Friday, December 07, 2007

Sheds as national Danish symbol


With two party congresses over the weekend, there was plenty of grandstanding to be had, but it was one little cottage that stole the headlines. Though they are only roughly the size of an office cubicle, the nation’s allotment garden cottages took up a lot of space during the Danish People’s Party and Social Liberal national congresses at the weekend.

Over the last century, allotment gardens - small plots of land set aside for apartment dwellers to use as vegetable gardens while escaping the city sprawl - have come to epitomise the Danish term ‘hygge’ - cosiness. But with its somewhat kitschy image, the allotment garden is often linked in the public’s mind to the nationalist Danish People’s Party. That bond was strengthened last year when a former member of the Conservative party lashed out at the party for avoiding the challenges of globalisation by ‘retreating to their allotment gardens’.

In a self-ironic answer to that criticism, the Danish People’s Party proudly displayed an allotment garden complete with Danish flag, easy listening music, plastic furniture, and celebrity magazines during its congress in the city of Odense. Søren Søndergaard, the party’s spokesman, said the cottage, built by a local carpenter, was meant to show that ‘they took Danish traditions seriously’.

With their 23 and 16 seats in parliament, the Danish People’s Party and the Social Liberals are seen as crucial allies for the major parties when seeking to form a government. But with their key constituencies - rural and nationalist for the Danish People’s Party, urban and internationally-oriented for the Social Liberals - the two parties are often described as each other’s antithesis. Their differing points of view were once again made clear when the Social Liberals, holding their first congress under the leadership of MP Margrethe Vestager, described the Danish People’s Party’s use of the cottage for political purposes as ‘nationalism’.

Vestager admitted that the Danish People’s Party was ‘talented’ at using the country’s symbols in its campaigning, but said that was all the more reason the Social Liberals should stake their own claim to the allotment cottage. ‘It’s not the Danish People’s Party’s cottage Danes associate with being Danish,’ said Vestager. 'Whether it was a Danish flag or a crescent moon that flew over an allotment garden, she argued that ‘they symbolise our diversity, and they symbolise what the good life should be.’
Via the official website of Denmark

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