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What is Denmark doing to mark the 175th anniversary of its constitution?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
What is Denmark doing to mark the 175th anniversary of its constitution?
A statue of Frederick VII, who signed Denmark's first Constitution, on a horse outside the Christiansborg parliament. Photo: Henrik Sørensen/Danish Parliament

Denmark celebrates the 175th anniversary of its Constitution on June 5th. A series of special events and celebrations are taking place across the country.


What's the background to the Danish Constitution? 

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Denmark (Danmarks Riges Grundlov) was signed by King Frederick VII on June 5th 1849 and marked the end of the absolute hereditary monarchy under which Denmark had been ruled since 1661.

After it was signed Frederick VII reportedly declared, with wonderful Danish bathos, "that was nice, now I can sleep in late in the mornings". 

Before 1661, Denmark had in theory been an elective monarchy, with the new king elected by the country's nobility. In practice, the crown was normally inherited, but the nobility could and frequently did, use the election process to demand concessions.   

The shift to a constitutional monarchy was put in motion by Frederick VII's father, Christian VIII, as a way of protecting the monarchy from the wave of revolutions then sweeping Europe. 

In March 1848, following Christian's death and Frederick's coronation, there was a march on Christiansborg Palace led by the National Liberals, Denmark's first political party, demanding a constitutional monarchy.

READ ALSO: How is Constitution Day celebrated in Denmark?

Frederick agreed to their demands and included many of the party's leaders in a new cabinet, which appointed a Constitutional Assembly to work on the country's first constitution, which was signed that June.

Under the constituion, Danes gained freedom of association, freedom of belief, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and property rights. 

Only men over 30 who owned their own home initially had the right to vote - about 15 percent of the population. Women did not get the right to vote until 1915 and 18-year-olds had to wait until 1974. 


Why is this year's celebration special? 

The 50th, 100th and 150th anniversaries of the Constution were all major national events in Denmark.The 150th in 1999 featured a Children's Parliament Day when 178 pupils from 60 primary schools met at the main hall in the Christiansborg parliament and had to agree on on ministers, discuss and vote through nine laws, which were passed to the then Social Democrat Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen.

The 200th anniversary in 2049 will also presumably be a very big deal.

But the 175th anniversary is nonetheless more significant than a normal year, and there's quite a bit planned. 

What's happening in parliament for the celebrations in 2024? 

King Frederik X and Queen Mary attended celebrations at the parliament in Christiansborg on Tuesday, starting with a church service at 8am at the The Holmen Church just across the canal from the parliament. 

When the service finished at 9.40am, the Royal Couple and others who attending the service crossed over to the parliament where an event was held at the Landstingsalen, where the Landstinget, Denmark's upper house of parliament, used to hold its debates until it was abolished in 1953. 

At the event, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen gave a speech alongside the Speaker of the Parliament, Søren Gade, and the President of the Supreme Court, Jens Peter Christensen. The three represent the executive, legislative and judicial functions of the state.  


What's happening outside parliament? 


The parliament has produced a six-part podcast together with the Royal Family, which will run through the history of the Constitution. You can find that here.  


In an update on the Children's Parliament from 1999, DR Ultra, the public broadcaster's channel for young people, has been working with schools on a digital platform where they can propose changes to the law in Denmark, and then vote on the proposals which have been made. One of the proposals with the most votes will then be presented to Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. 

Anyone under 18 can vote, and according to DR, "one of the proposals with the most votes will be presented to the Prime Minister".

This seems to give the channel some leeway to select which proposal will be put forward, as, predictably, many of the most popular proposals at the moment involve reinstating "Great Prayer Day" or Store bededag as a public holiday. 

A proposal to allow students to "come to school later" appeared to have the edge in the early stages of voting. 

Celebrations at DR Byen

Denmark's public broadcaster DR is holding a celebration at the DR Byen, its headquarters in Ørestad, on Constitution Day itself, working together with the parliament. The event will feature speeches, music and debate panels, and finishes at 7pm on Tuesday. 

According to DR, Denmark's Education Minister Mattias Tesfaye will be present, as will Emma Holten, the Danish-Swedish human rights activist and celebrity debater, and Knud Romer, the novelist and advertising executive.

There will be an event featuring Børste, the hedgehog that is the star of one of the channel's most popular children's cartoons, there will be democratic children's theatre, the presentation of an award for 'The New Voice of the Year', or Årets Nye Stemme, and even more group singing. 



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