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Ten fun facts about Denmark's 'People's Meeting'

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Ten fun facts about Denmark's 'People's Meeting'
Folkemødet offers speeches, debates, concerts, beer and a lot of politicking. Photo: Søren Svendsen
15:32 CEST+02:00
What you need to know about Folkemødet, Denmark's festival for political junkies.

1. So what's it all about?
The People's Meeting (Folkemødet) is an annual four-day festival for political junkies where, as the name implies, Danes get the opportunity to meet their politicians face-to-face. The basic concept is to strengthen the democratic dialogue between residents and politicians by serving as a platform for debate panels, info sessions and speeches.

Since its inception in 2011, the event has grown exponentially, with 25,000 people dropping by the festival daily in 2015, compared to only 3,000 in its first year.

2. Where did the idea come from?
The Swedes, actually. The inspiration came from the Swedish Almedalen political week, held in Gotland every year since 1968. A small delegation of Danish politicians who attended the festival in 2010 were so impressed with the concept that they decided to bring it to Denmark.

3. Where and when is it being held?
Folkemødet will run from June 16th to 19th and is held in Allinge on Bornholm, a sleepy town on an equally sleepy island on the eastern periphery of Denmark. For four days, the town of 1,600 residents will be invaded by well-behaved hordes of politicians, TV-crews, and visitors from all over Denmark. Think Distortion for an older demographic or Roskilde Festival without the music and you'll have a pretty good idea of what it's like: more politics and elevated discussions, less loud music and public urination.

Festival-goers taking a leisurely stroll through Allinge harbour. Photo credit: DRs Kulturarvsprojekt/Flickr

4. Why is it being held on Bornholm?
In recent years there's been a lot of debate about what is referred to as 'Udkantsdanmark', the parts of the country far from big cities like Copenhagen and Aarhus. People living in peripheral regions feel politically marginalized and Bornholm is pretty much as peripheral as it gets, so there's a symbolic value in the politicians coming there to get in touch with the common Dane.

5. Why has it become so popular?
It's a unique event in that it's essentially the one time of year where practically everyone who's important in politics is gathered in the same place at the same time. This allows a large variety of events, debates, and networking to happen in a transparent fashion that includes the voting public. Everyone wins; the politicians, interest groups and other organizations are given a platform that helps them reach thousands of people, politics is made more accessible to the people, and a little part of peripheral Denmark suddenly gets to have its moment in the sun.
There will be no shortage of talks and events over the course of the festival. Photo: Søren Svendsen
6. Who will be there?
Pretty much everybody who is anybody in Danish politics will attend. The leaders of parliament's nine political parties will all be given 30 minutes of speaking time on the festival's main stage and all of the parties will be hosting and/or attending a variety of talks and workshops. Well over 100 MPs and a number of government ministers are likely to attend. 
In addition to the political parties, there will be scores upon scores of other organizations on hand to either hold their own events or just glad-hand. Seriously, just see for yourself how long it takes to scroll to the bottom of the list of participants
7. Any special guests this year?
Last year's Folkemødet was a bit controversial due to the appearance of Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who delivered a speech critical of Islam. The nationalist Danes' Party (Danskernes Parti), also brought along several of their far-right colleagues from around Europe including the Greek neo-fascist party Golden Dawn, for a debate on nationalism.

This year's meeting hasn't attracted as much controversy within Denmark, but it might annoy Russian president Vladimir Putin. Activist group Pussy Riot will appear on the main festival stage on Friday. Given Denmark's tense relationship with Russia at the moment, their invitation has likely been noticed in Moscow. 

Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova at a 2014 press conference in Oslo. Photo: Cornelius Poppe/NTB Scanpix
Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova at a 2014 press conference in Oslo. Photo: Cornelius Poppe/NTB Scanpix

Another international guest will be Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell, who famously portrayed PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen as a Nazi. He recently told Politiken that he was looking forward to attending the "crazy" and "bizarre" festival.

"It's hard to imagine an event [in England] where the politicians get together and get drunk. It's a very exciting idea," he said.  

8. Wait, did he say people will be getting drunk?
One of the wonderful things about Folkemødet is that it really does have a festival feel. Sure, there will be a lot of serious discussions about politics, societal challenges, the future of the welfare state, the refugee situation, Nato and almost certainly talk of those new expensive fighter jets. But there will also be entertainment in the form of quizzes, performances, film screenings and concerts from big Danish names like Anne Linnet and the rapper S!vas. And yes, it's being held in Denmark, so there will of course be beer tents. 

"Would you like a beer to go with that pamphlet?" Photo: Søren Svendsen

9. What else will be going on?
As stated, the head of every Danish political party will be there to deliver their message on the so-called main stage, but each party will also have tents and/or booths set up where you can walk up and engage them in friendly debate or just scope the tents for the best freebies and pamphlets.

There will also be representation from the media, businesses, ministries, non-government organizations, and lobbying groups, all of whom will be putting on their own events, panel discussions and debates to compete for attendees' attention.

The media and NGO sector will also be out in full force. Photo credit: DRs Kulturarvsprojekt/Flickr

10.  Is there anything else that's special about Bornholm besides the People's Meeting?
One of the ulterior motives of the Meeting is of course to shine the spotlight on Bornholm, which is rapidly transforming into a popular tourist destination for Danes and Germans in particular. It's a beautiful island with a lot of nice beaches, nature, and quaint villages, although all of that may be a bit hard to see owing to the sheer volume of politicians and brochure-clutching political junkies. 

Note to readers: A previous version of this article was published on June 10th, 2015

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