By Signe Wenneberg
Welcome to Denmark!
I don’t think we will ever forget this week. The love exchanged between people who never met before. The determination with which our motorways were marched. The sense of community that so quickly arose from all the initiatives coming together as one great wave.
There will always be a before and after this week in September. I am both touched and shaken to my core. We now know that the Danish people have a lot of love to give. And a community to offer. That when it really matters in Denmark, humanity will rule — from the citizens, and from the underground, the grassroots, the activists…
The love we have experienced is huge. We can count on each other! We can be mobilized fast and on a large scale. We now de facto have a resistance movement in Denmark.
Still, I am shaken to my core.
Where was our government? Where was our Prime Minister? Where was our Royal Family? Where was our National Church? Where were the priests in the parishes close to the border? Not one opened a church for the weary migrant refugees on the roads.
We have now seen that Denmark’s major decisions in times of crisis are taken, not by politicians, but by police chiefs and police on the ground. And that important help is given, not by the official Denmark, but by voluntary men and women. By aid workers (Red Cross) that were and are on the spot. By private motorists. By anyone who votes left, by anyone who votes right, by anyone who doesn’t vote at all. By small restaurateurs who packs hundreds of meals and send it to the border and the train stations in the trunk of their friends’ cars. By the family mothers and fathers who make sandwiches and pack winter coats. And by major Danish companies that flex their enormous logistical muscle at the drop of a hat, and deliver whatever is lacking at the borders or asylum centres from A to B. All without expecting as much as a thanks in return.
And we have experienced a communicative revolution. On social media and on the ground. Effective communication around the clock (in some places encrypted) on Messenger and WhatsApp. Suddenly everyone has everyone’s phone numbers. And no one is holding back.
As an elderly Danish gentleman — who as a teenager went to the refugee school in Lund, Sweden during the war — told me this week, observing what was happening on my iPhone: “Yes, if only we have had these opportunities during the war.”
As a rhetorician, it is insanely interesting to observe the new cross-cultural language that is used. Ethnic Danes and non-ethnic Danes, Christians, Jews, Muslims, write “God willing” and “God bless” to each other, and when a midwife is sent to a train in minutes (!) or a volunteer arrives, he or she is called “sister” or “brother” like they literally are. Everyone else are seemingly “cousins.”
Arabic-speaking young female lawyers are standby around the clock. Anyone who speaks Arabic and interpreters are in high demand. They all communicate in flawless Danish and then some in Swedish, when Swedish activists mingle in threads. German is no problem. And all those who have been displaced from Syria apparently know both English and some French.
Everyone communicates, regardless cultural differences and language barriers, they find a way. All but… the official Denmark.
In the rhetorical discourse, we say that there are “imperative rhetorical situations” that require immediate action. This means that an appropriate speech must promptly be held to an audience who have legitimate expectations to this speech. A communication emergency, you might say. And the speech should be carefully written to match the exact event, audience, time and place, in order to have the desired effect. In this case, perhaps, put the audience at ease. As well as demonstrate leadership, show that the situation is being handled diligently, carefully, in the best way possible.
But no such speech was given. No such leadership was demonstrated. The imperative rhetorical situation was handled by the people, by volunteers, and by the police through lots of words, lots of languages, lots of actions that speak louder than words, and a whole lot of love.
The people and the police were there, everywhere, and did what needed to be done.
And this saturday as many as 50,000 Danes gathered in front of the Parliament to demonstrate a refugee love storm.
The public sure made us proud to be Danes again when our government failed. We will never forget this week in September.
PS. My opinion: Persuade the displaced Syrians you meet on your way to stay in Denmark rather than moving on to Sweden and Finland (unless they have family elsewhere). Denmark is a nice and friendly country! Welcome to Denmark!