almost non-existent in contemporary left-wing political discourse. If we go back to the 1960s and 1970s, things were different as Sweden in many ways was a model for the modern Social Democratic welfare state. The left-wing would also see neutral Sweden with its links to the Third World movement as an inspiration in international politics. But these days, the interest for Swedish politics appear nonexistent. If anything, the Social Democrats take their cues from what is still left of the Blairite tendency in the UK Labour Party and Clintonian triangulation combined with EU economic orthodoxy which has nothing to do with traditional Social Democratic welfare politics. It is also difficult to see SF and the Red-Green Alliance using contacts with their Swedish counterparts actively.

One reason for this could be that Sweden has in fact had a centre-right government for the past eight years. In fact, since 1976 Sweden has had centre-right governments for 17 out of 38 years and in many ways contemporary Sweden is one of the most market-liberal (or deregulated, if you prefer that term) societies not just in Europe but in the Western world. This may come as a complete surprise if you listen to the Danish right-wing debate.

We can also note that even if the days of Social Democratic hegemony are long gone – the Social Democrats have still to discover this but that is another matter – Swedish politics is still characterised by the dominance of the socio-economic left-right dimension both with regard to the political agenda and the composition of the electorates of the political parties.

Here, we have a huge difference between Sweden and Denmark: The Danish Liberals – and the Danish People’s Party – won the 2001 election by attracting blue-collar voters while the Swedish Conservatives won the 2006 election by attracting urban white-collar middle-class voters. And the question about East and Central European workers’ access to the Swedish labour market had already been solved when the Green Party joined the centre-right parties and voted against the Social Democrats’ proposal to impose limits for migrant workers. Despite the attempts of the Liberal Party in the 2002 election, immigration policy never acquired the same salience in the Swedish political mainstream as in Danish politics.

The exception which sort of proves the rule is presented by the Sweden Democrats which have quite successfully tapped into the traditional protest vote constituency of younger non-urban, male voters with no or limited formal education in the 2010 national and 2014 European Parliament election. Anti-immigrant sentiment is one major factor explaining the Sweden Democrats’ success but we should not forget that Sweden Democrat voters are also characterised by a high level of distrust in the established political system. At the same time, the centre-right has preferred not to rely on the Sweden Democrats as a supporting party during the 2010-2014 parliamentary term even though the four-party Alliance lost its parliamentary majority in 2010. In many ways the Sweden Democrats are the point of identification for the Danish right-wing debate, but it does strike me as rather odd to make a party which is in the 5-10% range the Voice of the True Sweden – while the general Swedish opinion is becoming less, rather than more negative towards immigrants. More likely, the Sweden Democrats serve as a projection of the Danish right-wing debate.

Here, we should also note that a liberal immigration policy can be linked with both a leftist, multiculturalist position and a politically and economically liberal position. In my opinion, this – and the marked absence of a nationalist conservative position (like the one promoted by the Danish Liberals and the Danish Social Democratic mainstream) outside of the ranks of the Sweden Democrats – has led to a fundamental difference between Sweden and Denmark. In many ways, Danish politics has been dominated by a nationalist conservative hegemony in the 21st century with Social Democrats playing a game of catching-up. At the same time, Swedish governments have been more radical in introducing market-based (or neo-liberal) reforms of the welfare states than most other West European countries including Denmark. Sweden, curiously, appears to be to the right of Denmark on the socio-economic dimension even if the previous Liberal-Conservative governments and the present Social Democratic-Social Liberal government have adhered to the austerian economic policies promoted by the EU.

Finally, there is the question of “political correctness” and its role in politics. Based on impressions, I would say that Swedish political discourse for better or for worse with regard to issues like immigration and gender is more cautious than the Danish. Here, my guess is that one explanation is that Swedish politics has traditionally taken US progressive politics as its point of departure for much of the past 80 years. “Political correctness” – which in many ways is based on a desire to break with racist and patriarchical traditions in US society and politics – is linked with a specific liberal conception of modernity and this conception was embraced wholeheartedly – albeit successively by different parties – by the political mainstream in Sweden from the 1930s onward. In this way, it fits the Swedish mindset better than the Danish, given that Denmark in many ways was dragged kicking and screaming into the post-war industrial and service economy and society. “Islamization” – the explanation for just about everything in Danish right-wing politics – has nothing to do with it. (Incidentally, Danish right-wingers appear to take their cues from US right-wing think tanks and politics)

Obviously, things are a bit more complicated: The differences between Danish and Swedish immigration and integration policies are smaller than the numbers could lead us to believe. In many ways Denmark and Sweden face the same problems and have chosen the same policies to deal with integration once people have settled in one of the two countries. Multiculturalism also straddles a very complicated cleavage between individualism and the politics of group identity – and group identity politics are not necessarily as progressive as multiculturalists would like to imagine.

We also have to consider differences in the interplay between feminist movements and the state: Denmark was in fact a frontrunner with regard to women’s movements and gender equality during the 1970s but as the feminist movement always kept a distance to the state, gender equality more or less disappeared from the political agenda as 1970s radicalism ran out of steam. Swedish feminists on the other hand created close ties with the political and administrative establishment and in this way kept the issue alive. In fact, the ability of popular movements to infiltrate the political and administrative apparatus has been one important characteristic of Swedish politics since the 1920s. Systembolaget – that perennial object of Danish ridicule – was born out of the teetotalers’ movement, not a state dictate.

So, to sum up: While Sweden and Denmark are quite similar in many respects, Sweden is if fact different from Denmark on a number of important characteristics. While Danish politics for the past two decades have been characterised by centrist economic policies and conservative social (or “value”) policies, Swedish politics have been decided on the socio-economic dimension with market liberalism and individualism as the dominant forces. While Danish society (and politics) continues to have a significant conservative and anti-modern element built into it, Swedish society and politics have embraced modernism and post-industrialism. And finally, while popular movements have kept their distance to the Danish state and formal political system, Swedish movements have worked actively to gain and keep access to the inner corridors of power, but Danes simply do not understand how the Swedish system works and assume that some kind of top-down suppression of popular sentiment is at play.

All of this isn’t to say that Swedish society and politics are without problems or contradictions but from a Danish point of view Sweden is at the same time similar enough and different enough to serve as an object of projection.

Written by Jacob Christensen

July 6th, 2014 at 4:00 pm

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Project 52 – 2014: Week 26

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This is – or rather: was – Thomas B. Thriges Gade, a main throughfare in central Odense which was planned and built in the 1950s and 1960s to connect the southern, residential parts of the city with the industrial districts around the harbour. A large part of the old city was torn down to make way for the street. In many ways, it was a typically modernist project.

As times have changed, so have the commercial structures and traffic patterns. TBT was still a heavily used street but some ten years ago local politicians began discussing the possibilities of closing the street in order to build a new residential and commercial neighbourhood.

Today, we reached an important mark as the street was closed for road traffic and the coming decade will see the rebuilding of the city centre. So, Saturday marked the halfway between idea and execution. (And “halfway” was this week’s theme)

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 29th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Project 52 – 2014: Week 25

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Sports. And yes, even teddy bears are enthusiastic about the World Cup and polar bears are formidable goalkeepers.

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June 25th, 2014 at 8:00 am

Project 52 – 2014: Week 24

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Façade

Personification … say, is that house making faces at me?

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 15th, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Project 52 – 2014: Weeks 22 and 23

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Week 22: “Fuubutsushi (n.) the things — feelings, scents, images — that evoke memories or anticipation of a particular season” – What says early summer like fresh potatoes and strawberries?

Week 23: Almost nothing. A bench which somehow disappeared.

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 10th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Some Delayed Holiday Snapshots

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I visited Berlin in early March – and I finally got around to post some of my photos. The entire set is here.

Berlin: Pavement

Pavement. Could be anywhere but this is Berlin.

Berlin: Kreuzberg

Mural in Kreuzberg.

Berlin: Flughafen Tempelhof

An old runway at Tempelhof Airport.

Berlin: Flughafen Tempelhof

And here a view of the entire Tempelhof complex. Much, much larger than I had imagined.

Berlin: Neue Nationalgallerie

Ausweitung der Kampfzone. Last exhibition before the Neue Nationalgalerie closed for renovation.

Berlin: Tiergarten

Tiergarten in the early spring.

Berlin: View from Brandenburger Tor at night

View from Brandenburger Tor at night.

Berlin: Berlin: Karl-Marx-Allée - Kino International

Karl-Marx-Allée: Kino International.

Berlin: Karl-Marx-Allée

And more from Karl-Marx-Allée.

Written by Jacob Christensen

May 30th, 2014 at 8:00 am

Løkke = Auken? 2014 = 1992?

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Just one idea which grew out of a comment on Jarl Cordua’s Facebook-wall:

We don’t know how the present leadership crisis in the Liberal Party will end but the recurrent undermining of the credibility of Lars Løkke Rasmussen has a familiar ring to it – in 1992 the Social Democrats lost their chairman after a prolonged internal and external campaign against Svend Auken, ending in an open challenge.

The Auken crisis had two sides: One which had to do with Auken’s personality and one which had to do with the policies of the Social Democrats. In the dominant narrative, the first side has prevailed but we might want to remember the other side.

Auken became party chairman in 1987 following the usual succession order in the party – he was Anker Jørgensen’s chosen candidate. The early part of his term yielded wins and losses – the 1987 agreement over the 1988 state budget was a clear win, the 1988 “submarine” election a clear loss. In 1990, Auken came as close to the Prime Minister’s office as he would ever do – a socialist majority in the electorate failed to result in a parliamentary majority as the newly formed Red Green Alliance missed the 2% threshold.

From that point on, things began to go seriously wrong for Auken. Stories about his lack of reliability in parliamentary negotiations began to make the round coupled with criticism of lack of internal leadership. Finally, the Social Liberals made it clear that they would not support a Social Democratic-led government under Auken. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a bizarre housing scandal caused by the then chairman of the parliamentary group, Ritt Bjerregaard. Without someone to control the daily business of the group, Auken was drifting politically and organisationally and vulnerable to a coup which came from the party organisation.

The thing to note is that Auken in fact was relatively successful in 1992 while his weaknesses as a political leader were also well-known. The question was if they were substantial enough to bring about his downfall. As it turned out, they did.

Now look at Lars Løkke Rasmussen: He also came into office uncontested – not, perhaps, as Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s preferred successor, but rather out of inevitability. During his term in office, he could point to a number of important agreements in the economic policy arena. And his weaknesses as a leader and his propensity to overspend on personal expenses and lack of understanding of the border separating the public and the personal were well-known. In 2011, he only narrowly missed reelection as prime minister – but since then the Liberal Party has appeared to be drifting, perhaps because the party leadership expected it to cruise to victory in the coming general election.

Then the skeletons began to fall out of all cupboards: The prestigious post as chairman of 3GI, a Korean-based NGO, came back to haunt him as stories of overspending began to leak in the run-up to the local elections. And now stories of overspending in his capacity as Liberal chairman have been leaking, adding to the factors which led to Liberal losses in the European Parliament election.

Unlike Auken in 1992, Løkke i 2014 still has a formidable staff at his disposal. Hatchet man Claus Hjort Frederiksen appears to be hard at work securing support for the embattled chairman while the party actually has taken some action to get the chairman’s expenses under control. The strange fact is that the party has failed to relay this to the public – perhaps because too much publicity would be an acknowledgement of the chairman’s weaknesses. Another factor pointing in Løkke’s favour is the lack of a clear challenger – but then again it took a long time before Poul Nyrup Rasmussen appeared as a credible challenger to Svend Auken. Finally, the Danish People’s Party has not yet declared Løkke unfit for office – but the party has begun challenging some of Løkke’s proposed economic policies.

Written by Jacob Christensen

May 27th, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Politics

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The 2014 European Parliament Elections in Denmark

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First, 2014 versus (2009)

People’s Movement – 8,1 (7,2)
Socialist People’s Party – 10,9 (15,9)
Social Democrats – 19,1 (21,5)
Social Liberals – 6,5 (4,3)
Liberals – 16,7 (20,2)
Liberal Alliance – 2,9 (0,6)
Conservative People’s Party – 9,2 (12,7)
Danish People’s Party – 26,6 (15,3)

Turn-out – 56,3 (59,5)

Turn-out was down but still above the 50%-level which had been the norm until 2009. The question is how big a role the referendum on the European Patent Court played compared to the Danish People’s Party’s massive campaign to mobilise its voters.

Next, the European level of the Danish party system looks increasingly as a thing of the past. There are variations between the result and national opinion polls but the result gives clear clues to how the result of a national election would look right now. The People’s Movement is more or less a Red-Green Alliance Plus but we have a collection of very different anti-EU parties (PM, LA, DPP) to collect the anti-EU vote.

Obviously, the Danish People’s Party were the big winners following a massive campaign for lead candidate Morten Messerschmidt (can anyone name any of the other DPP candidates?). What is interesting is that the party is pushing the 20% limit in national opinon polls and it is no longer outlandish to imagine the party as the largest bourgeois party (and the largest party overall) in the next Folketing.

At the same time, the result is a massive disappointment to the Liberals. The scandal concerning party chairman Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s economy goes some way to explain the defeat. On the other hand, the Liberals have underperformed in previous European elections. Still, bad national polls should give the party reason to rethink its rather passive strategy.

The Social Democrats can be disappointed and celebrate the position as the second-largest party at the same time. It is not the party’s worst performance (1994 and 1999 were even worse) but it should be a(nother) wake-up call to a party which is in a crisis of historical proportions.

The Socialist People’s Party (Margrethe Auken always was a formidable campaigner) and the Conservatives (who may have benefited from the Liberals’ crisis) will draw sighs of relief. Losses, yes, but a far way from any electoral wipe-out.

The People’s Movement, the Social Liberals and Liberal Alliance performed more or less as expected and it is not surprising that the two Liberal parties underperform compared to national polls.

Still: The major story is the rise and rise of the Danish People’s Party.

Written by Jacob Christensen

May 26th, 2014 at 3:07 pm

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Project 52 – 2014: Weeks 19, 20 and 21

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How did we get from “Recession song” to “Sage” to tea? Well, during week 19 we did:

Tea

Week 20: Hand. Mine. Ready to add those red lines.

Hand

Week 21: Life’s milestones. This election campaign for the European Parliament elections has been a bit special for me as I happened to know one of the candidates: Karen Melchior who ran for the Danish Social Liberals. Karen’s day job is as a civil servant in the Danish Foreign Ministry so the question is if this Sunday will be one of life’s milestones for her (The Social Liberals can only hope for one seat in the EP and Karen is not the lead candidate so it is a slim chance but still). This poster is one of four hanging almost next to my apartment – and no: I wasn’t involved.

Campaigning

Written by Jacob Christensen

May 26th, 2014 at 8:00 am

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