Danish armed forces distance themselves from Great Prayer Day plan 

Unions for the Danish armed forces say they are concerned about the connection between the military and plans to abolish Great Prayer Day.

Danish armed forces distance themselves from Great Prayer Day plan 
People at the beach during the Great Prayer Day holiday in 2020. File photo: John Randeris/Ritzau Scanpix

The Danish military wants the government to stop using defence as justification to abolish Great Prayer Day, a public holiday set to be axed through a parliamentary bill.

Three unions, representing a total of more than 18,000 members in the armed forces, say association with the loss of a public holiday could undermine general support for the armed forces. 

The government bill to abolish Great Prayer Day has met with criticism from trade unions, the church and opposition parties.


Niels Tønning, chairman of the union Hovedorganisationen af Officerer i Danmark (“First Organization of Officers in Denmark”) told newspaper BT that extra funding shouldn’t come at the expense of the freedom of Danish wage earners.

That is despite the armed forces needing the money, he noted.

Another union leader, Jesper Korsgaard Hansen of Centralforeningen for Stampersonel (Central Association for Core Personnel) told BT he was angry over the link between defence and Great Prayer Day.

“I’m angry in the old-fashioned sense about the military being brought up in the same breath to say that money from the scrapped public holiday will go to increased expenses for defence,” Hansen told BT.

Tom Block chairperson of Hærens Konstabel- og Korporalforening (Association of Army Constables and Corporals) said that the government had made the military a “scapegoat” for its plan to scrap Great prayer Day.

In a written comment to BT, defence minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen recognised the bill to scrap Great Prayer Day was not popular.

He said he believed that Danes nevertheless understood that bolstering the military comes with a price.

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Danes protest against plan to abolish public holiday

Tens of thousands of Danes protested on Sunday against the government's plan to abolish a public holiday to help fund the defence budget.

Danes protest against plan to abolish public holiday

“It’s a totally unfair proposal”, said Lizette Risgaard, the head of the FH union which organised the demonstration and which has 1.3 million members in the country of 5.9 million inhabitants.

Protesters, estimated at between 40,000 and 50,000 by police and organisers, gathered outside parliament in Copenhagen and carried signs reading “Hands Off Our Holiday” and “Say No to War”.

Around 70 buses ferried in demonstrators from across Denmark.

Denmark’s left-right government coalition, in power since December and led by Social Democratic Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, plans to scrap the religious holiday known as Great Prayer Day, observed since the 17th century.

The government wants to use the money generated to raise the defence budget to NATO’s target of 2 percent of GDP by 2030, instead of 2033 as previously planned.

It insists the accelerated calendar is necessary due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But Danish unions argue the decision to make Danes work an extra day violates the country’s sacrosanct collective wage agreements, negotiated by the unions and the government.

The government decision is “breaking into our Danish model”, Risgaard told AFP.

“The next time we in our parliament think that we need some more money, will they take another holiday or a Sunday and say, ‘oh you’ll have work there’,” she said.


Mads Overgaard, an 18-year-old student, said he came out to support the Danish model.

“It’s very important that it doesn’t change, because it’s one thing to change this case, but what will they do next time?”, he told AFP.

Kurt Frederiksen, the 56-year-old head of the hotel and restaurant branch of the 3F union, said he also disagreed with the government using the money to boost defence.

“We don’t think that money for war will ever make peace”, he said.

Meanwhile, Johannes Gregers Jensen, the Dean of Copenhagen in Denmark’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church, of which around 73 percent of Danes are members, said the main problem was the “principle that is broken here”.

Denmark has a long tradition whereby Church matters “are decided by the people in the Church and the government shouldn’t put their finger into that”, he said.

“They are doing that… and that’s a huge problem.”