Denmark

In Denmark, youth have quite a privileged position. Education right through university is free and all students receive a monthly grant from the state, enabling everybody an incentive to study. Generally, youth participation in public life is high and we have a strong and democratic organisational culture among youth. I believe that this tradition should be shared with youths from other countries who are still struggling for democracy and political participation. We have the obligation to support them in their struggle. We can learn a lot from each other, and together we can achieve youth empowerment and increased participation.

Very few youth organisations work in the region. Only a few of our member organisations have partners in the region. Our member organisations, though, have a big interest in getting more contact, which is why ‘searching for the possibilities of creating partnerships in the Middle East region’ is specifically mentioned in the Plan of Work 2004-2005 of DUF.

Young Danes have, if they want, many ways, both formal and informal, to influence society they live in. Denmark has a huge number of young people as members of city councils and even in the national parliament. Furthermore, Danish youth organisations are very well organised and in general they have a good reputation in public. The education system in Denmark is free of charge for students, and has a very high quality. Besides that, the students have a huge influence on education via various democratic bodies in schools, universities, etc.

Young people in Denmark are very privileged in comparison to other countries. Denmark has a long tradition of prioritising education very highly, which means that almost all education is free and the student receives money from the state when going to university or other educational institutions. This results in young people feeling independent and often moving away from home when starting higher education. From early on, the individual can participate in democratic institutions. From primary school and all the way to university, student councils are participating in planning and evaluating lessons, materials and teachers. This contributes to many young people not being very loyal to authorities, but often questioning the way things are done and perhaps changing them if possible. This is not only significant in schools, but also in Danish working institutions, where the boss often lays out a lot of responsibility on the employees. In sum, Danish young people generally feel independent because each individual can choose his/her own way forward. As a consequence though, many young Danes end up being too individualistic and not feeling solidarity with the rest of the community. This is a tendency which community-based organisations help diminish.

The situation of youth NGOs in Denmark is pretty good when compared to many other countries. There is a long tradition of forming organisations in Denmark within all kinds of areas, and for the organisation to be an important part of civil society. Youth NGOs are supported economically by the government, assisted in the distribution by the Danish Youth Council, which means there are many options for youth to get involved because the economic security makes it possible for youth NGOs to engage in actions and think less about funding. Youth NGOs often have the possibility to engage in a dialogue with the government or other decision-making institutions and thus influence the decision-making on areas related to youths. The above description only concerns youth NGOs. Talking about youth in Denmark in general, they have a lot of options. Education and social security is supported by the government, there are many possibilities for engaging in activities outside of school such as youth NGOs, sports, clubbing, music, etc. However, there are still many young people who are excluded from these possibilities due to social and economic circumstances. Many different groups work to include them in different activities. The Youth Programme is one way to offer different experiences to disadvantaged youth.

Young people in Denmark are very open to other cultures and differences that might not align with their own specific way of living. You can see this openness everywhere, in daily lives and in the face of interaction. I have experienced this willingness to understand, and it is a part of my life that has another dimension than other people’s lives (Danish and Turkish backgrounds). Danish students are luckier than other students around the world. We have good opportunities to travel around the world on exchange basis, trainings and so on. This is due to the fact that we are better off financially, because of the study grants offered from our government. This is a gift that we all appreciate and embrace with gratitude.

Young people in Denmark are in many ways in a very privileged position compared to many other countries. The Danish welfare state provides free education from primary school right through university, and even a government grant is given to all students at university level. This means that everybody has the possibility to get an education irrespective of parents’ income or social status. But it also makes society very competitive, meaning that if you are not able to perform well and carry through your university education, there is a high risk that you get marginalised or unemployed, because the rate of well-educated and well-performing people is very high. The Danish educational system is very egalitarian and participatory and children are taught to form their own opinions and make themselves heard throughout their upbringing. This means that Danish youth is quite skilled in organising itself in student councils, youth organisations, sports associations and in participating in and influencing society around them. This experience of participation and organisation is something that Danish youth can bring forward and share with other youths in other countries. On the other hand, the ‘spoiled’ Danes can learn a lot from exchanging experiences with youth in a less privileged situation to build solidarity and understanding.

Most young people in Denmark finish school at the age of 19-20. Education in Denmark is very important. Most of them keep on going to university. We are so lucky in Denmark that the government pays for our education. In Denmark we are very free and independent. When you are 18 years old you are seen as an adult. Most young people enjoy travelling. AFS wants to give an intercultural experience, so that young Danish people can learn about other cultures, and Tunisia might be our next target.

Young people in Denmark have many possibilities because education is free. But a huge group in the major cities are not making it in the established system. Most of these have a multicultural background. Therefore the Copenhagen Youth School is taking a major responsibility in trying to keep these youngsters on track. Because of the social welfare system, one cannot call these young people street kids, but by Danish standards they are close to being defined as such, because they get sidetracked and end up with no formal education. Every job, pretty much needs some form of educational training. This means that in the long run youngsters with no education will get behind the rest both in status and job offers. But they still have a huge possibility because of free education and a solid basic economic foundation. We sometime refer to the youngsters of Denmark as ‘˜spoiled youth’ or the Curling phenomenon. Besides the group which I described we have the mainstream which is well adapted and with good foundations, making its own agenda. They have a good knowledge and participate as a democratic voice. They have legislative councils in ground schools through secondary and university. The municipality of Copenhagen also has a city youth council. So Denmark consists of a group well adjusted to the system and a small group of youngsters outside it.

My picture of the situation for young people in Denmark is quite fine. Adults receive financial support from the government for education, and the welfare system assures that almost no one is left behind, if one should suddenly be without job, education and shelter. Kids under 18 years of age can work, but the conditions are almost always very carefully controlled. Most young people in Denmark have enough sport or other activity offers (as Vyborg Youth school) within reach of a bicycle or a bus. But many young people spend a lot of time in front of their computer or TV anyway. A growing problem in Denmark is therefore obesity, as fat and inactive children and young people are living an unhealthy life based on fast food and TV. Immigrants are another problem among young people. One of two different views on the problem is that the new Danes are criminals threatening the little welfare system. The other one is that the Danes are racists who are forcing the new Danes into criminality. The real picture surely lies in between, but the problem is one of the greatest and most hateful discussion subjects. Young adults have got all the rights and possibilities to influence the system through politics, but there are only few who do so, unfortunately.

The most pressing challenge we face today in Denmark is how to cope with the fact that we have a lot of immigrants and refugees with other ethnic backgrounds than Danish, who have troubles fitting into the Danish society. We have to understand their cultural background better to know how to meet their needs, and thereby solve the ghetto, unemployment and crime problems that often occur in this environment. It is young people we must reach out to.

People with learning disabilities do not have much experience in democracy and organising. The project about training people with learning disabilities can lead to active citizens, but they very often need help and some special tools.

Young people in Denmark are getting less involved in our democracy because they are taking our democracy for granted. A development we, of course, are trying to fight. Danish youth has a very prejudiced picture of the Arab world because the media in Denmark always show a one-sided view of, for instance, the war in Iraq. The average Danish young man is looking at the Arab population as Islamic fundamentalists and people who are not interested in democracy, something we need to change.

The situation for young people in Denmark at the moment is filled with opportunities. Everyone can benefit from education, since it is for free. However we are still struggling with students that do not go through high school and are lost along the way. Also, now we stand before great opportunities and big tasks with the acceptance of new cultures in our society. It is of huge personal importance to me to promote democracy and intercultural understanding in my country, because I see a lot of young people struggling because of racism.