Demonstration at the border: Danes on the streets

On 21 April 2012 about 13 000 people gathered in Flensburg for a demonstration. On 6 May there will be elections in Germany’s northernmost federal land – and according to some forecasts the party of the Danish minority may have a possible role as king-maker. Minority politics at the German-Danish border is under a lot of pressure.

Circa 50 000 people who belong to the Danish minority are living in the German federal land of Schleswig-Holstein, in the southern part of the historic Duchy of Schleswig. The Danish minority in Germany (South Schleswig) and the German minority in Denmark (North Schleswig) came into being after the plebescite of 1920.

School protests
The protest of the Danish minority, which led to a mass demonstration with 13 000 participants on 21 April 2012, is aimed at the minority policy of the regional government of Schleswig-Holstein. In 2010, the government in Kiel decided to cut funding for the Danish minority schools from 100% of the grants to 85%. These “asymmetrical cuts” led to considerable protest among the Danish minority, but also the highest levels of Danish policy makers were alarmed. The very peaceful coexistence in the German-Danish border region, characterised by cooperation and friendship, is not something that can be taken for granted; it gradually grew after years of national-political antagonism.

The former Danish head of government Løkke Rasmussen considered the issue to be so serious that he discussed it directly with chancellor Angela Merkel a number of times. Because of significant external pressure the federal government in Berlin decided to step in and transfered 3,5 million Euro to the Danish School Association in 2010 and 2011, to compensate for part of the the financial damage (cuts of circa 4.7 million Euro).

The Danish minority was pleased with financial support from Berlin – but held firm to its demand for 100% equality for the Danish minority schools. Among other things it collected 51 000 signatures with a petition-action.

The government in Kiel reasons as follows: the Danish schools are doing much better than comparable German schools. They also receive money from Denmark and what is more, not all school students in the establishments are “genuinely Danish”. The main argument for the proposed cuts however is financial – namely the consolidation of the budget of the federal land.

The Danish state funds the Danish minority with grants of a sum of around 70 million Euro annually. The Danish School Association maintains 46 schools with 5600 school students and 55 kindergartens with around 2000 children.

Election campaign
On 6 May the regional parliament – the Schleswig-Holstein Landtag – will be newly elected. At the moment a conservative-liberal coalition under prime-minister Peter Harry Carstensen is governing. The Danish minority is represented with four members, and achieved 4 percent of the votes at the latest elections. The Danish minority party SSW (South Schleswig Voters' Association) is exempted from the 5% election threshold. Most surveys suggest that the outcome on the evening of the election might be very close. A coalition of social-democrats and the green party is opposing the sitting government of conservatives and liberals. SSW, according to some recent opinion-polls, may end up in the position of a king-maker. If that happens, it is already clear how SSW will decide. It will decide against the existing government, especially because of the (see above) ruinous minority policy it pursued. For the first time SSW is ready to become part of government. From people close to the governing coalition can be heard that although SSW may have full-fledged mandates (as follows from the minority provisions in the Bonn-Copenhagen Agreements of 1955), SSW should seriously reconsider its role as king-maker, as it is exempted from the election-threshold.

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