Some parties perform well nationally and disappoint locally or vice versa. The Christian Democrats (Kristendemokraterne) struggle on both levels. They’ve been represented on and off in parliament since they were formed in 1970, but have failed to surpass the two percent election threshold since 2005 – with around 30,00 votes in the 2015 election they only secured around 0.8 percent of the vote.
While too small to enter parliament, it’s a level of support that has remained consistent for the past decade, which suggests that there is a core subset of voters drawn to KD’s message.
Since 2012 they have been led by Stig Grenov, a cheerful 56-year-old school teacher and KD member since 1990. He occasionally raises his voice in the political debate, most recently in opposition to the detention centres for rejected asylum seekers in Denmark.
“The repatriation center Kærshovedgård near Ikast is the closest Denmark has to a concentration camp,” he wrote, before outlining the poor living conditions in the center – living conditions that are designed to be so unbearable that the residents finally volunteer to leave Denmark.
I meet the party leader at his home in Hørsholm, north of Copenhagen, to find out whether the party still has a unique vision for Denmark. As the coffee brews we talk about the school reforms that were introduced by the former Social Democrat government in 2013, and which were strongly opposed by teaching unions.
It proves an entry point to understanding KD, for Grenov sides with neither socialists nor liberals on the issue.
“The school reform is a pet project of the socialists. It further strengthens the state’s control over how our children are raised. The liberals accepted the project as they hope that parents will spend more time at work. We now have the highest proportion of children in kindergarten than any country in Europe. Families have gradually been deprived of their natural responsibilities. We are creating a rootless generation when we prioritise growth, jobs and material wellbeing at the expense of our own children. When I was in middle school we were told how it was dreadful that so many children in the USSR spent their entire childhood in institutions. Now both the left and right wing favour the same idea – just park the children in the institution and get to work!”
It sounds like you have some points of view in common with The Alternative (Alternativet), who argue that a good society cannot be strictly focused on growth and production.
“First of all I think Alternativet’s economic policies are clearly untenable. And while they think we should work fewer hours, they don’t appear to argue that families should enjoy that time off collectively. Society demands that we are flexible with our working hours – in retail for example – and that can actually be very damaging to families. We need to think about the wellbeing of employees in the smaller shops, they are the ones that drive the Danish economy.”
Christian Democrat parties do much better in the rest of Europe, particularly in neighbouring countries. Why do you think this is the case?
“Fundamentally, I think the Christian worldview is deeply ingrained in many Danes. But yes, we have become almost a little protest-party – it’s weird!”
What about issues that have historically been important for KD, such as the right to free abortion – the right all women in Denmark have to terminate a pregnancy within 12 weeks of conception. Is this still an important issue for the party?
“There is nothing free about free abortion. By which I mean I don’t see it as freedom exactly, but rather as a choice of great uncertainty. No human is an island and I believe the state should be strong on this particular matter and ensure that people are encouraged to really consider whether getting an abortion is right for them.
We tend to get stuck with this image that we are against abortion, and who wants to be against the freedom to choose? But we would be happy if more women followed through with their pregnancies. Most abortions are carried out when women are in their mid-20s to 30s, supposedly the best time to have children. We would simply like to see policies like those in Germany regarding abortion, where a first trimester abortion is subject to mandatory counselling and a three-day waiting period.”
Over the past two decades the political right wing has focussed on the growing population of Muslims in Denmark, and presented it as a threat to Denmark. Why has KD not participated more vocally in this debate?
“Traditional parties have opened to an “us and them” narrative that legitimizes some quite radical positions. We now have a party [Nye Borgerlige] that wants to abolish our commitment to The Human Rights Convention and other international commitments. I totally reject this. If we are to solve the current refugee crisis the European Union must work together. To the voter who is hesitant to accept newcomers I would say: We must become much better and faster at determining who qualifies for asylum and who does not. I also think it is important that asylum seekers settle locally in our villages and smaller towns once they are granted asylum. We know that when Muslims settle in cities they often get drawn into conservative Islamic environments. Municipalities should be rewarded for integrating people and helping them build their lives outside the major cities. There is a psychological limit to how many people Denmark can take, but I don’t think we are there yet.”
KD belongs to the right wing ‘blue’ bloc of parties. What do you have in common with these parties, and where do you differ?
“We have a lot of principles in common, particularly with the Konservative. But I’m disappointed that they have been more interested in bringing down property taxes than helping the Danes whose lives are affected by the new cap to social welfare. We think that being conservative means taking responsibly, not only for yourself but also for your fellow man. And in the blue bloc we don’t see much responsibility – they say they want to strengthen the education system but cut student grants, and say they want to help refugees closer to areas of conflict rather than in Denmark, while cutting back foreign aid. It is very inconsistent.”
What about one of the big challenges facing society, climate change. What’s KD’s position?
“The current policies are incredibly short-sighted. We should invest massively in public transportation and introduce car tariffs for entering the biggest cities. But the key is to introduce this over a long period of time and give people an incentive to get an environmentally friendly car. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time, no doubt about it. It is urgent that we help the developing countries combat it as well. The 7th commandment is “Thou must not steal” – that applies to the environment that we are passing on to our children.”
Would you raise taxes to tackle a problem like climate change?
“We would aim to maintain the current tax levels. The state has become too large and it is overreaching. I am not an advocate of cutting back the state to its bare bones, but there are many areas where civil society that could accomplish much more with the right support.”
When you became party leader in 2012, you campaigned to return the party to parliament. What will it take?
“We will be pushing for an old-fashioned conservative decency. I hesitate to say this, as it implicitly makes everyone else seem indecent, but we have reached a point where we need that decency back in Danish politics. “
Do you believe in the project?
“Yes. If there is any justice in this world, we will return.” M