Danish slavery

A bunch of bloggers on FreethoughtBlogs have decided to write blogs somewhat related to slavery or social justice on Juneteenth. This is my entry.

Growing up in Denmark, slavery as a subject was never really addressed much, and if it was, it was treated as something that either happened a long time ago, or happened outside Denmark, or was spun in such a way to show how progressive Denmark was – e.g. Denmark was the first country in Europe to ban the slave trade (more on that later).

The truth is, of course, that Denmark has a long history of slavery. During the Viking age, slavery was widespread, and historical records show that Vikings did heavy slave trading at especially the markets at Hedeby and Bolghar, near the Volga River. While Christianity reduced slavery, the Code of Jutland, from 1241 still contained rules about slaves. In order to downplay the slavery part of the Viking ages, we were taught to call them ‘thralls’ rather than slaves, and made to believe that they were more like indentured labour, which they of course weren’t (this is similar to when Southern racists try to pretend that slaves that served in mansions were treated as “part of the family”).

After the Viking ages, there was a long time where Denmark had nothing directly to do with slavery. That is, until the 17th century, where Denmark became a (minor) colonial power.

This adventure started in November 19 1620, when Tranquebar (now Tharangambadi) became a Danish trading post and fort. After this, from 1659 forward, Denmark created several trading posts and forts in what was called the Gold Coast in Africa (now part of Ghana), and between 1672 and 1733 Denmark, took over, what was know as Danish West Indies, – Saint Thomas, St. John and Saint Croix.

Together these colonies formed the backbone of the Danish involvement in slavery.

Tranquebar was a modest trading post, which doesn’t seem to have been used during slave trade, but the forts on the Gold Coast, on the other hand, were major ports and trading posts for slaves, going to the West Indies. It is estimated that 100,000 slaves passed through these forts, and on to the Caribbean. Before anyone tries to downplay the Danish involvement in the actual slave transportation, it is estimated that 80,000 of those people were transported on Danish merchant ships.

When it became clear that England was heading towards a ban of slave trading (it came in 1807), Denmark decided to give the Danish plantation owners time to prepare, and in March 1792 it was decided to ban slave trading in Danish territories – but not until 1803, and in the mean time, the slavery trade was intensified in order to bring over enough slaves, in order to create a large enough population to keep up with the needs of the plantations. Also, worth noting, the slavery trade ban only banned selling new people into slavery, it didn’t ban plantation owners from selling their current slaves, and their descendants.

In 1847, the Danish king declared that people born after July 28, 1847, were free, while people born before that date, had to serve another 12 years as slaves, before being freed. This obviously wasn’t acceptable for the slaves, and they revolted. As a direct result of the revolts, acting governor general Peter von Scholten 3 July 1848, emancipating all slaves in the Danish West Indian Islands. Something which more or less ended slavery in the Danish territories, though any Danish slaves outside the islands, would still have to serve another 11 years before being free, according to the law.

Tove Ditlevsen

It is always interesting when a local author is discovered by the rest of the world – which appears to be the case of the Danish author Tove Ditlevsen, who has been published to rave reviews in both the UK and USA.

Tove Ditlevsen is not a new author, but is one of those authors in Denmark, that everyone knows, and have read while in school. She committed suicide back in 1976, so it is interesting what has caused her work to suddenly be discovered outside the Nordic countries.

Anyway, here are some of the reviews about her works:

This notorious poet is required reading in Denmark. Her masterpiece is now out in the US. (VOX)

‘The Copenhagen Trilogy,’ a Sublime Set of Memoirs About Growing Up, Writing and Addiction (NY Times)

Tove Ditlevsen: Why it’s time to discover Denmark’s most famous literary outsider (Penguin)

In the Green Rooms excerpt from Dependency (The Paris Review)

Reality Under My Skin (Harper’s)

 

Most of the reviews talk about Tove Ditlevsen’s status in Denmark, but as with all such things, things are not quite as simple as presented. For a more nuanced view of how Tove Ditlevsen’s literary reputation in Denmark, see this twitter thread by Olga Ravn, who is someone who can talk about the subject with authority

I suggest reading the whole thread.

As someone who has grown up in Copenhagen, I have read Tove Ditlevsen’s works in both primary school and in high school. Though I was born around the same time as she died, I could recognize many things from her writing in the city I was a kid in. Now, living in the same neighborhood as she lived in her whole life, there is very little left to recognize. The area has been entirely gentrified over the last 25 years, and while (most of) the buildings are still here, the population and shops are nothing alike to back when she was living here.

This means that Tove Ditlevsen’s works are, for me, a glimpse into the city’s past, reminding me of a time where the population of Copenhagen was less well off, and where well-off families tended to leave the city. Do note that I am not glorifying those times – Copenhagen in the eighties was a long way from being the busy cultural hub that it is today. It was poor, schools and the infrastructure was falling apart, and there was an unhealthy level of pollution – and don’t get me started on how much the quality of food has increased since then.

A side note: Back when I went to school, Tove Ditlevsen was usually referred to working class literature. I wonder if this category is still used, given the fact that the classic working class has to a large degree disappeared.

The vaccine rollout has started in Denmark

Like everywhere there has been some bumps during the upstart, but the vaccinations has started in Denmark, and there is now a plan for how the vaccine roll-out is going to happen.

The plan is obviously in Danish, but it runs through June, and most people will probably be in group 12 (over 16 or 18 years). The name of the category shows that it hasn’t been decided the age cut-off for vaccination is 16 or 18 years. I am guessing that it is likely that children will get vaccinated after all the adults are (high-risk children are already vaccinated in this plan).

Currently just over 100,000 people have received their first dose, which is approximately 1.75% of the population. This number includes everyone living in nursing homes.

I will almost certainly be in the general group of vaccinations, so it might take up to half a year before I get my vaccine. I obviously hope to be get it already in April, but fully understand why those of us not at risk, have to wait until it is our turn.

The plan is going to be updated regularly so it reflects the actual progress and the delivery rate of vaccinations, but even if it subject to change, the mere fact that there is a plan that one can look at/follow along, is somewhat of a relief.

Culling the Danish mink

It is a story that has gotten some traction in international media, but which might have been overlooked by people focused on the US election.

The Danish government has ordered the culling of all mink in Danish mink farms.

Denmark is the biggest mink fur producer in the world, so this is a multi-million dollar industry that is getting wiped out.

The reason for the decision, which I am sure wasn’t taken lightly, was that the mink poses a health care risk – more precisely, they are a source of new mutations of the corona virus – some with worrying characteristics. Or as BBC explains it:

Mink kept in large numbers on mink farms have caught the virus from infected workers. And, in a small number of cases, the virus has “spilled back” from mink to humans, picking up genetic changes on the way.

Mutations in some mink-related strains are reported to involve the spike protein of the virus, which is targeted by some, but not all, vaccines being developed.

“If the mutation is on a specific protein that is being currently targeted by the vaccine developers to trigger an immune response in humans then it means that if this new virus strain comes out of the mink back into the humans, even with vaccination, the humans will start spreading it and the vaccine will not protect,” Dr Peyre told BBC News.

While the culling is going on, the region of Denmark where the strain has been observed in humans, has been shut down. People have to stay in their municipalities, avoid gatherings, and all bars, restaurants and cafés have been closed. An effort to test everyone in the region (approximately 280,000 people) has begun.

Some politicians in the Danish parliament, especially those in opposition to the government, has questioned whether the measures are necessary, but it is worth noticing that the only scientist in the Danish parliament, Stinus Lindgreen, has come out in clear support of the measures, stressing the need to react quickly to ensure this doesn’t turn into a greater problem.

Currently, there is negotiations going on about how to compensate not only the people directly affected, but also people who are indirectly affected by the culling and the shut down of the region.

 

The iceberg theory of sexual harassment

Danish politics is right now rocked by Morten Østergaard, the leader of the mid-center party Radikale Venstre, stepping down due to a 10-year old case of sexual harassment. The case that led to him stepping down, was the report of him groping a female member of parliament from the same party when she first became a member of parliament, 10 years ago. It came out when the party decided to have a 24-hour session, where people could call in and report or talk about past cases of sexual harassment. This is part of the party’s attempt to change the sexist political culture in Denmark.

A lot of people have of course focused on the so-called irony of the leader having to step down due to the very problem the party is trying to fight. Which of course shows that people really don’t get the whole concept of trying to change the culture.

Morten Østergaard has himself explained that he stepped down not because of the old incident, but rather due his handling of the case after it came out, trying to claim it had been handled internally, without admitting it was him who had done it.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people attacked the woman, Lotte Rod, who stepped forward, claiming that it was a coup – apparently in coordination with Sofie Carsten Nielsen, the woman who took over as leader of the party, even though Lotte Rod didn’t support her as the new party leader. They also make a great point of it being a very minor transgression (an unwanted touch) which in no way should lead to such drastic results.

I, on the other hand, was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

You see, I have developed something I could call the iceberg theory of sexual harassment (note, I am not using theory in the scientific way here). It goes something like this: Any credible report of sexual harassment about a person or organization, hides a equal or larger number of unreported cases. Unreported in this case, might not be internally, but definitely not known to the general public/surroundings.

The iceberg theory is based on empirical evidence, but is also based on the simple fact that people who are unwilling to respond boundaries in one case, is likely to not be willing to respect boundaries in other cases. This is true for sexual harassment, and it is true for things such as sexual assaults and rape (see e.g. Repeat Rapists on Campus, which explains that repeat rapists are responsible for a majority of rapes). Do note, that I am not claiming that people who commit sexual harassment will go on to commit sexual assault or rape, but that the same type of mechanisms are in play.

On the organizational level, it has been shown many times that an organization that accepts sexual harassment in one case, has also accepted it in many other cases.

And of course, the other shoe also dropped in the case with Morten Østergaard, who admitted that there was also a complaint about him from 2016. This time, from a 21 year old intern. This was apparently not know to the other members of parliament for the party, which is quite likely due to legal reasons.

Is this the last case? Only time will tell, but it certainly did show that his decision to step down was the right one, and that there is a lot of work left to change the political environment. Both in Radikale Venstre, where the process has started, but also in the other political parties, which to a large degree seems either to ignore the problem or to deny that there is one.


Note, there is comment moderation switched on, which means that if you haven’t had a comment approved before on this blog, your comment will be put into a queue until I approve it. I will try to check regularly for new comments, but I am somewhat away from my computer most of this weekend, so it might take a little time before I notice and approve the comment.

It should go without saying that sexist, bigoted and slanderous comments won’t be approved.

Shutdown of Denmark

After a few weeks of trying to contain the COVID-19 through placing people in quarantine, the Danish government took much more drastic measures the last couple of days.

  • New time-limited emergency laws have been put in place, allowing:
    • The closing of schools and other institutes of learning, as well as public institutions in general
    • Forcing people into isolation if they have a dangerous disease
    • Allowing police to force their way into homes without a court order, if the Ministry of Health asks them to do so
    • Prohibiting events over a certain size
    • To put aside certain laws guaranteeing treatments for certain ailments within a certain time frame
    • Make it possible to limit access to public transportation, hospitals, and nursery homes
    • Create protective measures that guarantees delivery of goods
  • All public schools, high schools and places of higher education is shut down for two weeks from tomorrow (most closed down today)
  • All public cultural institutions (e.g. museums), libraries etc are closed down for two weeks
  • All state employees working in non-critical roles are sent home with pay for the next two weeks. If they can work from home, they should do so, otherwise they will get a paid leave.
  • Courts have closed down for the next two weeks, except in exceptional situations
  • The travel from certain places (Italy, Iran, China, parts of South Korea, different parts of Europe) are restricted, in the sense that you are forced to a mandatory examination
  • The government has asked for all events with more than 100 people to cancel the next two weeks
  • The government has suggested that cafe, restaurants, and bars consider closing down the next two weeks
  • The government has asked everybody to try to limit their travel on public transportation, especially during peak hours
  • The government has suggested that all private schools, high schools, and institutes of learning close down the next couple of weeks
  • The government has asked all private employers to get their employees to work from home or use their vacation if possible
  • The government has suggested that private religious congregations, museums etc close down for the next two weeks

As you can see, the actions taken are quite far-reaching, and affect most Danes. Personally, I will be working from home the next two weeks, communication with colleagues via the internet. For a lot of introverts, this probably sounds fantastic, for me, as an extrovert, it is not something I look forward to.

I am not too happy about the temporary law allowing the police to force their way into homes without a court order on behalf of the Ministry of Health, but I guess I can see the need for it under certain circumstances. If it is misused, the police and/or the Ministry of Health can be dragged in front of a court (unlike in some countries, people actually occasionally win over the state in Denmark).

The reason the Danish government is taking these actions, is because the spread of the virus was getting out of control, and because the Italian health minister warned Denmark that they needed to take drastic actions to avoid getting into a similar situations as Italy.

The measures taken is an attempt to both try to limit the spreading of the disease and to protect the most vulnerable. Before this, the idea was to contain the virus through asking people to go into quarantine – this clearly didn’t work, as the spread has more than doubled every day this week.

Generally, the steps taken by the government are widely supported, though a large minority believe that the whole threat is overblown. None of the later group appears to be working in health care or similar.

For more coverage, see The Local which has made the article free to read.

How to completely miss the point

The Danish government party, Socialdemokratiet/The Social Democrats, have made a video which is supposed to show that they support all children.

You don’t have to be able to speak English to get the gist of what the video is about. It is based on the Privilege walk exercise, which is based on Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, and has is meant to illustrate how privilege will affect people.

Now, look at the video from the Social Democrats, and you’ll probably notice straight away that they have completely missed the point of the exercise. The group of children in the video is extremely homogeneous, and there are none with different ethnical backgrounds or with visible handicaps.

Yes, the video ends up with great differences between the children, but the big distance this is only possible because they have changed the questions in order to remove any referring to white and able bodied privileges, and instead focusing on only those that can affect this particular group of children. It is understandable why they have done this, but it goes against the whole concept for the exercise.

I cannot even begin to understand why anyone would do this particular exercise without any representations for the groups that faces systematic discrimination in the Danish society. I can only think that this was done deliberately to not draw attention to the plight of those groups, and instead focuses on more traditionally social democratic priorities – e.g. class and education. This is, unfortunately, not surprising, given how the Danish Social Democrats has become more and more anti-immigrant, in order to win voters back from the xenophobic Danish Peoples’ Party.

The Danish election

June 5 is the Danish Constitution Day, and this year it was also the Danish election.

The Danish election was basically a choice between an environment-focused center-left coalition or a right-libertarian coalition, and there was a lot at stake.

Happily the center-left coalition won.

Nearly as important, the center-left coalition won in a way, which probably will force the major party, the Social Democrats, to tone down their xenophobic tendencies, and help make the country better for immigrants and refugees.

Also nearly as important, a fascist party that had entered the election, didn’t get anyone elected. Unfortunately a far-right, xenophobic party, Ny Borgerlige, got in with 4 mandates. Happily, the existing far-right, xenophobic party, Danish Peoples’ Party, got slaughtered, and is down 21 mandates to 16 mandates.

The Guardian has a good commentary on the election results from Denmark: Europe, take note: in Denmark, the humanitarian left is on the rise

On a more personal note. As I have written before, I supported a specific candidate, Samira Nawa (link in Danish), and I am happy to report that she got elected to the Danish parliament.

Remembering the past – skudsmaalsbog

I was looking through some personal papers recently, and came across these two small books

Skudsmaalsbog

The skudsmaalsbog of my great-grandparents

They belonged to my Danish great-grandparents, and each is a skudsmaalsbog, which contained information about their employment history.

Title page of skudsmaalbog

Title page of the skudsmaalsbog

Until 1921, servants and other workers had to have a skudsmaalsbog, which had to be signed by employers when they left the job. Without such a signature, you couldn’t get a new job. You also had to present it to officials if you moved from one parish to another. If someone lost their skudsmaalsbog, they had to report it to the police immediately, or face a fine. After it was reported lost, an investigation would take place, and if it was found to be lost intentionally, they would get fined.

§3. Forkommer en Skudsmaalsbog, skal Tyendet under Bøder af indtil 5 Rdl. Ufortøvet anmelde det for Politiet, som derpaa bar et undersøge, hvorledes Bogen er forkommen. Er dette skeet forsætligen af Tyendet bør det bøde fra 5 til 20 Rdl. Derhos bør Tyendet anskaffe sig en ny Skudsmaalbog, hvilken i dette Tilfælde saavel paa Landet som i Kjøbstæderne udleveres af Politiøvrigheden. Den nye Skudsmaalsbog bør paa Landet inden 4 Dage forevises Sognepræsten under Bøder af indtil 10 Rdl.

Above is the lawtext (in Danish) explaining how much you’d get fined if you loose the book intentionally or without reporting it.

Until 1867, the employer was supposed to write the dates of employment and the wage, and could write an evaluation of the employee If an employer lied about the employee, either by praising them or criticizing them falsely, they faced a fine.

§5. Enhver Huusbond skal, forinden et Tyende forlader hans Tjeneste, indføre i dets Skudsmaalsbog, fra og til hvilken Tid Tyendet har tjent ham, samt i hvilken Egenskab.

Det beroer paa huusbonden, om han vil tilføie noget Vidnesbyrd om Tyendets Forhold i Tjenestetiden.

Den Huusbond, som mod bedre Vidende giver Tyendet et fordeelagtigt Skudsmaal, hvorved tredje Mand kan skuffes, skal ifølge Lovgigningens almindelige Grundsætninger staae den Skadelidende til Ansvar, og kan efter Omstændighederne dømmes i Bøder indtil 20 Rdl.

Giver Huusbonden i Skudsmaalsbogen Tyendet et ufordeelagtigt Vidnesbyrd, som kan være det hinderligt i at faae nye Tjenester, og han ikke kan tilveiebringe saadanne Oplysninger, som give antagelig Formodning for, at han har haft tilstrækkelig Grund dertil, skal han erstatte Tyendet den foraarsagede Skade og ansees med Straf, der bestemmes, hvis fornærmelige Beskyldninger ere fremførte, efter Lovene om Fornærmelser i Ord, og ellers til Bøder af Beløb indtil 20 Rdl.

After 1867, the employer was only allowed to write the dates of employment, the type of employment and the wage. 1867 was also the year where employers were no longer allowed to beat their servants and other employees. Employers were required to write the dates of employment, and would be punished with a fine if they didn’t. Since it wasn’t possible to get a new job without documentation of having ended the last one, this was not a trifling matter.

When a person moved between cities or parishes, they had to present it either to the police (in cities) or to the priest (in parishes), in the place they left, and in the place they move to. The police/priest would then update the rolls of the place, either removing or adding the person. They would also note in the book that they had been informed. When moving between cities and parishes, you only a short while to inform about the move – either 24 hours (in the cities) or 4 days (countyside) after arrival.

Tearing out pages, or making the entries unreadable in other ways, was punished by heavy fines and jail time.

Page in skudsmaalsbog

Page in skudsmaalsbog, showing the entries, including the city stamp, when moving between cities.

Open skudsmaalsbog

Page in skudsmaalsbog showing entires

The practice of people having to have a skudsmaalsbog continued until 1921, six years after the Danish constitution was changed, allowing women and people without a household to vote.

The last entry of my great-grandfather’s book was in 1901, and the last entry of my great-grandmother’s book was in 1903. This is probably when he got his own business, and when they got married – since my grandfather was born in 1904, the timing would be right.

Peter Madsen sentenced to life

On Wednesday at 13:00 Danish time, Peter Madsen was found guilty of the murder of Kim Wall, and sentenced to life in prison.

By Danish standards, that is an unusually harsh sentence, as he had no prior convictions of any kind, but this was an unusual case in many ways, as the trial has shown.

I have written about the Peter Madsen trial before (here and here), and don’t really feel that I can add more to the story.

Peter Madsen has said that he will appeal the conviction and sentence.

When someone has been sentenced a lifetime sentence in Denmark, they rarely serve the full time, and are eligible to get freed on parole after 12 years. This is not likely to happen in the case of Peter Madsen though, since you have to be considered to no longer being an danger to society – something which it is unlikely anyone will say about Peter Madsen for a very long time.