#4: Epilogue: What can we learn from Denmark?
Written by Michiyo Terasaki, Crossing Borders National Coordinator for Japan.
In the spring of 2017, in the midst of confusion and political scandal in Japan, I came to Denmark, supposedly one of the most democratic countries in the world, to learn more about democracy.
The turnout rate in Danish elections for the last 10 years has constantly been around 85%, and I was wondering how they manage to keep attention on politics at such a high level. Some Danish people said that since they won democracy and freedom in the 19th century through revolution, they have a strong mentality and culture of maintaining democracy themselves. I heard about a unique educational system called Folkehøjskole, which played an important role in the establishment of Danish democracy back then. I therefore decided to go to Folkehøjskole myself.
Folkehøjskole was a nice place for me to learn about Danish democracy. It is a boarding school, so all the students study, eat, sleep and do everything together, and there are plenty of opportunities for discussion with others, not only in the class but also in the general living and daily life. I was surprised how active those discussions were, and also about the attitude towards involving everybody’s opinion within solutions as much as possible.
During my time there, we went on an excursion to the festival called “Folkemødet” (In English: People’s political festival), where in the name of democracy, anybody can express their political opinion. The festival not only involved politicians and political parties, but many people and organizations working on issues such as human rights, the environment, education, and media. By chance, I ran into the prime minister of Denmark during the festival, and we took a picture together, which made me reflect upon how close the politicians are to the people.
I interviewed various people there, such as youth political parties, politicians, school teachers, mothers, fathers, and immigrants. and I found out more about the democratic environment that Danish people grow up with from an early age.
Some mothers told me that they start democracy education by asking their children “What do you think?” and “Why?”. I thought that is the first step for democracy; forming one’s opinion. Some teachers told me that in Danish schools it is mandatory to teach democracy, so they debate a lot in order to be able to cooperate with others and accept different opinions. They also told me that when there are different opinions, it is not necessary to agree, because people should have the freedom to choose their opinion. As a Japanese person, I found it so refreshing that people were not afraid of criticizing or disagreeing, since we don’t have that culture. I also asked some politicians, amongst them youth politicians, how they get along with other parties if there are opposed opinions when they make a policy. They gave me the realistic answer: politics is sometimes compromising, but they also told me that as the Danish political system requires cooperation with other parties, they never stop having discussions with them. I got the impression that Danish people are good and practiced at seeking solutions with respect to everyone, by taking the time to debate and discuss. I think this is something we can learn from the Danish democracy, as well as the importance of having education in democracy from an early age.
Later on, when talking about Folkemødet, my Danish friend told me that even though the festival shows how democratic Denmark is, it has a kind of market performance aspect; the reality is that they charge exhibiters high prices, and during the festival, the police arrested two refugees who were participating, without any evidence of having done something wrong. Then I realized that there is no such thing as a perfect democracy. However, whilst what I learnt from the Danish democracy might not be a perfect solution, nor suitable for the context of Japan; I do believe that speaking up, debating and discussing are the most important things for democracy.