Unpredictable future for young minority politics

SSWUngdom suffers from youth emigration in Schleswig

By Anna Buch and Beatriz Paúl Naya

The youth organization of the SSW, the political party of the Danish minority in the very north of Germany, lacks continuity. Most youngsters fly the coop as soon as they finish school. The ones who stay, enjoy cultural events and trips, but they are suspicious of politics.


Jonas Knickmeier, president of the SSWUngdom: "Working for the party, I found my identity" // Photo: Beatriz Paúl Naya

Twenty years old, waistcoat and sports jacket with a SSW-button on the lapel, trilby hat and long coat. Jonas Rene Tim Knickmeier is the president of the SSWUngdom, the youth organization of the party for the Danish minority in Southern Schleswig, the German region at the border to Denmark.

His parents do not have any Danish roots, but they chose a Danish education for their son: Danish kindergarden, Danish primary school, and A.P. Møller Skolen, which is one of the two Danish high schools in Germany. “I grew up with the Danish culture, so I feel part of the Danish minority here in South Schleswig”, explains Jonas.

His first contact with the SSWUngdom was in 2007 when he went with some friends to a recruitment weekend in Denmark. The youth organization of the SP, the party for the German minority in Denmark, had invited its Danish counterpart SSWUngdom. “I hadn´t had any political idea yet, but the weekend was a lot of fun”, Jonas says.

After this experience, he became more and more interested in the political ideas of the party. To that time, though, the SSWUngdom was once again inactive because the experienced members had just left for Denmark to study.

When Jonas joined the SSWUngdom in 2009, he was part of a new start. For two years he had been member of the board until he was elected president in February 2011. “What I like so much about the SSW is that we have no limits in thinking. We want to find the best for the people in the region. The other parties obviously want that, too, but they are all bound to an ideology.”



Jonas Rene Tim Knickmeier, president of the SSWUngdom

Besides politics Jonas loves to make music with his band // Photo: Anna Buch

Birthday: 2th January 1991 in Hamburg

Place of residence: Schleswig
Languages: German, Danish, English

Education: high school student at A.P. Møller Skolen, Schleswig
Work: Teaching Danish at a language school, private tuition in Danish

Interests: music, politics
What I like about German: the variety of the language
What I like about Danish: that it is such a nice language to chat in

Culture: essential for the minority

As well as Jonas, most people get in contact with the party for the first time through a social or cultural event of the Danish minority. “Without culture, there is no minority. And without a minority, there is obviously no need for a political party”, says René Lange, consultant for child and youth activities at the SdU, the Danish Youth Association in South Schleswig.

It is the umbrella organization for all Danish sports and youth clubs in South Schleswig and has about 12 000 members. “We are responsible for both cultural events for youngsters, such as disco for 13-year-old kids, as well as sports events, such as table tennis matches for seniors”, explains René Lange.

The Aktivitetshuset in Flensburg is a meeting point for all Danish minority members // Photo: Anna Buch

Given that the cultural institutions of the Danish minority are essential also for the SSWUngdom, both are closely connected through common members. Besides, in Flensburg, the capital of the region, most of the Danish organizations are placed in the same street, if not even on the same complex in Norderstraße. Danish minority members, culturally or politically active, often meet in the Aktivitetshuset, a cultural centre run by the SdU. However, not many young Danes take the step from cultural participation to political commitment.


Gap in political activity: Youngsters go to Denmark

However, the main problem of the SSWUngdom, the lack of continuity, has evolved from a significant problem of the region: Many young people move away, and often they do not come back anymore. According to the SSF, the cultural umbrella organization of the Danish minority, 70 per cent of the Danish youngsters move to Denmark after school and also stay there afterwards.

Also Jonas wants to study in Denmark, to become a teacher. For him, as for most of the Danish minority members, it is very attractive to make use of the right to free education in Denmark, as well as to financial support from the Danish government. Most of the young people have never lived in Denmark before and often have an idealized view on it. “I would even call it a romantic picture”, says Jonas.

Kim-Frederick Petersen, student of social education in Aabenraa and employee of the SdU, agrees on that. “In South Schleswig we have old Danish roots, so we tend to behave even more Danish than the Danes. I worked for after-school care centres in both countries, and in Denmark I have never seen people coming up with so many flags and trolls as people do here.”

More than just Danish or German: Southern Schleswig

However, that does not mean that the young generation of the Danish minority defines its identity as purely Danish. “I don´t feel neither entirely Danish nor entirely German. I feel Southern Schleswig”, explains Jonas. In this border region, that feeling is common among the population. Danish and German identity has existed peacefully next to each other for decades and even merged.

René Lange and Kim-Frederick Petersen of the SdU: "Culture is essential for the minority" // Photo: Anna Buch

Also among the members of the minority the commitment to Danish culture differs a lot. Some of them are just members of a Danish soccer club, others get educated entirely in Danish, but speak German at home. “When I am in Denmark, I feel German. And when I am in Germany, I feel Danish”, says Kim-Frederick.

Due to this, Jonas wants to come back to South Schleswig as a teacher, because for him it is the only place to live with his bicultural identity. And for him, that will also mean to become active again for the SSW.



New districts and a board to avoid future interruptions

To prepare the youth organization for the gap that will arise sooner or later, for instance when Jonas and other members leave to study, the SSWUngdom has recently established clear structures to avoid a new interruption of the political activity. Recently, they created two districts within the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein, so the board can focus on the political work.

One recent political activity was the congress “Tatort Zukunft” (“Crime Scene Future”), organized by the political youth organizations of Schleswig-Holstein, that took place last weekend. Members of the youth organizations of the oppositional parties discussed about education, environment and social issues. The resolution with a summary of the final demands reached the parties of the regional parliament.

While the board of the SSWUngdom focuses on pure political work, the districts organize local social events and the recruitment of new members. That has already turned out to be successful: Since the reactivation of the SSWUngdom in 2009, the number of members has almost increased fivefold. Besides the new structure, general assemblies have taken place annually. During the last one, statutes, based on those of the mother party, were approved for the SSWUngdom.

These measures have been taken within the party. However, the general problem of the region that young people leave still exists. “We demand a more important role in the relations between Germany and Denmark”, explains Jonas. “We want to exploit the full potential of the region and be more than just a bridge to Copenhagen.” In his opinion, – following the Scandinavian model – one important tool could be free education. Another one is the support for the only local university in Flensburg.

Cooperation with SSW: a chance for Southern Schleswig

This opinion is also shared by the mother party. “We need to make effective politics for the region, so it is attractive for young people to stay or to come back”, says Anke Spoorendonk, representative of the SSW in the regional parliament of Schleswig-Holstein. “And if we make good politics for young people, the party will gain new members and that will guarantee continuity.” In order to be updated about the concerns of the youth, the SSW works closely together with the SSWUngdom which is composed by all the SSW party members below 27. They have regular formal and informal meetings and, additionally, keep in touch via mail.

The SSWUngdom and its members could play a crucial part in the future of the region: The more important it is within the SSW, the bigger is the chance that the party is able to make Southern Schleswig more attractive for young people. “Our young members are the future, we need them to maintain the dialogue with the young generation”, says Anke Spoorendonk.

Embracing the bicultural characteristic of Southern Schleswig, the region could become again an influential place not just at the very edge of Germany, but in the whole cross-border region – between the Danish Kolding and the German Kiel. And the Danish minority has the best preconditions to play a key role. Jonas, though not having finished school yet, works already for two companies: He gives private tuition to Danish pupils and he teaches Danish to employees of German companies which want to expand to Denmark.


SSW-Südschleswigscher Wählerverband (South Schleswig Voters` Committee)

To watch videos about the SSW, click here!

The SSW represents the Danish minority and the national Friesians in the state parliament of Schleswig-Holstein, and is also represented in the city council of Flensburg, the regional councils of Schleswig-Flensburg and North Frisia and 82 local councils.

The SSW favours policies which are strongly oriented towards the social and political development in the Nordic countries. The party is interested especially in policies related to labour market, education, social care and energy.

Some central political claims of the SSW:
1) Equal rights for all cultures in South Schleswig.
2) The promotion of the Danish-German border region.
3) A stable, social security based on solidarity and financed by taxes.
4) A democratic educational policy and the decentralization of educational institutions.
5) An active labour market policy.
6) The realization of the equality of women and men.



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