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This is why the University of Copenhagen has agreed to a visit from Puigdemont

Democracy debate — Arrest warrant or not, the exiled Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is welcome at UCPH so students can meet politics in all its real complexity. This is according to Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, Head of the Department of Political Science.

The Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont landed at Copenhagen Airport at around 8.20 Monday morning, even though Spain demands that Denmark hands him over.

When the Danish national broadcaster DR journalist tried to get him to answer questions, Puidgemont would only say that it was ‘fine’ to be in Copenhagen.

According to the plan, Puigdemont will take part in a debate at 2 pm at the Department of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) to discuss political developments in Catalonia and the democratic challenges that are associated with a secession from Spain –  also in relation to the EU.

Debate is ‘business as usual’

Professor Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, head of the Department of Political Science, is looking forward to the debate. Although Puigdemont, as a result of the political controversy with Spain is considered a controversial person by some, Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen reckons that the event with Puigdemont is ‘business as usual’ for the Department of Political Science.

“We are a department that educates problem solvers in the political field, so our people need to be able to engage with, understand, reflect over, and perhaps even solve political problems. This means  that it is important that there are people who are politically committed and that understand real political issues that can drop by and speak at the department,” says Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen.

“There are already many politicians, officials and researchers who do so, so I think it’s a natural continuation of the open policy we have at the department. We usually combine guests with some of our own people, which we have also done in this case where Professor with special responsibilities Christian Rostbøll and Professor Marlene Wind are discussing with Puigdemont,” says Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen.

Yet still unusual

The agreement with Puigdemont came about after Puigdemont’s people contacted the Department of Political Science 10 days ago to hear if UCPH was interested in setting up a debate with the exiled politician.

Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen does concede however that the event may seem a little different from so many other debates at Political Science:

“It is not every day we have people coming to visit who have a warrant for their arrest hanging over their heads. This does not change the fact that we want to hear about a complex and difficult political issue, even though it, in this case, gets an extra element of drama because the man who speaks to us about it has not studied the issue at a distance, but himself is in the middle of it, and risks going to prison for the political actions that he has taken,” says Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen.

The debate will be purely academic

Professor with special responsibilities Christian Rostbøll from the Department of Political Science works specifically on the history of ideas and political theory, and currently has a research project on political compromises. He is one of the two UCPH researchers who is to discuss with Puigdemont today.

Christian Rostbøll says to the University Post that he has nothing else to say about the debate other than that he has been asked to help discuss the issues arising from Catalonia’s desire for independence, and how to understand these issues within the concepts of democracy that he is working on.

“I hope that it will not be a matter of emotion, but that there will be a reflection on what Puigdemont’s case means for democracy and what kind of democracy we want for the future of Europe. Should democracy, for example, be something that should only work in homogeneous nations, or should we also have democracies across ethnic minorities?” says Christian Rostbøll and continues:

“I’m not turning up at this debate to support one side or the other, or to legitimize Puigdemont, as some people have said. I turn up at this debate to talk about the basic principles that the matter raises, and to discuss what we can say about it within the ideas we have about liberal democracy. ”

Political science must be able to handle complexity

Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen shares Christian Rostbøll’s hope for the debate:

“Quite a few political debates at the moment are unfortunately more influenced by emotions than by fact-based and level-headed discussion, and this seems to be very much the case with Puidgemont,” says Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen.

He believes that it is the duty of political science to go beyond this emotionality.

“Of course there will be people who will not be welcome to the Department of Political Science because they, say, have committed terrorism, but I don’t want to make a long list of people who cannot come here because I think it’s important that our students meet politics in all its complexity,” says Vejby Rasmussen.

“And when we now say to our students that politics is complex, politics is difficult, and that there are many shades of grey in politics, then I think that we should also deliver when there are issues ‘out there’ that are, in fact, really complicated,” says Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen.

Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen says he is looking forward to the meeting with Puigdemont, who he has not yet met or spoken to.