An Unjust Society

A few days ago, they grabbed a shoplifter in the local supermarket. That made me think, not because of his so-called crime, but it suddenly struck me that many people are driven to crime through the way this society works.

This particular guy is probably a junk-addict and alcoholic, but that doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t have anything. In this town, a fragment of the homeless people hangs out in the small park across from the supermarket. Recently their shelter, which is just a couple of bushes and a rundown shack, has been torn down. In other words, they don’t have anywhere to go.

I believe this guy was desperate, hungry, and half crazed. He tried to run for it, but the shop assistants ran him down without trouble. Then they forced him back inside and, more or less, pulled him apart to get at the things he’d taken. I noticed that some of his clothes was on the floor when they’d finished with him. He said, you can stop now, I haven’t got anything left.

Of course, it’s wrong to shoplift, but something doesn’t add up. We live in an unfair society. This person never had a chance. That much is clear. He has nothing, he may or may not have an education. Maybe he hadn’t much resistance and common sense from the beginning, but he is a victim nonetheless.

It was a hurtful experience. I can’t help thinking that people, who have hit rock bottom, shouldn’t be carted away by the police. They need help. They don’t need to be almost strip-searched by shop assistants.

So many people fall through the safety net these days. No wonder, when one considers that one percent of the world’s inhabitants have a staggering wealth. The middle classes find it increasingly difficult to get by, and there’s a vast majority of luckless people who become misfits or outcasts. The cardboard cities, the rough sleepers, the beggars, alcoholics, mentally disturbed, and the drug addicts, clearly show that something is rotten in the state of . . .  you can fill in the appropriate country. This is a problem anywhere in the world.

Charity doesn’t help. It is merely a comfort for those who have too much. Once they’ve given something — and enjoyed the tax-relief — they sit back and tell themselves that they’ve done everything possible to sort out the trouble. It‘s easy to say that people don’t get to this state without reason. It’s easy to say that destitute people are lazy, so why should we worry. We’ve given enough.

I don’t mean to say that there aren’t people does what they can to help. There are people who ‘give’ a lot. The problem is that it’s all wrong. We need a living wage and that’s just the beginning. We live in an unjust society and it’s time to do something.

 

©HMH, 2018

Golden moments in Danish History

An overview of Danish expansions and reductions

At the end of the last glacial period, which was about 11,700 years ago people slowly moved into what we now know as Demark. That doesn’t mean that Denmark emerged as a fully-fledged country: there’s no mention of the Danes until 500 AD. In the 8th – to the 10th Century we know of about eighteen kings, but Gorm the Old was the first recognized King of the Danish area. His son, Harald I Bluetooth took over in 958. The monk Popo convinced Harald to convert, and in the upshot Harald Christianised the Danes.

I won’t go into every detail of the Danish kings, but there are certain periods and personalities of interest, notably Canute the Great. In the summer of 1015, Canute set sail for England with a Danish army of nine to ten-thousand, in two-hundred longboats. The army included Vikings from all over Scandinavia. They fought Edmund Ironside and finally conquered him on the eighteenth October of 1016. Edmund and Canute met to negotiate the terms of peace near Deerhurst. They agreed that Canute should reign over England north of the Thames until Edmund’s death, when Canute would ascend to the throne. Canute was crowned King of England at Christmas that year and reigned for nearly two decades. In 1018 Canute went to Denmark to affirm his succession to the Danish crown. He stayed two years before returning to England. Canute presented himself as a religious man, even though he maintained a sinful relationship with two wives. Also, he has no qualms about treating his fellow Christian opponents harshly.

In 1027 his reign over England and a large part of Scandinavia was stable enough to allow him to witness the accession of the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II. After Canute’s death Denmark fell into a period of disorder with a power struggle between the pretender to the throne Sweyn Estridsson, son of Ulf, and the Norwegian king. If his sons hadn’t died within a decade after Canute’s death, his reign might well have been the foundation for a political union between England and Scandinavia, a North Sea Empire with blood ties to the Holy Roman Empire.

Jumping ahead to 1157, Valdemar the Great ascended to the Danish throne. His reign ended a long period of intern squabbles. He fought the Wends, who had taken advantage of the previous unrest caused by a weak government to invade the Southern parts of Denmark. Conquering the main Wend city, Waldemar seized Rügen and drove the Wends out of Denmark.

Later Valdemar entrusted his friend and foster brother Bishop Absalon with the fortress at Hafn, later known as København (Copenhagen). Waldemar’s chronicler was Saxo Grammaticus, author of Gesta Danorum, known as Achievements of the Danes. For the next hundred years Denmark was a prosperous kingdom.

The Baltic empire didn’t last.

In 1223 Henrik of Schwerin captured Valdemar the Victorious. In ransom Valdemar gave up his North German territories. Valdemar turned his attention to legislation and his ‘Jutland-law’ is still the basis for Danish lawgiving.

Things went from bad to worse and, in 1252 Denmark was literally open for assaults from North German princes. Seven years later Erik the fifth, known as Erik Klipping (the cropper) kept his throne, but had to sign a charter forced on him by Danish nobles. He devaluated the legal tender. But it didn’t help him. On the 22 of November 1286, a few of Erik’s closest vassals murdered him in his sleep. That was the last regicide in Denmark, so far.

Afterwards nothing worked for years and by 1332 most of the country was pawned. Also, there was no king until the next Valdemar Atterdag (his nickname is best translated as ’tomorrow is another day’) ended an eight-year long interregnum. Perhaps, the plague of 1351 helped Valdemar, re-conquest parts of the lost territory. He managed to redeem the rest of the mortgaged country and showed his diplomacy in dealings with his peers.

After Valdemar’s death without male offspring, his five-year old grandson, Oluf came to the throne. His mother Margrethe ruled for him, and stayed on after Oluf’s death. Margrethe the First was a successful regent. Her greatest achievement was the Kalmar Union, in which she united Scandinavia. Norway came to Denmark through Oluf, who was the next in line when Hakon the sixth died, and Sweden preferred Margrethe to the alternative, the unpopular King Albrecht of Mecklenburg.

Unfortunately, the cooperation soured, as Denmark too advantage of its position at the helm of the union. The problem came to a head when Christian the Second, chopped the head of several Swedish bishops in 1523. Sweden pulled out of the Union when Gustav Vasa celebrated his victory over Christian the Second. Norway remained with Denmark, but Christian lost the throne, and ended his life imprisoned for 27 years, first in Sønderborg Castle until 1549, and afterwards at the castle of Kalundborg.

Christian the fourth was a true renaissance king. He engaged the best musicians and built castles all over the place. On the other hand, his foreign policy was disastrous. His engagement in the thirty-years’ war and his skirmishes with Gustav Adolph of Sweden cost the country territory in Schleswig as well as in Sweden. All the same, he remains one of the most popular kings in Danish history.

Frederik the Third became the first absolute monarch in Denmark. That didn’t stop the Swedish king Charles X from invade Danish territory on the 17th July 1658. The war raged back and forth, notably through the icy winter of 1657. That was Gustav Adolph’s chance, because the straits between Jutland, Fyn and Zeeland froze. His army walked from Fredericia to Korsør and mounted a siege of Copenhagen.  Frederik stayed there prepared ‘to die in his nest’, and leading the defence of the city. The invasion went on for two years lasted until 1660, when Denmark ceded Scania, Halland and Blekinge to Sweden.

By this time Denmark was sorely reduced, but worse was to come.

Hundred years of war plague and bad economy took its toll, but eventually things became better. In 1750 a general economic improvement in Europe helped considerably. Also, Denmark managed to stay neutral in the various skirmishes. The only drawback was an insane monarch: Frederik the Seventh. His personal physician Struensee gained vast power and influenced the realm considerably. At the same time, he fell in love with the queen Caroline Amalie, and their love affair eventually caused Struensee’s downfall. His life ended with a traitor’s death, broken on the wheel.

The French revolution didn’t change much for Denmark, especially as serfdom was abolished in 1788. In the war following the revolution, Denmark tried to remain neutral, but that gave Nelson an excuse to bomb Copenhagen and demolish the Danish navy. Ultimately, Frederik the Sixth admiration for Napoleon resulted in Denmark losing Norway, which went to Sweden through the former Marshal Bernadotte, present king Charles XIV John of Sweden.

Sorely reduced, but still holding Greenland, Iceland the Faroe Islands, as well as territories in India (Tranquebar), The Caribbean St Thomas, St Jan, and St Croix), and Afrika (Ghana), Denmark went bankrupt in 1813. The oversea territory was sold, and Denmark became a small and poor country.

So, the people of this insignificant country shook themselves and went about life. What emerged? A period, where Danish culture blossomed like never before. Young talents flourished in architecture (M.G. Bindesbøll), ballet (August Bournonville), poetry (N.F.S. Grundtvig), literature (Hans Christian Andersen), visual arts (C.W. Eckersberg & Bertel Thorvaldsen), and philosophy (Søren Kierkegaard). The nineteenth century became a golden age through the national crisis.

Out of this golden age evolved a new political awareness, which finally resulted in demands for freedom and liberty:  on the fifth of June 1845, Frederik the Seventh signed Denmark’s new constitution and turned Denmark into a constitutional monarchy.

Around this time, people in Schleswig-Holstein began to clamour for their rights. In Holstein the majority was of German descent, they spoke German and felt they belonged to the German empire. Likewise, in Schleswig, but here the majority was of Danish descent. Still, there were many German speakers, and they felt like the people of Holstein. Out of this nationalistic conflict started the first Schleswig-Holstein war. The Danes won this time round.

Drunk with victory, Denmark decided to boot out Holstein, and integrate Schleswig. This was a clear breach of the London Protocol of 1852, and Otto von Bismarck declared war. The result was another catastrophe for Denmark. Reduced to its smallest size ever, the Danish border moved north to Kongeå south of Kolding. A conservative government took over from the national liberals.

Hvad udad tabes skal indad vindes (what’s lost outwards must be won inwards). Farmers everywhere worked harder, new land was ploughed up, especially on the heath in central Jutland. Denmark increased its crop export, primarily to England. Most towns expanded, and new railways spread everywhere. All in all, Denmark prospered. As a result of the industrialization, a new worker community grew, and eventually that brought Denmark democracy in 1901. Also, the Danish women gained the right to vote, but that didn’t happen before 1915, on the fifth of June.

During the Great War, Denmark remained neutral.

The German defeat paved the way for a plebiscite in South Jutland and the reunification with a large part of the territory lost in 1864. There’s still a Danish minority south of the Danish/German border and a German minority north of it.

© HMH, 2018

White and Yellow Devil

 

Two upright horns, long and tapering

Elongate his head

The eyes, small and smouldering,

Scrutinize passersby as well as his clan

But his grin is undeniable, wicked.

Climbing trees and jumping fences

Are parts of his everyday, although

There is more to him than meets the eye.

On hind-legs and cloven hoofs he is taller than a man

His smell announces his arrival several hours before he appears.

Flies tumble down, dead in his wake:

His deep enjoyment in urine shows on his face

As yellow dye impossible to clear.

He sniffs, licks and pisses;

Never misses his mark.

Women and children do their damnest to escape;

He never hesitates but charges forthwith

Towering over his prey and butting down,

Sending all and sundry sprawling.

The goat, ancient symbol of evil,

Takes his pleasure wherever he can.

His goat-wife, black and grey, timid creature

Pays homage in kids but strains her teats to distraction

Milk fever and pains were ever the lot of

Devoted companions, sitting home while

Their lord and master strays.

 

From ‘Animal Kingdom’

 

© HMH, 2013

Questions to Ask

I don’t think one can be too cautious in choice of language these days. It is too easy to misunderstand. If somebody constantly pulls Muslims into focus in rants about radicalism and criminality, I find it difficult to see this person as anything but bigoted. It isn’t easy to talk about these issues, but it doesn’t clarify anything to accuse one group or people. Yes, there are radical Muslims, but there are also radical Germans, Jews, Koreans, right wings, left wings, Christians, Catholics, and Americans. Without a doubt, some of them are worse than the others, but there’s no excuse for blaming one group over all the others. Making a single group appear as the enemy results in holocausts.

We must question popular newspapers, we must scrutinize the background for every issue presented as fact. There’s no way around sifting information, and questioning if it could be biased in any way. I can’t stress it enough that this is the duty of any citizen of the world.

People come in all colours, but they’re human beings no matter if they’re white males, black transgender, brown lesbians, yellow homosexuals, green vegans, blue women, or something else. Every human being has a navel, and every human being was born by a woman, whether naturally or by a caesarean. We all have a mother and, if not a father, at least a sperm donor somewhere.

The biggest question facing us may be the inequality that always divided humans. It doesn’t matter if this comes through as class differences, caste, or rich versus poor. This is something we can work to clear away. A small step in the right direction would be a living wage. But it doesn’t end there.

Perhaps the worst part of this lies in hidden racism.  No doubt, the white middle class dominates the world, and this is not a good thing. We, even the poorest of us, get born with privileges and have advantages we often don’t even realize we have.

How can we overcome this? I wish I knew. I acknowledge that I’m a white middleclass woman. I was born in a small country and grew up with no idea of racial differences. I think of myself as feminist, left wing, and tolerant, but what have I done to make the world a better place to live? On the personal plan I may have done reasonably well, but is that enough? What can I do to bridge the gap between me and people, who had less opportunity from the beginning?

We need to ask these questions over and over. If we can’t do much on a global plane, we can work towards heightening the consciousness regarding these issues, at least in our small sphere. We can write and talk. And we can include people around us, being open to communication and showing it. It isn’t much, but it is a start.

 

© HMH, 2018

Trespasses

Don’t think you can fail to shatter more than glass if you throw the first stone.

Life has an odd way of reflecting actions back to the perpetrator and so

Dreams shattered or lives demolished carry their own revenge or redemption:

Give only what you’re happy to see coming again and again, haunting you,

Driving you out of your mind until you’ve learned one lesson:

Don’t worry about the hundreds that will follow.

They all arrive when you least expect or want a reunion with your former self,

Celebrating the righteousness of life in a nut-shell,

And giving you everything back; cementing the simple but eternal laws of

Virtue, morality, rectitude, decency and justice.

Once in a million years each and every life-force will eventually rally,

Getting the better of what wickedness has destroyed.

Humans think too little, or too much, of the ways of fate:

We believe everything is in flux, which is true until that one moment

When the circle closes and the world is made anew

 

From ‘Aspects of attraction’

 

©HMH, 2014