Postkort fra Det Indre København...
As I am passing through this little country up north, my first impression is that Denmark seems to be a very peaceful and proud country. Among other things, this is apparent by the extensive use of the national flag. From official institutions to private buildings and garden houses the flag is waving as if every day is a day of celebration.
In the capital, where people use public space as if it was a private sphere, meeting, talking, eating, exchanging ideas and expressing their opinions, I came across a little crowd standing on the square by the parliament building. They too had flags. These flags were of many colours and read “Peace”, which at first underscored my impression of the peacefulness of this nation and its people.
After talking to the little crowd, I realised that the country is at war! This came as a big surprise. Not that warfare is unusual these days - to the contrary - but it took me by surprise since the fact of being at war is so absent in this place. It doesn’t seem to be an issue and isn’t visible anywhere in the public domain or on the faces of people. The population expresses no sorrow, only joy and surplus, consuming, shopping and entertaining themselves as if this place were the paradise of tomorrow!
The little crowd by the parliament building call themselves peace guards and have been standing there since the Danish army joined the so-called peace keeping mission in Afghanistan on September 9, 2002. I came on the 1,774th day of their presence at the square by the parliament building in September 2006. When I asked them who they were, they told me that they are a loosely organised group of about 30-40 citizens with very different backgrounds and viewpoints but with a common hope for a just and peaceful world.
I asked if they receive any attention from the media and from the people passing by who are mostly tourists and politicians. They told me about an incident in which a journalist from the biggest national paper had passed by, handing over his card with the words: “Let me know if there is any news.” Tourists mostly ask for direction, except for a couple of Israelis, who have reacted in negative ways, even attacked the stand. ”There was one yesterday who got mad; he pulled down our stuff.” The politicians never stop. ”It would be nice if they would stop by with coffee and cake, though,” says one of the peace guards.
This is the parliament of the street. They hope not only for peace, but for food, shelter and education for everyone on this planet, they explain to me. Here people talk about peace and justice in ways that are seldom heard now, as if it has become a cliché, something that is ‘none of our business’, or something that we are all too well aware is not an option.
A few meters away another guy is standing in an army raincoat. Next to him is a sign leaning towards the parliament building, that reads ”Support centre for soldiers and their relatives.” I became curious and asked him about his presence next to the peace guards. He told me that he is a soldier himself and that he took part in the UN mission in Croatia in 1992, 1993 and 1995, where he was hit by a grenade and lost many colleagues. He makes it very clear to me that his campaign is not political. He does not want to be associated with the peace guards standing just a few meters away. His aim is the construction of a support centre for soldiers returning from battlefields far from these fine streets; he collects signatures from people passing by and is heavily armed with arguments. He is convinced that if he is viewed as part of a peace movement, his mission would be ruined: “I would lose a lot of support from politicians and from the Danish population.” He has now been standing there for three weeks, four hours a day, and is surprised of Danish democracy, giving him permission to stand on the square to carry on his campaign for an initial two month period. ”This democracy allows me to stand here, they don’t throw me away. That is a surprise!”
Democracy in action is indeed full of surprises.
A passer by, September 2006