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Everyday democracy

Debate material: Everyday democracy

Debate material about how new citizens in Denmark experience everyday democracy and why the Danish democracy has obtained its present form as well as introductions to relevant study groups.



This material has been prepared by the vice president of Folkevirke, cand. pæd. Jeanne Bau-Madsen with inspiration from Desiré Hatunginamana. With basis in three project days titled "Everyday Democracy", Folkevirke has wished to focus on the problems that refugees and immigrants encounter when coming from totalitarian regimes and in Denmark meet with the Danish democracy.

The debate material "Everyday Democracy" gives ideas for five different study groups. To assure clarity, an introduction is given with a brief explanation of what a study group is. We also refer to "Studiekreds-håndbogen" (Study group manual) written by Jeanne Bau-Madsen and published by Dansk Folkeoplysnings Samråd (Danish Consultation for General Education) 2009.
The ideas for the topics for the study groups were generated in connection with Folkevirke's project days "Everyday Democracy". The participants during these days were resident refugees/immigrants from various countries in the Middle East and Africa. Also interested members of Folkevirke were present. During the project days, the participants attended lectures and debate introductions from different representatives of the public Denmark whom citizens of Denmark encounter daily.
The topics for the study groups were generated from the subsequent debate.
It is Folkevirke's hope that this material will inspire Danes and new-Danes to assemble in study groups and thus get wiser on "Everyday Democracy".
Folkevirke offers a consultant on stand-by with good advice if any practical problems should occur.
The teaching material consists of proposals for topics for study groups. For every study group, an example is given on a shared knowledge as basis for the work. Furthermore, there are examples on questions which can create a basis for the discussions to take place in the study group.
Finally, there are suggestions for evaluation of the work in the study group.

About Folkeoplysningsloven (The law on General Education)


If the participants of the study group want grants from the municipality and classrooms at disposal, this is possible if they fulfil the rules as per the Law on General Education.

In the existing Law on General Education it states that:

An association for General Education must
1) have a formulated purpose with the formation of the association, written in the rules,
2) offer general adult educational activities according to this law,
3) have a committee,
4) be built up democratically,
5) be based on active membership and with minimum five paying members,
6) fundamentally be open to anyone who accepts the purpose of the association,
7) be resident in the granting municipality and
8) offer activities of public utility and continuity.

Distribution of grants
§ 6. The municipal council annually determines and distributes a margin of expenditure for
1) the general adult education, cf. chapter 4, and
2) the voluntary general adult educative work of associations, cf. chapter 5.
Par.2.The municipal council can decide that parts of the margin of expenditure mentioned in par.1 must be spent on more explicit purposes within the field of the law.
Assignment of public rooms and outdoor facilities
§ 21. To the independent general adult educative enterprises, the Committee for General Education assigns the available and for the purpose suitable public rooms, including sports centres and other centres as well as outdoor grounds located within the municipality and which belong to
1) the municipality,
2) the region   or
3) the State.
See the entire current law on
It is also recommended to contact the Committee for General Education within your home municipality to obtain information on application forms and closing dates for applications.

How a study group functions


A study group may be defined as a group of people who - through the independent work of the participants - elucidates various topics on the basis of specially selected study material. In the study group, the participants get the possibility to get to know themselves and recognize their own talents and limitations during the interaction with other participants, regardless of cultural and social barriers and difference in age. In this process, many talents are rendered visible. The objective for the work of the group is to examine a common topic which interests everyone. The purpose is to acquire knowledge of and insight in political, cultural and social coherences. The participants will acquire knowledge which enables them to take part in the democratic process and hence obtain influence upon their own life conditions. In the study group, the dialogue, the discussion and the argumentation are used - all being forms of the dialogue which is a part of the democratic form of life.

The democratic dialogue
The dialogue is a conversation between two parties where opinions are exchanged about a defined topic. Remember that you do not have to agree!
The discussion is an exchange of views between several parties.
The argumentation is a production of evidence which can be used in the dialogue and the discussion. It is said that an argument is logically valid if the conclusion builds on premises - assumptions - which are all true.

Beneath are some examples on different forms of arguments:

• Argumentation trick: Here a person is singled out whom the audience respects.
• Argument of happiness: Here the speaker promises his audience improved conditions.
• Argument of threat: Here the speaker threatens his audience.
• Argument of quantity: Here you refer to something which many people have in common.
It is not unimportant how you address each other. There are three classical forms of appeal:
• Logos: You appeal to the intellect and reason of the audience
• Etos: You appeal to the feelings of the audience. The speaker attempts to win the benevolence of the audience and to reassure them by appearing sincere and reliable.
• Patos: You appeal to the feelings of the audience. The purpose, though, is not to reassure but to arouse feelings like anger, joy or excitement.

Why a study group?
The purpose of a study group is to motivate the participants to perform an independent piece of work as well as to analyze and to evaluate. The benefit of the group's work is not measurable because the benefit and the conclusions of the work will differ between the various participants, even though based on the same data, because the participants have different personal experiences, attitudes and opinions. It is of course a fact that the more different the participants are, the more dynamic the study group becomes. But the participants cannot differ so much that they fail to understand each other. This may happen if the participants have a different cultural background, i.e. come from different countries or belong to different religions and thus have different social and ethical standards. In a well-functioning study group, everybody's contributions are equal and the conversation takes place according to a pre-determined set of rules which allows room for everyone. Besides new skills, the participants acquire self-esteem and practice in expressing their own opinions. They acquire the experience in navigation which is necessary to participate in social life. You may call the study group "the workshop of democracy".

How many?
If you want a well-functioning and dynamic study group,   a group of five participants is too small. 10-12 persons would be ideal. There will be more possibilities for different work patterns. Team work, f. inst., is more intriguing with more than a single team. Discussions will be more interesting with increased possibilities for different opinions and approaches. If the group exceeds 12 persons, you may risk to be forced to ration the speaking time in order for everyone to get the floor and have the possibility to reply. Regarding the economy, it is easier to make ends meet with a larger number. So it is necessary to take both economy and working methods into consideration before deciding on the number of participants.
Introductions to topics for study groups
When you wish to start a study group and have agreed on the topic, it is a good idea to base it on shared knowledge. Therefore, for every topic, there is an introduction to how to acquire this knowledge.

An evaluation is an appraisal of the work in the study group. The evaluation can be made anonymously on a questionnaire or through conversation. Hopefully there is so much trust and frankness between the participants that the anonymous evaluation is superfluous. Remember that criticism is healthy and useful when realistic and professional. The evaluation can both be an appraisal of the professional substance of the study group and of how it functions socially.
The evaluation can have two purposes. You either talk of an evaluation as the basis for action or an evaluation as the basis for control.

Evaluation as the basis for action
The purpose of this form of evaluation of the work in the study group is to create the best possible basis to constantly improve the work in the group. The evaluation includes appraisal of the planning, the course, the material used and the priorities of the substance. By comparing knowledge in these fields, a broad basis is created for the current efforts to reach the best conditions for the study group to turn out successfully.

Internal evaluation
This form of evaluation is called current internal evaluation. It goes on continuously in open collaboration between the participants in the group.

The following questions may be asked at the current evaluation:

• Do you find the work in the study group interesting?
• Is the working atmosphere during the meetings sufficiently good?
• Are the chosen working methods okay?
• Do you feel well informed about what is going on, also when you are absent?
• How does the communication function in the group?

Many more questions could be mentioned but experience shows that the questions will arise automatically during the meetings of the study group.
Evaluation as the basis for control

Product evaluation
This form of evaluation is also called product evaluation or external evaluation and usually does not take place until the last meeting of the study group or when the meeting sequence is terminated. The evaluation can be used as basis for next year's study group and can be made by all participants or by the group who wishes to continue the work next season.
Here more overall questions should be asked, such as:
• Did we answer the questions asked in the beginning of the course?
• Did the study group function socially?
• Did the participants handle the tasks which they had taken on?
• Were the facilities satisfactory?
• Did the participants improve their navigation, did they obtain navigation experiences?
• Did the participants gain self confidence?
• Did the participants get better at expressing their views?
In the product evaluation it is necessary to ask the questions which can help make next year's study group even better.

Introduction to a study group on democracy


Scandinavian democracy
Throughout about 160 years, the Danes have trained to be democratic people who live with and according to the constitution which Denmark received in 1849.
But what is the meaning of the word democracy?
The word is Greek. Demos means: people. Kratos: power, command.
Who are the "people"? First and foremost the adult part of the population. In ancient Greece, women, slaves and free foreigners were not allowed to participate in the democratic process. It is actually not until the 20th century that demos includes all adult citizens in the existing democracies.
It is the western democracies who set the agenda these years. We are the ones who define what democracy is and what it implies. We demand that human rights - which we have defined - are respected; that democracy - which we have defined - is imposed in the countries that we shall trade with, to whom we shall lend money or in other ways communicate with.
An example of different interpretations of the word democracy could be that the former East Germany named itself the German Democratic Republic. In spite of its name, this state did not fulfil the western demands made on a democratic republic. Right before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the DDR held elections which were supervised by foreign observers. At one of the polling stations, an old man showed up and was handed his voting paper. He returned it without having used it and left the room. 15 minutes later he came back, received his voting paper, voted and left. When the observer asked him the reason for his behaviour, he replied that he had gone home to fetch his glasses. Never before had he seen a voting paper with multiple choices!
After the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, many countries in the Third World suddenly saw the financial backing which they had received from either USA or USSR vanish.
At the same time, the World Bank laid down new conditions for states to obtain loans. It was now demanded that the economy be privatized and liberalized; that the state apparatus be made efficient and that the decision-making processes be democratized.
This was the reason that many developing countries suddenly took the road to democracy, to avoid a total collapse. Political parties were founded and free elections were held but rarely with lasting results. Often the military or former leaders interfered with the elections if the results did not turn out to their satisfaction. Here you may think of the state of affairs in Algeria in 1992, Turkey in 1997 and Congo in 1997, among others.
It has become evident that a population does not turn into democrats by introducing them to freedom of speech, religious liberty, freedom of assembly and free elections. That is something you need to learn and be educated for!
Until 1849, Denmark was ruled by an autocratic king, although consultative assemblies of the Estates of the Realm had existed since 1834. The assemblies met in Roskilde, Viborg, Slesvig and Itzehoe. The electorates were landowners in the boroughs, squires and yeomen. Minimum age was 25 to vote and 30 to be elected.  Women and servants had neither the right to vote nor the possibility to be elected.
The meetings in the assemblies were held behind closed doors. And they were only consultative to the king/ government who continued to be legislative.
The assemblies of the Estates of the Realm had the influence, though, that the members acquired greater insight in the political process. Political movements began to form and even though political debates were difficult due to the censorship of the press, newspapers and weekly magazines were published with demands for introduction of political democracy.
During 1848, a constitutional assembly was founded who in 1849 submitted a constitutional proposal. The fathers of the proposal had had en eye to the Belgian constitution when they framed this constitution which was the most liberal in Europe.
 The Danish State Constitution was passed on May 25 1849 and was signed by King Frederik VII on June 5 1849.
The Constitution is not a thick book but it ensures that the legislative, the executive and the judicial powers are divided. In Denmark that means that the Parliament passes the laws; the government proposes the laws, rules according to the laws and sees to that the laws be effectuated and that the courts of justice judge by the laws.
Furthermore, the Constitution ensures, among others:

• universal voting right to the people (cap. IV, par.29),
• religious liberty (cap. VII, par.67),
• personal liberty (cap. VIII, par. 71),
• freedom of assembly (cap. VIII, par. 79),
• equality (cap. VIII, par. 83) and
• freedom of speech (cap. VIII, par. 77).
• It also ensures compulsory education and the right to free education (cap. VIII, par. 76).

It was, among others, the well-educated, lawyers, university professors and the clergy who had been behind the demand for a free constitution and they had participated in framing and implementing it. Now a comprehensive task lay ahead in educating the Danish people to participate in the democratic process.
The Constitution had come into existence during a civil war which lasted for three years until 1850. The parties in this war were the pro-German populations of Slesvig-Holstein and the Danes. In 1864 Denmark was involved in a war against Prussia and Austria. The Danes lost the war and the Danish frontier now ran along Kongeåen. Hereafter, the education of the people was linked to the national education.
As a part of this education, the folk high school was created. The oldest, Rødding Højskole, was opened back in 1844. These folk high schools were based on the ideas of N.F.S. Grundtvig.
N.S.F. Grundtvig had the opinion that people - a nation -must be created through a language and cultural fellowship. This was made possible in the newly established folk high schools where the adult rural population was to be made conscious of the national genius and learn about history and culture.
The thoughts on the general education, the national genius and the importance of the Danish language for the identity of the nation had of course an even greater value after the defeat in 1864.
 N.S.F. Grundtvig felt that a society must build on the assumption that each single member voluntarily would carry his or her responsibility for the development of the community. The State was not to interfere because that would weaken the social bonds keeping the society together. Consequently, N.F.S. Grundtvig felt that military service should be voluntary.
By the end of the century, the political education of the Danish people continued. Political parties and unions were established. In 1870 Venstre was founded, in 1871 Socialdemokratiet. In 1905 Venstre split and the smallholders formed their own party: Det Radikale Venstre. In 1916 the Konservative Folkeparti was established.
It was not until 1915 that the women finally obtained the right to vote, together with farmhands and servants. Before that time, people had lost their civil rights if f.inst. they had received poor relief, were in prison or had gone bankrupt. In 1915 everyone who had reached the age of majority got the right to vote.
In 1953 the Constitution was revised again. Landstinget was abolished, Greenland and the Faroe Islands obtained equality with the south-Danish nation and the ombudsman system was introduced. Furthermore, we got female order of succession.
Amendments to the Constitution can only occur if two different parliament sessions have passed the amendment. Thereafter, the amendment must be sent to referendum where 40% (previously 45%) of the voters must vote in favour.
After 160 years the Danes may claim that they have got a democratic attitude to life and that they have become democrats in a democratic nation. But still the Danes have to remember that the education must be continued also in the new generations.
For democracy is not only a political form of government but a lifestyle or as Hal Koch says in his book "Hvad er demokrati?" ("What is democracy?"):
"A political and economic democratization of society is not sufficient if you are not capable of democratizing the people - shaping, forming and educating them."

Where does this education take place?

Many places, such as in:

- political associations (who have very few members these days),
- residents' associations,
- committees in f.inst. day nurseries, kindergartens and schools.

If you want to seriously pinpoint where future democracies are created, it is at home at the dinner tables and in the schools.
Hal Koch stated: "Democracy is a lifestyle which you can gradually acquire. The Constitution is not to be learned by heart; it is a symbol and it is crucial that there is coverage for this symbol in the popular life."
And what is then so special about the Scandinavian democracy?
First of all, they are very old democracies. Furthermore, they belong to the evangelic-Lutheran church. That is stated in the Danish Constitution. Thus the Queen is the head of the church in Denmark. To be a protestant, to be raised in the protestant belief, means that you learn that work comes before pleasure, that you pay everyone his due, that you arrive in time and that you keep your appointments.
That work comes before for instance hospitality is a fact which for many who arrive in this country is very difficult to adjust to.
In Denmark there is great equality between the citizens. We have no really rich people and no really poor people - the taxation authorities will see to that! We have the heaviest burden of taxation in the world.
The Danes have wanted it this way but to preserve this equality it demands for the citizens to show solidarity. That means that everyone between the age of 20 and 65 are working and paying their taxes.
It has turned out that this equality may be highly confusing if you come from a country with great inequality. It appears for instance on the labour market where it may be difficult to see who is the boss. Even though the boss resembles his employees in his clothing, walks around among them and uses an informal tone, he is in charge and demands respect!

Suggestions for issues:

• What did you have to give up from your cultural background in order to live in Denmark?
• Where have you met democracy in your everyday life?
• Which problems do you have when meeting with the Danish democracy?
• Where do ethnic Danes see the biggest problems in the confrontation with other cultures?

Introduction to a study group on
a country of organizations - Denmark


Folkevirke is an organization which has existed since 1944. The organization was founded as a movement with the purpose to make Danish women more actively engaged in the public life - meaning participate in politics and the public debate. The founder of Folkevirke was Bodil Koch who later became a social-democratic minister for Ecclesiastical and Cultural Affairs. Even though the purpose of Folkevirke has been fulfilled, several hundred Danish women all over the country participate in Folkevirke's work. Folkevirke cuts across party lines and performs political, social and cultural education. Characteristic for Folkevirke is the open door - everyone is welcome!
By participating in the work of an organization, you become part of a community spirit. Here you meet around something common. In Denmark there are about 300.000 organizations, and two out of three Danes are members of one or more organizations. In Denmark, everyone has a right to found an organization. The tasks within the organization are based upon voluntary work and are thus honorary.  On the other hand, voluntary work in an organization looks good on the CV!
In Denmark, voluntary work is normal and the Scandinavian countries are far ahead with regards to participating in voluntary work.
See more about the Danish organizations on  under "foreninger".
In many Danish municipalities, a ForeningsGuide (Organization Consultant) has been engaged. As a start to the study group, the group may invite a local organization consultant to present an introduction. Check on the internet if your municipality has a ForeningsGuide.

Suggestions for issues:

• How do you form an organization?
• What is voluntary work?
• How can you participate in voluntary work?
• Does engagement in voluntary work have any influence on the possibilities on the labour market?
Introduction to a study group on health

As basis for a study group with the topic Health we refer to Folkevirke's cultural magazine "Folkevirke" no. 1 from 2010. Below follows an article by Nurse Regitze Jensen. The entire magazine is interesting, though, in connection with a discussion about the health services in Denmark seen through the eyes of an immigrant.

When times comes or goes
An area where the cultural differences emerge is the conception of time.
Time is important in Denmark.
You say "Time is money", "Time passes" - or "Time runs" depending on how busy you are - and you often hear the remark "I do not have the time".
Basically the Danes' idea of time is that it is something valuable, something which disappears and therefore you must spend the time right.
In other cultures, time is conceived as infinite - there are oceans of time - and time is something which appears all the time. In those cultures the population feels that they cannot run out of time because "new" time keeps coming up.
For most Danes, time is going or running, depending on how busy you are. But that is a culturally determined conception. In many other cultures, time is coming. New time keeps coming all the time - and it is infinite.
This is a difference which has great significance for how, for example, you prioritize your time - and thus also for if you care very much in case you are late for an appointment.
In Denmark it is vital not to waste other people's time, so you show up on time. I have a personal example of an appointment with a new-Danish employee who had grown up in the Middle East.
She did not show up at the appointed time - or during the following hours. But surprisingly enough, she showed up the following day - at the appointed time.
When I pointed out that she was late, she said yes, she knew, but now she was there so everything was alright. I answered no, because I had been waiting for her the previous day and felt that I had wasted my time.
The employee explained that she had met her sister-in-law who needed practical help as her husband had been admitted to hospital. This task - seen with the eyes of the employee - could not wait. Therefore she had dropped the appointment with me.
But as new time keeps coming up, that was, from her point of view, not a problem.
For me the incident was an eye-opener and in my private life I often reflect about whether time comes or goes - and I also act differently. Professionally I have no doubts that appointments must be kept and that you must inform about a possible delay.

Suggestions for issues:

• In Africa and Asia, a treatment is an agreement between the doctor and the family. How is it in Denmark?
• What is the meaning of confidentiality in the relation between patient and doctor?
• How does the Danish health system function seen through the eyes of an immigrant?
• What is special with regards to the Scandinavian democracy and time? (See also Scandinavian democracy).

Introduction to a study group on Folkeskolen (Primary School)


Denmark has a 10-year Primary School with compulsory education. See under Folkeskoleloven (the Law on Primary School)

The objects clause of the Primary School
From legal consecutive order no. 1195 of 30th November 2006:
§ 1. In cooperation with the parents, the Primary School must provide the students with knowledge and proficiencies which: Prepare them for higher education and give them the desire to learn more; familiarize them with Danish culture and history; give them understanding of other countries and cultures; contribute to their understanding of the interaction between man and nature and further the versatile development of each single student.
(2). The Primary School must apply working methods and create conditions for experience, absorption and enterprise so that the students develop their realization and imagination and obtain confidence in their own possibilities and background to decide and to act.
(3). The Primary School must prepare the students for participation, co-responsibility, rights and duties in a society with freedom and democracy. The school's activities must therefore be characterized by intellectual liberty, equality and democracy.
§ 2. The Primary School is a municipal assignment. The municipal council is responsible for all children in the municipality to be assured free education in the Primary School. The municipal council defines, cf. §40 and §40 a, the objectives and conditions for the schools' activities within this law.
(2). Within the given conditions, each school holds the responsibility for the quality of the education according to the purpose of the Primary School, cf. §1, and defines the organization chart for the education.
(3). Students and parents cooperate with the school in fulfilling the purpose of the Primary School.

Suggestions for issues:

• What is the parents' role in the Primary School?
• Does the objects clause of the Primary School take a modern multi-cultural society into account?
• What are you doing to make you and your children good democrats?
• Does the school have a co-responsibility to educate the students to be good democrats?

Introduction to a study group on
child education and family structures


You talk about two different family structures:
• The arrangement family
• The traditional family

The arrangement family
In the modern family both parents are usually both on the labour market and the children are being looked after outside their home in a public child care system. Teenagers go to a club or look after themselves. Therefore the modern family has to organize and arrange their family life - become an arrangement family - and it that way secure that everybody knows what the others are doing. The family members jointly take care to carry out work tasks when necessary and to maintain the necessary solicitude and mutual support. Hence it is not a big disaster if either mom or dad is not present for a couple of days.
Everyone in the family can take over the tasks and the family functions!
The children learn to be independent at an early age - the very young supervised by the parents, but gradually they get increased freedom.

The traditional family
This type of family is also called the patriarchal family. Here the father is the family's connection to the surrounding society, among others because he has a job. The mother is the home-keeper, takes care of the social life of the family and educates the children. The sons are raised to become like their father and the daughters like their mother. In this family pattern nobody is indispensable as everyone has their role to fulfil.
This type of family does not do well in a modern, western society. If the father does not have a job, he is a bad identification model to his son. The daughters get less and less freedom when approaching the marriageable age. If one of the parents is absent from the family, there is nobody to take over the tasks which are not carried out.
Many refugee and immigrant families live by the traditional family model. This often causes problems when the family's children meet friends at school who are more independent and have more freedom.
Read more about Danish children, child education and the roles of the grand-parents in the children's lives in Folkevirke no.3/2001

Suggestions for issues:

• How do you raise children to be independent?
• How do you teach children freedom with responsibility?
• Why is it important that both mom and dad take part in the parent consultations in kindergartens and schools?
• Who has the duty to set limits to the children?