Denmark’s highest court reviews right to fly foreign flags

Denmark's Supreme Court will examine the case of a Danish family convicted for displaying the flag of the United States, judicial authorities said on Friday.

Denmark's highest court reviews right to fly foreign flags
In Denmark you need permission to fly the flag of a different country, unless it's Greenland, the Faroe Islands the Nordics, the EU or UN. Photo: Sebastiano Piazzi, Unsplash.

The case concerns the validity of a law dating back to 1915 that prohibits Danes from flying flags other than that of the Scandinavian country, an ordinance meant to preserve its neutrality during World War I.

One morning in June 2017, the Hedegård family was surprised to see the police at their door in a residential area of Kolding, a city in western Denmark.

After complaints from a neighbour, police demanded its removal or face a fine of 2,500 kroner (about 330 euros).

The family said they were not acting in bad faith but chose to fly the flag because they had a deep affection for American culture.

“We feel we are a part of American culture in Denmark,” Rikke Hedegård told local newspaper JydskeVestkysten.

“I could understand if it were a Nazi or Islamic State flag. But an American flag, I can’t understand at all,” Hedegård told the newspaper.

“I thought I had seen enough of it, and it was too much,” the neighbour who made the complaint said.

The family was ordered to stand trial for violating the 1915 ordinance, with prosecutors citing a similar case from 1934 concerning a Soviet flag that determined the rule was also valid in peacetime.

The Hedegårds were acquitted, with the argument that the flag ban was no longer legally binding.

However, that ruling was overturned by the high court last November, although no sentence was imposed given the length of the judicial procedures.

There are some exceptions to Danish flag rules – the Greenland and Faroe Islands flags, along with flags of the other Nordic countries, the EU and the UN may be flown, according to Ministry of Justice guidelines.

If permission is given to fly other countries’ flags, this is usually on condition that a Danish flag of at least equal size be hoisted alongside the foreign flag.

READ ALSO: Danish flag trend sparks outrage

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Amateur treasure hunters’ gems go on display at Denmark’s National Museum

They may be derided elsewhere but in Denmark, hobby archaeologists who hunt treasures with metal detectors are such an asset that the National Museum has dedicated an entire exhibit to their finds.

Amateur treasure hunters' gems go on display at Denmark's National Museum

“What they save now means the world for what we can do in the future and how we can build our museums,” exhibit curator Line Bjerg told AFP.

“What they do really matters.”

In Denmark’s muddy soil, if objects “are not saved, then they are lost to history”, she added.

In three rooms on the museum’s bottom floor, visitors can learn about “detectorists” and admire some of their discoveries, including rings, necklaces and gold coins, all marked with the name of their finder.

In the Scandinavian country once populated by Vikings, amateurs can use metal detectors almost everywhere as long as they get permission from the landowner. They are not, however, allowed to dig beneath the top layer of soil.

Any archaeological finds have to be turned over to a local museum for an initial evaluation before they are transferred to the National Museum for an in-depth assessment — and a possible reward.

Detectorists’ hauls can be abundant.

“Last year, we had almost 18,000 objects that were sent for treasure trove processing. The year before that it was 30,000 objects,” Bjerg said.

Known as “Danefae”, any archaeological artefacts found by treasure hunters automatically belong to the state, under an old medieval law.

According to Torben Trier Christiansen, an archaeologist with the Historical Museum of Northern Jutland, the collaboration with the hobbyists is

They are “one of the most important collaborators of the museum”, he insisted.

There are more than 250 detectorists in his region, with the most active among them handing over around a hundred objects per year.

Arne Hertz, a 64-year-old pensioner who heads a local association of detectorists, said “people are pleased to do the right thing by handing over the findings”.

Experts Krister Vasshus, left, and Lisbeth Imer hold golden bracteates unearthed in Vindelev, Denmark in late 2020. Imer holds a golden bracteate features an inscription mentioning Odin, the Norse god. (Photo: John Fhær Engedal Nissen, The National Museum of Denmark via AP) 
Writing history together

The unique collaboration is based on a mutual understanding. On the one hand, archaeological sites won’t be looted. On the other, authorities are able to showcase the amateur discoveries.

“Sometimes it’s these particular finds that change our history because they add knowledge that we simply did not have before,” Bjerg noted.

One section of the biggest exhibition room is dedicated to the “Vindelev Treasure”.

Comprised of 22 gold objects, it was buried in the sixth century in southwestern Denmark and found in late 2020 by an amateur who had just bought a metal detector.

The treasure trove includes a bracteate — a thin coin stamped on one side.

“And on the inscription of the bracteate is mentioned the name of Odin, the Norse god. And it puts Odin 150 years before we actually knew that he existed as a god,” Bjerg said.

“We’re building our history together in Denmark.”

For detectorists, whose finds have on occasion been displayed at local museums, the exhibit at the National Museum is a major recognition.

“It’s very impressive to see how the things we’ve found are displayed — and to see that we are actually helping a little to enrich Denmark’s history,” 38-year-old Simon Grevang, who works in online marketing and has been a detectorist for four years, told AFP.

The exhibit has drawn crowds since opening in February.

Annie Lund, a 72-year-old retiree who was enthralled by the jewellery on display, said it was a good way of making history accessible.

“Twenty or forty years ago, this was only for a small group of people, scientists… not for the general public. So I think this is really good,” she said.