‘When we have a discussion in Denmark, we like to imagine we are in agreement when we start’

'When we have a discussion in Denmark, we like to imagine we are in agreement when we start'
Clement Kjersgaard will host a series of international events featuring political big-hitters at Copenhagen's Imperial Bio. Composite photos: Ræson
The Local spoke to Clement Kjersgaard, political anchor with broadcaster DR and founder of current affairs journal Ræson, about national and international media, Danes’ English skills, and why there’s no place for hygge in politics.

Danish political journal Ræson is currently preparing a new international series of high-profile political lectures in English, aimed at internationals and with a focus on internationally-driven discussion.

Ræson’s International Series will take place four times a year, with a “distinguished guest” invited to give a keynote lecture on one of the most pressing dilemmas of the day, the political journal announced on its website last month.

The high-profile billing is lived up to in the project’s first two events: EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager will guest the Imperial Bio in Copenhagen on Monday August 20th, followed by Minister for Finance Kristian Jensen, a potential future prime minister, at the same venue on September 25th.

Each will give a keynote lecture, followed by conversation and questions from the floor. The entire event will be conducted in English and Kjersgaard will be on hand to moderate the discussion.

The Local spoke to the DR heavyweight about his motivation and hopes for the concept, as well as his views on the culture of political debate in Denmark and abroad.

What’s in it for Ræson to cater to internationals?

“When I founded Ræson back in 2002 there was an expectation that I, and I think many people had, that we were moving with the effects of globalisation into a future where international politics would become a more prominent feature of the media landscape. I think that has not happened at all. You could ask the question whether we’ve seen a bit of the opposite taking place.

“You’ve seen this in terms of the political landscape but maybe also the media landscape, a sort of national focus that a lot of the time I think very much runs counter to the reality of the world.”

Who is going to be interested?

“It’s such an evident, obvious good idea to do something in Copenhagen for an international audience, and when I realised that these events essentially didn’t exist it was just a matter of deciding where to start. We intend that many of these tickets will be bought by people from around the world working in Copenhagen, and then some of them likely will be bought by Danes, who have the exact same interest in hearing out Kristian Jensen, and hearing Vestager.

“I think there’s a severe lack of these sorts of events in Copenhagen. You could say that Copenhagen likes to think of itself as an international city, Denmark likes to think of itself as a very global country, and in some ways it is, but in other ways it really isn’t.

Will the subject matter be any different from a similar event in Danish?

“Yes. I really believe that. It really wasn’t very difficult to come up with the first couple of names, and you can mention a handful of other people we’d like to feature and building on that, you can imagine international names taking part as well.

“I do believe that, not just in Denmark, there really is a strong tendency at the moment to choose a national perspective, sometimes with a kind of abandon that is almost silly. Where is the EU heading? Of course that’s a question which is a completely different type of question today than it was before Brexit. Kristian Jensen is a very likely contender for the premiership in a few years’ time, so [the audience will] hear him on some of these larger questions which are often ignored in day-to-day discussion. I do think the questions we will ask, and the answers we will get, will be very different in an international context.”

Was it difficult to convince your guests to speak a foreign language on home turf?

“Not at all. We’re working from a very short list, you could maybe mention ten or 15 Danish figures of their stature and I think all of them on that list will relish the chance.

Minister of Finance Kristian Jensen. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

“I think you’re right in terms of the language. I think despite the fact many Danes are good at English or relatively good at English, there is definitely a challenge in terms of, will you be as nuanced, will you be as honest, will you be as specific. On the other hand, in my experience, whenever you change your language it’s an opportunity to sort of re-examine your own beliefs, right, because you are forced to think, ‘why would I express myself in this manner?’, so there is something refreshing about that as well.

“There’s a tendency in the international context for political debate to become very polished, very polite. The challenge, then, is to make sure you can make it honest and forthright and a little gritty, even.

“I think many Danes consider themselves to be of a very global mindset, I think many Danes consider Denmark to be a very open-minded country and to some extent it is, but in many ways it is not, when you compare Copenhagen to Berlin or London or whatever it does feel like a small place. There is an expectation that we’ll leave the global dimensions to someone else – well, apparently no one else is picking it up.”

Does that mean Denmark could be a moderator in international political discourse?

“That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? The Brexit discussion is such an excellent example, because it really just goes to show you that all of these countries are dealing with the same dilemmas, like immigration, integration, equality and so forth.

“I’m seen as being controversially assertive in the way that I interview and the way I approach these issues. I have realised that in a Danish context and in the Danish tradition there is a huge premium on consensus. On hygge, essentially. When we have a discussion in Denmark, we like to imagine that either we are almost in agreement when we start or at least we know we will be very close to agreeing when we finish. That of course is a really rather insane approach to having a discussion because, then, what are you essentially discussing? If you insist that everyone must agree, at least at the end, maybe even at the beginning, then what’s the bother?

“In Denmark there’s an insistence on consensus, and you’ve found Danish politics becoming very polarised over the last ten or 15 years. In the US and the UK you have a different approach, but the politics have become equally polarised.

“We can’t approach every issue with this sense that we are five minutes from total agreement on the role of Islam in society, or the future of the European Union, or whatever it is. We need a discussion which is about opening up, not closing down.

“European countries are having the same discussions in parallel without listening to each other.”

Tickets for Ræson's International Series can be purchased here.

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