Exclusive Interview with ambassador of Denmark - VIDEO

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The main characteristic of Denmark is reliability. In fact, reliability can also be seen as an invisible resource of Danish society. Because, precisely thanks to this very reliability, social conflicts and crimes almost never occur in Denmark. This is a guarantee of a sense of harmony that increases happiness and security. Despite having experienced great wars in the past, Denmark has chosen peace. Thanks to peace, both Denmark and its neighbours managed to become a great welfare state. Peace is an advantage for everyone, from the individual to the state, from the territory you live in to all your neighbours. Denmark chose peace, prosperity, and development and devoted all its resources to the development of its society in all areas. That is why today Denmark is in the top 10 in all development parameters in international indices.

During our research on Denmark, we had several questions. We reached out to Mr. Danny Annan, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Denmark to Turkey and Azerbaijan, for an interview to gain insights into Denmark's development model. He graciously accepted our request and provided comprehensive answers to our questions.

We present to you the interview with Mr Danny Annan, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Denmark to Azerbaijan.

Interview view Ambassador of Kingdom of Denmark to Azerbaijan

- Dear Mr. Ambassador, first and foremost, I would like to express our gratitude for accepting this interview. We are delighted to have you here in Baku.

At Kitabistan, we thoroughly research the development models of various developed countries and in this context, we publish books, prepare documentaries, and organize Talk events. When it comes to science, development and social welfare, we cannot pass without mentioning Denmark. As the ambassador of the Kingdom of Denmark to Azerbaijan and Turkey, your valuable opinion is crucial for both our research and for our readers to gain a better understanding of Denmark.

 When we think of Denmark, we often associate it with qualities like openness, transparency, and trust. In its most recent survey, the World Bank calls Denmark No. 1 in Europe and No. 4 in the world for ease of doing business. Additionally, Denmark is the 7th most attractive country for investment globally, and according to the IMD World Competitiveness Ranking, it is 1st in terms of competitive economy. From what did Denmark's society and state building start in a way that yields such impressive rankings today?

- First of all, thank you so much for inviting me for this very interesting discussion. I think it is important that countries learn from each other. Denmark learns a lot when we are abroad, our embassies, our companies are learning a lot, our politicians are learning a lot. But we are also very happy when we inspire other countries. 

Let me start by saying that you actually have the three keywords - openness, trust and transparency. I think these are qualities that define Danish society and they actually go back hundreds of years. We have a society built on trust, openness and transparency. And just to give you some examples. Denmark used to be a very agricultural country, an agrarian society. But the small farmers realized that it was basically too costly, too complicated to work independently, to bring their own products to the market. So, they established cooperatives many many years ago. So they all work together - again trust-based cooperation. And what we see today is a very efficient agricultural sector of a very big cooperative of farmers in Denmark. It is not like what it used to be in the old Soviet Union and the cooperatives of the Soviet Union. These are private farmers but they have decided to work together for the better for all of them. So, I think that's a good example of the cooperation we have seen in Denmark based on trust. Another very important aspect of trust in Danish society is that the state doesn't interfere in salaries. It is in negotiations between the employers' unions and the employees' unions. They sit and negotiate.  And they can sit and have very tough negotiations. But when the result is there - and I think that's very unique for Denmark - then it will last for several years and there will be no strikes. Because if there are strikes then it's not according to the rules and it rarely happens. So, it's a trust-based society.

Transparency is also very important. You mentioned initially that Nordic countries are also very high in the different indexes. Transparency International also has an index and in that index Denmark is always top three and that is because we are very tough on corruption. We are so tough on corruption that I would actually say we have basically no corruption. You once in a while could read about something in the media but it's not widespread, it is single cases and it will be hit down on hard. So, it is also important for the public to have trust in the public administration that we have very clear rules on how to act as a public employee. And then, yeah, you also mentioned again the indexes and the attractiveness of Denmark for international business. Yes, we are able to attract a lot of foreign companies and I would say even better. We are also able to attract a lot of qualified labor because we are in a very fortunate situation that the Danish economy is strong so we need to attract qualified labor to continue our growth.

- As Kitabistan, we focus on studying the positive experiences of the world. During our study on Denmark, we were intrigued by Janteloven - a code of conduct consisting of 10 provisions formulated by famous Danish writer, Axel Sandemose, in his book "A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks". Today, Janteloven has become a social norm in Nordic countries. What does Janteloven mean for a Nordic person, a Dane?

- The first time I heard about Janteloven I was still a young boy and I thought it sounded a little bit awkward. Basically, the main principle is "don't think that you're better than others" and basically "you're nothing special, you're just like the rest". And that could sound like a not-so-nice principle but that is of course, not the way it is being implemented in Denmark because it is not a rule, it's at the mostest social norm. But I would say if it is this book that has had an impact on Danish society I think it's more a description of certain elements of Danish society 100 years ago. But the quality of Janteloven is that it somehow promotes equality and national unity. We are part of a bigger group. We belong together. And of course, you should not put your head too high but that part about it I would say is less today. But still, it is clear that compared to other societies people are not showing off their wealth as much as you would see in other societies. For some people of course it is about having a big car but for most people it's actually not about having a big car, it's about having a good life. And we will get back to that when we talk about Hygge later. I think it's a quality and it also promotes this sense of unity. And of course, the danger of Janteloven is that if it is put into effect too stringently it will stop innovation, it will stop progressive developments. But that of course is not something we want and that is also not something we have. So, good principles but of course with a certain sense of don't overdo it.

- Another point that attracts our attention is the Danish education system. Danish education is regarded as one of the most successful models globally, with seven of its universities included in world academic rankings. What makes Danish education so successful?

- First of all, the amount of money we spend on education. It is a high priority for successive governments no matter if they are left-leaning or right-leaning to invest in education. And why? Because Denmark is a country that doesn't have a lot of natural resources. Our knowledge is our national resource. So we need to invest in that to continue to have a successful society. And it goes back hundreds of years. We have actually had an obligation to send your children to school since 1739. Almost 300 years of mandatory public education for children. So that is of course very important. Another aspect I do believe is extremely important is the fact that we have free education from primary school all the way through university if that is what you want to study. Everything is for free, you don't pay anything. On top of it, when you go to university you will actually get a salary for studying. I can see you are smiling and it also makes me very proud that Denmark is able to finance its university students. And that also has a social aspect to it. Because no matter if you are from a rich family or if you are from a less-off family, your children can still go and study because it's for free. Both showing up at university but also getting a kind of pay for studying at university. And that of course has a lot of people go to university and most likely more than if we did not have that kind of support for the educational system. But it is not only education. We also invest a lot in research and development - again, knowledge. That is actually 3% of our GDP that we put into research and development and that keeps progressive development and innovation always at the forefront of Danish society. 

Then maybe two more things I would like to mention. Education is not only from primary school to university, education is lifelong. We have a social model, a labor market model in Denmark called Flexicurity. So, if you are in a business and that is maybe being taken over by robots, automation, digitalization or maybe there's just no more need for that kind of skill you have, the state will pay for your education so that you can get a new skill and then you can get a new job. So, it's a flexible labor market. It is easy to hire, it's easy to fire. But at the same time, there's also the security element in it that if you are fired then you will be helped with getting an education that makes you relevant for the labor market again. And last point on education, I think a lot of other countries focus very much on memorizing rules, memorizing text. That is not so important in Denmark. It is more about learning how to solve problems and how to look at issues in a critical way. I think that it is very important for knowledge not so much that you memorize everything but you know how to use that knowledge and also look at developments maybe in a critical way.

- In 1915, 3 years before Azerbaijan, Danish women were granted the right to vote and to run for office in Parliament. Even the first female minister in the world was the Danish Minister of Education Nina Bang in 1924. Denmark has more than 100 years of experience in ensuring gender equality. What do you think is special about the Danish experience in gender equality?

- Let me start by saying that in Denmark our head of state is a Queen, our prime minister is also a woman and in parliament we have 43% of parliamentarians being women. Gender equality is a big issue in Danish society. We have gone a long way, I would say we have been rather successful. Of course, you are never at the end. There's no society in the world with 100% gender equality. So, even for Denmark there's still something to work on. But one aspect that I find quite important in Denmark is that you will not have a law, you will not have decisions, you will not have cooperation programs with other countries without having gender equality as an overarching principle. So if you make a new law will it have any impact on gender equality in our society. If we have an educational cooperation program with Kenya we would also have it as a part of our cooperation program - what is the impact on gender equality? 

Another aspect that I find important is the fact that we have a system with kindergartens and nurseries that also allows women to continue to work even after they have children. Just to give you an example, when children reach 3 years in Denmark 98% of the children would be in a kindergarten. So, all the women are back in the labour market. Another aspect that I am also proud of for Denmark is the fact that, like in a lot of societies there is maternity leave but we have maternity and paternity leave. So, if a couple has a child they are entitled to one year of paternity and maternity leave and it has to be split. So, there's also an obligation for the man to stay at home with his children, equally as there is for the women. And that of course for employers, they think “Okay, it doesn't really make a difference if I have a woman or a man because both of them will go on paternity leave, there's no risk of me having a woman compared to a man”. And that also promotes gender equality in Danish society. I think we have gone far but there is still a way to go.

- Let’s talk a bit about green transition. The Danish Government recently announced that it has established the long-term goal of making Denmark self-reliant on renewable energy in 2050, meaning that the entire energy demand is to be met by renewable energy generation by 2050. The latest figures show that renewable energy sources accounted for 72% of Denmark's total electricity consumption. What are Denmark's achievements and goals regarding the green transition strategy?

- I think that is one of the most important goals we have in Denmark. I think it's clear to everybody that we are facing challenges with climate change. We see it each and every summer that we are having higher temperatures, more extreme weather, like in Turkey forest fires, floodings. In Denmark, where I'm from, we had a drought in May-June and then the most rain ever in the history of Denmark for July. The weather is really extreme, so we need to do something. 

Denmark actually started many years back on renewable energy. Denmark was the first country in the world to establish offshore wind farms in 1991. I should mention today we have actually reached 72% of our electricity consumption from renewable energy, wind power, solar power, biomass and not so much hydropower, a country like Turkey has a lot of hydropower. And that's very good. Our ambition is by 2030 to have 100% of our electricity consumption in Denmark from renewable energy resources. Somedays we are actually already there. If you have ever been to Denmark you would know Denmark is a quite windy country. So, on a day with a lot of wind more than 100% of our energy consumption is from renewable energy. But the surplus we sell to our neighboring countries. And I can tell you that the consumption of electricity is increasing on a daily basis because we're going away from fuel-driven cars to electric cars. But the electricity is coming from wind power, so it doesn't pollute. And I think that it is a very nice story to tell. 

Denmark is doing a lot but if you look at global emissions Denmark is only responsible for 0.1%. So, even if we close the door to Denmark, stop every activity in Denmark it would only have 0.1% of global emissions of CO2. It doesn't help. So, what we do is that we would like to share our knowledge with partner countries and we have a lot of partner countries globally. Where I live now in Ankara we have I would say a very good cooperation program with Turkey on district heating and cooling and we also have energy modeling. Both these corporation programs are about saving energy and using renewable energy in the most efficient way. 

- Democracy has different interpretations and forms in different countries. What is the Danish model of democracy?

- I think there are three words that should define how democracy works in Denmark. That is that we have a strong citizen engagement, we have accountability and we have dialogue. These three words of principles define the Danish democracy and that you see at all levels. Democracy is not only once every 4 years you go to the ballot box and you put in your vote. Democracy is on a day-to-day basis and democracy is not only about politics. It's about your local sports club where you engage, it's about the building where you live, you have a dialogue with the others about how to run that building. It is about you as a parent towards the kindergarten or the school. Even more important it's about the students electing their representatives in school to negotiate with school management and that fosters democracy from a very young age. We always see that when we do actually have elections every 4 years the level of participation is very high. Well, we have had it for several years now but another thing that I also like very much about Denmark is that once a year on a very beautiful island in the Baltic Sea - it is a Danish island - I would say all politicians, all interest organizations and a lot of ordinary citizens come together for 4 days to discuss political issues of relevance for Danish society. So, you have top to bottom discussing political issues and that is I think one of the biggest celebrations of democracy we have in Denmark, that is that yearly meeting. But again we have it on a daily basis. Our dialogue is all about politics. It doesn't need to be like hardcore politics. It can be how the school should be run or how should the sports club use its money and stuff like that. But that's democracy.

- Mr. Ambassador, I think I should also ask you about Hygge in order to better understand the Danish spirit. What does Hygge mean to you?

- Hygge is different from person to person. Hygge is how you define what makes you happy, what makes you relax. Hygge for some people would be to go for a walk in a forest, for others it's drinking a good glass of wine with a friend and others it can be reading a good book. But Hygge is about what makes you really comfortable. And maybe if I can go back to what we discussed before about Janteloven, I think Danes are people that are happy with what they have. We don't need to have a big expensive car. You can be equally happy taking your bicycle to work - maybe even happier - taking your bicycle to work and if that is what makes you happy then that also has an impact on Hygge. Maybe people don't associate sitting on a bicycle with Hygge. But I would say Hygge is all about what makes you happy, what makes you relax. So, it's a very individual thing. For me, it's about walking and having a good talk with a friend that I really appreciate or sitting over a good dinner and talking about good subjects. So, it's very individual. I'm happy that it has become somehow a brand you have put on Denmark. Because I think Danes are very good at Hygge.

- Lastly, I would like to address our traditional question to you. What book would you like to recommend our readers to read?

- When you ask me that question I have absolutely no doubt in my mind. I've read a lot of good books but there is one book that I would recommend to you and your viewers to see. It's a book written by a British historian, his name is Peter Frankopan and he has written a book called "The Silk Roads". It's basically a book on history but each chapter is focusing on a natural resource. So, it's a history focusing on silver, how has silver had an impact, gold had an impact, slaves had an impact, grain had an impact, oil had an impact on history. I like politics, I like history. For me that is a book I can strongly recommend to your viewers 

- Thank you very much for this interview and for the answers

- Thank you for having me. It has been a pleasure. Thank you very much.

Malak Hajiyeva