The Danish Minority: Schleswig-Holstein’s Counter-Culture.

By Piers d’Orgee and Kai Heijneman
http://www.vimeo.com/21152176

The Lord Mayor of Flensburg, Germany’s northernmost city, is part of the local Danish Minority. This is among the latest achievements in sixty years of Danish-German relations in the area of Schleswig.

The region just below Denmark’s Border with Germany has an estimated population of 50,000 Danish descendants (according to the Danish Consulate in Flensburg) left in Germany due to the constant moving of the border that ended after the Great War. The estimate is very vague as there is no way of registering. Now the Northernmost point of Germany carries a strong Danish heritage that accompanies the mainstream German way of life.

The new mayor of Flensburg, is a member of the SSW a political party that represents the Danish descended minority. Simon Faber won 54.2% of the vote, with 9236 votes while his closest rival, Elfi Heesch received 7268 electoral votes.

The German border city Flensburg on a rainy day.

There has been much work done involving the minorities in the city and as relations between the two cultures became steadily better, those involved believed they had found a way to unite all multicultural areas.

In the early 90s, there were a couple of idealistic politicians in Schleswig- Holstein. They said they had a perfect conflict resolution,” began Dr Tove Malloy, Director of the organisation, during a presentation at the ECMI building on Flensburg’s waterfront. After years of lobbying in Copenhagen and Bonn the funding was given tostart the project that researches, provides information and offers advice on minority matters all over Europe.

The two lobbyists were the centre’s first director Prof. Bent Rold Andersen and Danish Consulate General in Flensburg Prof. Lorens Rerup. After a long, arduous process the two men founded and developed the organisation that was supported by both Danish and German governments as well as the local Schleswig-Holstein government.

It’s easier to integrate when you are invisible


The Danish minority and the state of Germany are clear that they should integrate, not assimilate. We have our own culture but that is also part of German culture” said Jens A Christiansen, General Secretary of the SSF (South-Schleswig Association), an organisation dedicated to keeping Danish culture alive in the region.

Every person in this region has the right to individual self determination, meaning that each person has the right to choose for himself or herself whether to be a part of the Danish minority or part of the German minority (North of the border),” said Martin Klatt, Associate Professor at the Department of Border Region Studies situated in South Denmark University.

Jens A Christiansen, the General Secretary of the SSF

Professor Klatt believes that it is this clause from the Bonn-Copenhagen declarations of 1955 that has led to the region being so special in a cultural sense. The situation where each person can choose for themselves whether to be part of one culture or another has meant been a particularly smart move.

It has changed one of those things that have made conflict difficult, mainly, moving of the border. There is no question as to where the border is, it is there, it will continue to be there. It will of course change with the process of European cooperation and integration but it will not change as a border between Denmark and Germany.”

The Minorities do not ask for it to be changed, but are happy with the guarantee that within their own country they can live as a Dane or North German,” Said Klatt. As a result of this freedom of self determination it is possible to find families that were previously wholly German raising their children as Danes as it can have many benefits to be part of both cultures.

This Bonn-Copenhagen Declaration keeps the population happy and manages to drag away cultural issues from political ones such as border placement and has meant that the area has been peaceful ever since the end of World War II.

Klatt believes that one of the aspects that make this Danish Minority- German Majority easier than other culture clashes is the familiarity the two cultures have with each other. There is very little to choose from when trying to identify a German or Danish descendant on face value, it is much easier to get along with a group of people when they are analogous to your own in so many different ways. “It is easy to integrate when you are invisible” he says.

A multicultural triumph

 

The tale of peace between the two cultures culminated earlier this year when SSW party member Simon Faber became the first of the Danish minority to become mayor of Flensburg. The win shows that the region is socially at peace with its different collectives that characterise the region.

Faber received 54.2% of the vote, a figure he believes to mean that the German oriented population is in heavy support of him as well. However, being linked to such a small group means Faber is under close watch to make sure he does not favour his kinsmen over the majority.

Danish flag flies prominently at the German border

I feel I have to treat them more strict,” said Faber in the context of the Danish minority, “or else it would fall apart.” Faber’s first few months in office have had him under close scrutiny to make sure he does not appear to be putting Danes before Deutsch and lose his German voters. He has already received criticism for a costly move of his office from one floor in the municipal building to another.

Faber faces a crucial time. With public sector cuts coming from the Regional government in Kiel, he must look for ways of keeping all things fair. The orchestras and opera houses for instance are losing crucial funding from the German regional government. Recent reduction of the funding of the Sud-Schleswig schools by 15% per pupil has sparked tensions. For the Danish minority equal funding is a matter of principle.


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