Folkemødet and Almedalen – the acorn never falls far from the tree?

Tuesday, 27 June 2017 – written by Hanne Skak Jensen

The seventh edition of Folkemødet (The People’s Meeting) on Bornholm, Denmark is now succesfuly over and as always, it is time to reflect. It is of course appropriate to compare how the adolescent Folkemøde has developed with regards to it’s maternal inspiration - Alemdal Week on Gotland, Sweden which will take place for the 49th time the first week of July. Since Folkemødet’s birth the Danish version has grown into a large and independent political festival, but as in all relationships there is a lot to be learned from each other with regard to future development. 


For the elite or for the people?

One of the largest critiques levelled at Folkemødet is that the festival is solely for the elite and societys highest poltiical cardres that are there and who interact with each other. Roughly the same critisicsm applies to Alemdalen, which has made the Swedish Prime Minister cancel this years Almedal Week and instead go on a tour of Sweden to talk and interact with ”average and everyday pepole”. 


If you compare Folkemødet and Almedalen today, Folkemødet is fundamenally different, where Alemdalen still has a large number of events off-limits to the public, where only society’s absolute elite are invited. During the 2017 edition of Folkemødet it was a common day occurence that every day Danes walk up to ministers, politicians, business leaders and offer them their views on this and that and the general state of the nation. A number of top politicians have highlighted exactly these chance encounters and have scheduled more time between events exactly with these type of conversations in mind instead of planned participation in debates. Maybe Almedalen and the Swedish politicians can learn something from the Danes and maybe increased dialogue between politicans and ordinary citizens in informal and sun-soaked surroundings ca extinghuish the growing apathy among voters towards politicians that is rife in Denmark and Sweden. 


Empty talk or real politics?

At Almedal Week each party in the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) has its own day, where all microphones and spotlights are focused on them. This naturally gives the political parties an incentive to use the attention to present new political policies and manifestos. The parties use Almedal Week as an important part of the political calender to foster support for their policies and ideas. At Folkemødet each pary leader has 30 minutes on the main stage and after a few hours is followed by a new party leader which obviously gives less attention and limelight to each party leader. This difference coupled with the Danish tradition of Summer Party meetings in August-September which are used to launch new policy results in some what bland and uninteresting speeches by the party leaders at Folkemødet. 


If Folkemødet wants to increase its political relevance, each party needs to be given more of the limelight and more attention, and in turn the parties have to prioritze pulling some political aces out from their t-shirt sleeves. To expand Folkemødet in time so that each party has its own day is a utopian idea (There are currently 9 parties in Folketinget) but each party leader could be guaranteed a live broadcast speech and subsequent interview on the national channels, where the speech is discussed, as is practice in Sweden. 


Folkemøde debates or debates about Folkemødet?

The above obviously effects the medias’ desire to cover Folkemødet. One of the teething problems of Folkemødet is media coverage which still routinely centers on the event itself rather than the event’s debates. What is Folkemødet? Is it too expensive? What does society gain from it? Should it still be held on Bornholm? Ordinary vs Elite? Etc and are all some of the themes the media covered during this year’s Folkemødet. And of course the most used question from journalists to politicians is still ”What do you think of Folkemødet?


Especially here, Folkemødet can learn from Almedalen, where politics and policy is highlighted and time and time again can grab headlines in Swedish media. Folkemødet as an event must surely after 7 years been sufficiently debated and the time is now for Folkemødet to grow into its own shoes where the media coverage reflects the thousands of political debates that take place over the 4 days on Bornholm.


That is why the media, politicians and not least the organizations behind Folkemødet should take heed of what happens in Gotland the first week of July. Yes, Folkemødet has grown in size and strength but there is still a lot inspiration to be had from her Swedish founder.