Scandinavian countries are often hailed as model nations that ensure better living standards with their policies for social welfare and relatively lesser political violence. The countries are also often regarded as ‘neutral’ and not active in promoting imperialist policies in the global south. The reality is quite different. The region is currently undergoing a challenging period, with countries of the region dealing with austerity, the climate emergency and rise of hyper-nationalism.
In light of the recent developments in Afghanistan, as well as 20 years since the beginning of the ‘Global War on Terror’, movements in the region are also challenging their governments over their participation in war efforts during this period.
To understand beyond the narrative of the social welfare model nation, Peoples Dispatch spoke to Nikolaj Møller Kofod, the international spokesperson of Danish Communist Party (KP) regarding the party’s position on political developments in Denmark including the COVID-19 crisis, welfare policies, rise of the far right and the climate movement, as well as about the various initiatives launched by the KP.
Peoples Dispatch: What has been the general impact of COVID-19 in Denmark? What are the concerns raised by the working class impacted by this crisis?
Nikolaj Møller Kofod: The general impact of COVID-19 has been heavy in Denmark. Not so much in the number of cases or deaths, but mainly in the massive restrictions imposed by the government, which are keenly felt. These restrictions and closures are an efficient way of combating the pandemic and our party supports them.
The main concerns of the working class during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the fear of losing jobs and income. Among workers, a major concern is security – so as not to be infected – which is very relevant in the health-sector, in care for the elderly, among teachers, bus-drivers and shop-employees, among others. Equally, it has been a major concern among the poorer sections of working class-families that their housing conditions are not adequate for large families to be forced to ‘home-isolate’. And we see that COVID-19 hits harder and affects more people exactly in such parts of cities.
State compensation has been generous to some and less generous to others. It appears that large businesses get more, relatively speaking, and particularly mink farmers have been overcompensated as they get compensation for lost farming for the next ten years. Our party made quite a visible campaign last autumn to protest the fact that our tax-money was paid out by the government to corona-rescue multinationals that are in fact hiding in tax havens and therefore do not contribute to funding the ‘welfare-state’. This campaign was viewed with sympathy by many.
PD: What is your take on the policies of the social democrat coalition government in Denmark led by Mette Frederiksen?
NK: Firstly, Denmark doesn’t have a ‘social democrat coalition government’ – but a social democrat minority government with parliamentary support from three center-left parties.
KP’s position is one of criticism and opposition. On one hand, we prefer a social democratic government to a right-wing. On the other hand, we are opposed to the welfare cuts, the warmongering foreign policy and the austerity policies of the government.
PD: What is the KP’s take on the move to raise the retirement age in Denmark and the austerity-driven Budget Act?
NK: We support the trade unions’ efforts to push against raising the retirement age. Here, we mainly act through the unions. On the question of the Budget Act, which causes severe cuts in welfare, we were the first party to not only demand its abolition, but also to link it to policies of our membership of the European Union. Already back in 2013, we participated in municipal elections on the platform: Break the Budget Act!.
PD: What is your opinion on the rise of the right-wing in Scandinavian countries? What is your reaction to the racist manifestations in the ‘ghetto law’ in Denmark?
NK: The extreme right is on a rise in Scandinavia, and even in Denmark. In general, we work in anti-fascist and anti-racist organizations in our local neighborhoods with a wide array of people and organizations, and we have for many years. Recently, we have worked within the mass movement Popular Resistance, whose aim is to stop the ‘ghetto law’. We view the law not only as blatantly racist, but an attack on the entire working class, as it is the housing of the working class that is under attack. We view Popular Resistance as one of our main efforts locally, and see a great potential for uniting people in that movement.
For more on the ‘ghetto law’: Danish activists protest ‘ghetto’ law that targets minorities
PD: What has been your involvement in the climate movement in Denmark?
NK: During the COP-15 more than ten years ago, our party was very active in the large popular protests and the great march, which turned out to be the largest protest march in our country’s history. Since then, we have not been able to prioritize the climate movement as high as we have wished. We contribute mainly on the theoretical level and grassroots level, and support the various movements – the green students movement and Extinction Rebellion, for instance, through our news media Arbejderen.
Our important input to the movement is propagating and documenting that “capitalism is the problem” and that we need to fight for “system-change – not climate-change”.
PD: How do you evaluate the welfare state policies that are in place in Denmark?
NK: There are still enough welfare state foundations to have something to defend. Hospitals are still free and education mostly so, and there is compensation for lost wages for everybody. It is true that welfare has been under attack from the various social democratic and right-wing governments through the last fifty years or so. But since the period of the active part of the working class, the fighting and organized part, who pressured the various governments into welfare measures originally, there is nothing new in the situation. Welfare saves and improves the lives of the working class and KP defends it.
PD: What is your perspective on the politics of the European Union and Denmark’s relations with the EU?
NK: KP demands a Danish exit from the EU and works actively for the total dissolution of that imperialist bloc. We want to replace it with relations based on an equal footing with all countries of Europe and the world. We work and play an active role in the Popular Movement Against the EU and have done so since its beginnings. This is an area of work highly prioritized by the party.
PD: What is your take on Donald Trump’s whim to buy Greenland? How do you perceive the independence movements in Greenland and the Faroe Islands?
NK: When Trump announced he would visit Denmark back in 2018, our party quickly participated with a number of solidarity and social movements in a coalition to organize a large demonstration against his visit. He cancelled his visit, so the demonstration was smaller than it could have been. Regarding Greenland, our position is that countries are not for sale. We fully support the independence-currents in Greenland and the Faroe Islands and have good relations with them. We believe that especially the Faroe Islands have a strong sentiment for independence, but also view the independence of Greenland as mandatory.
PD: In your opinion, how strong and relevant is the left in Denmark? How influential is the left among the working class and the youth in the country?
NK: The left is certainly relevant, but unfortunately not as strong as it could be. There are many degrees of “Left” – from left-wing social democrats to members and associates of our party, and we do not always cooperate too well.
For a number of years, KP has sought to unite all communists in one new party, but now circumstances (read: lack of will for unity among the other communist parties) force us to focus on building and expanding our own party.
We conducted our 6th Congress on May 29 and 30 (postponed from January because of COVID-19), whose title was: People before profit – Worker unity against big capital.
PD: Tell us about Dagbladet Arbejderen and some of the recent campaigns by KP in the country. What are the party’s initiatives on trade unions, youth and other important sections?
NK: Our recent campaigns have taken place mainly with mass organizations like the anti-ghetto Popular Resistance and the People’s Movement Against the EU. In the trade unions, we work mainly to secure their independence as fighting platforms for the working class. Here, we work with the youth in the trade unions. Regarding our media Dagbladet Arbejderen, we continually struggle to raise funds. We have recently succeeded in fulfilling our goal for fundraising for 2020. We are very happy with a media that reaches hundreds of people through each member of the party every day. It takes a great deal of effort to secure future publishing and development and expansion of the media, not least in the way of getting young qualified people for writing work, but it is an effort worth doing.