Engaging the youth in democracy

Making the younger generations participate and show interest in politics is a topic of debate in many democratic countries, and in Denmark they’ve tested out a new initiative to give the youth a chance to get heard.

By Emma Tram and Simon Vincensen

15.000 people are expected at the Democratic Youth Festival.

15.000 people are expected at the Democratic Youth Festival. Photo: Simon Vincensen


Thursday and Friday thousands of young Danes gathered in Søndermarken, a park in Copenhagen, to discuss democracy and politics as well as the dreams and fears of young people. The so-called Democratic Youth Festival (in Danish ”Ungdommens Folkemøde”) is the new ’little brother’ to the big annual democratic festival hosted on Bornholm. It is created in order for the young Danes to feel like they’re being heard and for them to be part of the debate and be part of the Danish democratic community.

According to Kenneth Salomonsen, the festival director: “It’s important to keep working on democratizing young people in terms of letting them know, that democracy should not be taken for granted.”

His reason behind saying so is that multiple analyses have shown that young Danes are well informed about the political system, but they lack democratic confidence. “They don’t feel that it’s worth participating and that it’s worth it to raise their voice,” says Kenneth Salomonsen. To him tackling this issue is one of the main goals of the festival.

The Prime Minister of Denmark was "happy and proud" to open the Festival, he said. Photo: Simon Vincensen

The Prime Minister of Denmark was “happy and proud” to open the Festival, he said. Photo: Simon Vincensen


Surprising students

Many of the Danish youth parties were represented at the festival where they hosted workshops, answered questions from students and participated in debates. Across parties and ideologies, the members of these youth parties were almost all pleasantly surprised by the festival and the engagement of the young Danes.

”I’ve been positively surprised because there are many students who have prepared good questions and you can tell that they’re interested in the debates that are currently going on,” says Juliane Jenvall, member of Venstre’s youth party.

Helena Udsen, who is a member of the new party called Alternativet, agrees: “I was a bit sceptical, and scared that it would just be a bunch of students who felt forced to be there, but it’s really not what I’ve seen. They’ve been very enthusiastic and there’s been a lovely energy,” she says.

The Culture Minister of Denmark spoke at the opening of the Festival.

The Culture Minister of Denmark spoke at the opening of the Festival. Photo: Simon Vincensen


“I’d love to more of these in the US”

But how does the youth in a small country like Denmark compare to the rest of the world, when it comes to being politically interested.

“I think there’s a difference in young Danes engagement in politics compared to young people in other countries because we have an education system where we’re raised to be critical – not critical enough – but that’s what I see when I’ve talked to young people from other countries that this education system makes a difference,” says Iben Katrine Alminde, Socialistisk Ungdomsfront.

”Percentage-wise, there are probably more engaged Danish than American youth, so I would like to see a higher percentage of young Americans care. We live in a time where there are so many distractions out there, in particular for young people, so to create a forum like this, it’s wonderful and I find events like this enviable. I’d love to do more of these in the US,” says Rufus Gifford, the American ambassador in Denmark.

The children are there to learn

Most of the children at the Democratic Youth Festival are accompanied by their teachers and their fellow classmates. They’re there to have fun, but most of all they’re there to learn.
“We’ve given them some assignments about politics, culture, labor unions, and everything else that’s represented here. I think they will benefit a lot from a day like this. The more they do, the more they’ll get out of it. The young people will get to know more about themselves, society, their education and they’ll get some new inputs for their future education,” says Ulrik Trystrup, High School Teacher at H.C. Ørsted Gymnasium.