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Analysis — The Danish election campaign has been packed with crisis rhetoric, and a debate over whether there should be a broad centrist coalition as an emergency response. Crisis researcher and assistant professor at the Department of Anthropology Kristoffer Albris believes that this has less to do with any real necessity, and more to do with an attempt to gain power.
Ever since the election was called, parties have vied to talk up ‘crises’. The inflation crisis, the supply crisis, the climate crisis, the security crisis, the energy crisis — you could go on and on. The fact that all these crises are packing the agendas of political parties comes as no surprise to assistant professor and crisis researcher at the University of Copenhagen Kristoffer Albris however.
WE TALK TO RESEARCHERS ABOUT THE ELECTION
The University Post adds a bit of research to the rage of opinions and emotion that is the Danish general election.
»The crises are constantly being evoked. It is clear to me that there is no single theme that will overshadow all the others. There is one unifying perspective, however, and that is is the ‘crisis’. We can call this election the crisis election,« he says.
Albris does research at the Department of Anthropology and the Copenhagen Center for Disaster Research, where he is looking in to how disasters and climate changes shape societies. According to him, the crisis concept is often used to describe a non-straightforward problem that does not go away by itself, and which therefore needs political intervention and action.
»We therefore see all political parties try to frame the crises in relation to the solutions that they happen to offer, and what fits into their own policies,« he says.
In her opening speech to parliament, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was quick to emphasize some of the challenges that Denmark has faced, and that it faces now.
»First a pandemic. Then war in Europe. Now an energy crisis. And black clouds loom over the Danish economy,« she said from the rostrum the day before the election was announced.
In response, the Liberal Party wants sell the part-government owned energy company Ørsted to invest in the green transition and alleviate the climate crisis. The Social Liberal Party wants to introduce crisis initiatives inspired by the corona crisis approach. And the Red/Green Alliance wants to put a cap on rents of commercial leases to help small and medium-sized business owners through the energy crisis.
According to Kristoffer Albris, we are in an exceptional situation with many crises that reciprocally affect each other. In his opinion, this will lead to a political game of whack-a-mole, where a lowered tax on energy could potentially boost inflation, which will then have an impact the climate. He does not believe however, that this is a historically unique situation.
»We have been in times of upheaval before. Parallels are often drawn to the 1970s, where a mortgage loan had 20 per cent interest on it, at the same time as there was a supply crisis and, in Denmark, a car ban on each Sunday. Back then, there was also a security crisis. Has anyone forgotten the Cold War?«
Are we too quick to use the concept of crisis?
»Yes, we are, and I’m guilty of this myself. The US anthropologist Janet Roitman has written the book ‘Anti-Crisis’ where she accuses politicians, media and academics of being too lax in their use of the word.«
According to her, the problem of calling all societal challenges ‘crises’ is that it has a self-reinforcing effect.
»The stock market is a good example of this, as it is about mass psychology, and responds to hunches, whims, fears, hopes and only partly financial statements.«
We therefore see all political parties try to frame the crises in relation to the solutions that they happen to offer, and what fits into their own policies
Crisis researcher Kristoffer Albris
He also mentions the incident where Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that she doubted the 2020 illegal order to cull all the mink in Denmark was a scandal. Because even though it’s a ‘scandal’ instead of a ‘crisis’, the point is the same.
»What a crisis is – or a scandal – is socially and politically constructed. It is still a serious problem when Danes move into their caravans because they cannot afford to pay their electricity and gas bills. The crises undoubtedly have direct and serious consequences. But it is also a political power game, because a crisis involves specific actions. The Liberal Party’s proposal to sell [the government stake in the Danish energy giant] Ørsted was born out of a crisis thinking that you need to act resolutely before it is too late. It is as if politicians generally reach for the things that show their resolution.«
In her opening speech and in subsequent debates, Mette Frederiksen has turned the importance of a broad collaboration across the political centre into a virtue. The parties right of centre have so far rejected this. But whether a centrist governing coalition is a necessity in a time of crisis, this is up to the voters to decide, says Albris.
»It is an effective way to neutralize extremist political parties. In Denmark, we have enjoyed a kind of consensus democracy with broad cross-party agreements regardless of who is in government. In this way, you avoid large political agreements subsequently being abolished when power changes hands. It is therefore, strictly speaking, not an absolute necessity to have a centrist coalition government, because the vast majority of the political agreements have already been agreed over the political centre,« he says.
He predicts that parties will, to an even greater extent than previously, focus on selected groups of voters. The left-wing parties will focus on the climate crisis and Danes with low incomes, while the right-wing parties will focus on inflation and business. But it can also be even more specific.
»The crises are ways for politicians to meta-communicate directly to certain groups of voters.«
Kristoffer Albris is fascinated by crises and disasters because they show society at its limit. Major societal crises are the cause of fear and unrest, nervousness and anxiety, but they also transform societies.
»There is also a lot of hope and drive in them, because crises open up new horizons, and new perspectives on the world. They are like a photographer’s developer liquid, revealing how our society and our world actually is. Are we really trusting and good, or are we greedy and selfish?«
He mentions that he was recently hung out to dry in the news site Ekstra Bladet because he in an interview argued that the energy crisis is an advantage for the climate crisis.
»A so-called disaster researcher, yes, that’s it, you heard it correctly, Kristoffer Albris from the University of Copenhagen says that something good comes out of the crisis,« it says, which also lashes out at the »red horror show.«
»There are people in society who see crises as the end of the world as we know it. But the problem with this perspective is that we overlook the fact that our society is built upon solutions that we achieved in response to the crises. Our financial system is based on all kinds of financial crises from the Wall Street crash of 1929 up to the present day. Our welfare state was created in response to poverty and distress. Our society was build on countless attempts to handle crises.«
Imagining a period without crises is, according to Albris, an idea that was born out of the 1990s. Here there was a historical hope for a future without the Cold War, with economic progress and the end of the Berlin Wall.
»Then along came 9/11, then climate change, then the financial crisis, then Putin. We are living in a completely different world now,« he says.
»I fully acknowledge that it is tough for a lot of people right now. It all affects me and my family. But even though in a larger, macro perspective there are many crises, they do not all threaten our existence.«