Denmark Peace and Justice Conference Connects Activism Against Poverty, Pollution and War

Most people in the West think of Denmark as a tolerant, peace-loving country, even—according to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—as a socialist country. Trump views this as a disease to be excised, and avoided in the US at all costs, while Sanders sees this as an ideal for America.

The truth is far from these tales. Denmark runs on a solidly capitalist economy, and it has been at war against all the countries the US has invaded since Iraq in 1990. Its troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq; and its planes bombed Syria not long ago. The various governments have cut back the social network of “free” education and healthcare to the bare bones in the last decade. The elderly, for instance, who cannot bathe themselves, must wait up to seven weeks before a social welfare assistant can come to wash them and clean house, and must do so in the few minutes strictly allotted. (See my series, ”Scandinavia on the Skids: The Failure of Social Democracy”.)

There are a few, quiet progressive or radical groupings in Denmark, no peace movement, but a burgeoning climate movement. Yet one alternative institution, Tvind, tries to influence people in Denmark, throughout Europe and in some “third world” countries to be activists and teachers of activism. Tvind started in 1970 (see sidebar below) and for the past five years has sponsored an international Peace and Justice Conference.

One of the unusual aspects of Tvind, at its schools, residences and conferences, is that no alcohol or any drugs are allowed. I was there four days and never did anyone, not even the 20-30 year-old majority, speak of any need for these normal crutches, and they danced after all the work until after midnight stone sober. Maybe they got their energy from a sense of fulfilling togetherness and the delicious vegetarian-ecological food they prepared for two dozen students and another 150 people, who came to the conference from Denmark and a dozen more European countries east and west, a handful from India, Africa and Latin America.

This year’s conference took place in mid-May for three days. The kick-off speech dealt with “the Russian ‘peace threat’”, other global perspectives, and how to resist; how to bring the deadly and polluting institution of militarism and its wars into the consciousness and the agenda of those opposing climate change. Previous conference themes had dealt with how to stop wars not refugees; to transform from militarism to conflict resolution and peace; and no justice no peace.

”A culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems, have the skills to resolve conflict constructively; know and live by international standards of human rights; gender and racial equality; appreciate cultural diversity; and respect the diversity of the earth. Such learning cannot be achieved without intentional sustained and systematic education for peace,” read the invitation.

This year’s program included over 30 workshops, half-a-dozen key speeches, music, a theater piece, artwork, poems, sports and networking. Workshop topics included: fighting with the poor; humanity in action in India; youth in climate action with refugees in Europe; movements for change in the USA; the difference between what the US government tells us about why it wages war and what the real reasons are; war and ecocide; songs for peace; pedagogy of liberation; what is going on in Venezuela; perspectives for our future, and how to take part of creating one.

Making music together with Italian musician Paolo Rossetti

Hans Blix-Noam Chomsky did not attend but Blix was interviewed for the conference, and a Democracy for Now interview with Chomsky was viewed. Blix was the UN’s chief investigator sent to Iraq in 2002-3 to find out if the government had “weapons of mass destruction,” the excuse that President George Bush used to invade it. In 2004, Blix stated that, “there were about 700 inspections, and in no case did we find weapons of mass destruction.” Nevertheless, “let’s kick ass” Bush set up the “coalition of the willing” to destroy much of Iraq and murder over one million people. The Danish government declared war on Iraq to please the US—the only country to actually declare war. While Blix is a man of the Swedish Establishment, a strong supporter of capitalism, EU and nuclear energy, and Chomsky is a rebel anarchist, the two agreed that the greatest threats and challenges to humanity are: climate change and the growing possibility of a nuclear war. Blix said that the former is slow suicide; the latter is quick suicide. The doomsday clock stands at two minutes to midnight, the first time since it did during the Cuba missile crisis, in 1962.

Trine Wendelboe is a Dane who moved to Dowagiac, Michigan 13 years ago. She directs research and development at the One World Center connected to Tvind. This small town is headquarters for the Pokagon band of Potawatomi Indians. The center aims to take action against worldwide poverty and climate change.  Wendelboe spoke of the growing poverty and anxiety overwhelming Americans, and about some of the movements resisting the disasters people confront.

The closing workshop and last speech were held by the Dutch transformation coach and Camino Real guide Gert-Jan van Hoon. Along with young DNS teachers Nadezda and Justas they asked how participants can stick together, how do they not get “blown away”, in order to heal the soul and Mother Earth.

Gert and open future workshop at Tvind’s Peace and Justice conference

I spoke with a dozen participants about what the conference had meant to them. Some were DNS students, a few were in the 10-month international development volunteer program, and some had only attended the conference. Here are comments regarding what they got out of it and how they might “not get blown away”.

Annie Wood, an English student in the DNS program, immediately took up planning her first action following the conference—a student strike in the nearby city of Holstebro. This would be part of the Friday For Future movement actions, which began in March with about 1.6 million strikers at 2000 locations on all continents

She had been inspired by her studies at Tvind and by the conference to write a poem, “The Choice”, which she read to the participants. Here are excerpts:

Here’s my first rhyme for the world to hear
written from inspiration about something I hold dear.
To me it makes clear sense and I think it should to you too,
because right now I’m heartbroken, this has got me feeling blue.

We are killing our home, this great big planet earth.
We are plundering, draining and polluting it for everything its worth.
Yes you’ve heard this story before, maybe you’re bored with the same old lines
but if you don’t help make it better, this story will tell the end of our times…

Maybe we don’t know what is right or what we want,
but we should know by now it’s not war but it is provident.
It’s not hate, destruction or poverty.
It is love, peace, justice what brings a happy life to me.

A Danish youth, Lars, heard of Tvind from The Establishment’s prejudiced view that its founders and teachers are authoritarian “brainwashers”. “Strange”, he surmises in typical Danish irony, “I never knew that brainwashing actually could open up hearts as it has done these days. We clearly felt a warm welcome to share our ‘stories’, as they say in America. We did that but most importantly we engaged in enthusiastic discussions one-to-one and in groups what it is that we want and need to do to save this world, to make it better than it is.”

Maxsim, a 22-year old Lithuanian, said, “We are all impressed with one another in that each of us has so much to share that is useful and positive.”

Maxsim had been deluged with a hateful view of Russia so pervasive in his country. But at the conference he heard a different picture of Russia today, one that indicates neither its people nor its leaders wish nor are acting to make war but rather are acting to protect their sovereignty and defend themselves against an escalating war threat from the US/NATO.

Mariana is a college student from Portugal studying management. She won a free week-long trip to Tvind to help prepare the conference. “These days have shown me that I am not content with becoming a manager for capitalism. I have to find something else for my future, some kind of education that can lead to a job that people actually need. I don’t know what but it shall come.”

Jette, a retired nurse and amateur illustrator, felt it was “lovely to see that people actually looked at one another and smiled or spoke a few words together as they passed by, instead of what we are used to here that one looks away from one another when passing by. And then such a pleasure to see how effective everyone is in doing their tasks while also so willing to play.”

Yusef is a 22-year old Kurdish refugee from Syria who looks ten years older. His parents fled the war-torn land first and made it to Denmark. Yosef was homeless for a time, hungry, on the run. He came to Denmark five years ago, and now lives with his parents.

One summer three years ago, Yusef wanted to do something useful, to participate in a summer camp. A camp at Tvind was among the choices his social worker showed him, something unusual for government paid workers to do.

Yusef said that he, “fell in love with the place and I’ve come here three years in a row now—to the camp and to this conference. I’ve learned a lot especially at this one. As a teenager, I had joined some demonstrations against Assad. I thought it was cool, you know. But I saw that the opposition was brutal too, and some of them were/are being supported by the US. One of the issues that we Kurds had was that we couldn’t automatically get government work when we graduated from universities with degrees, say, in medicine but Arabs could. Otherwise, we also had free education and health care. Shortly after demonstrations began in 2011, Assad agreed to change the rules so we could get government paid work. I realized after a while and since being here, that we were, and are being used and misused by the Americans and all the media hysteria. I now regret that I took part in demonstrations. Assad is not nearly as bad as he is painted to be.”

Vladimir is a 19-year old Russian, offspring of South Korean parents, living in the Czech Republic where he saw an announcement about this conference. He and I worked together in the kitchen one morning, two persons from two entirely different worlds and one four times the age of the other.

Vladimir is shy and not much for words but he opened a bit in our talk. “It is new for me to see people embrace one another and to work together. People here are not thinking so much about themselves. They are not selfish but thinking about the environment, about humanity and the planet.

“I’ve decided to join the ten-month traveling-learning-teaching program. I’ll be back to prepare for the African program, to open new horizons.”

*****

Sidebar: About Tvind

Tvind started (1970) near Ulfborg village (2000 pop.) on Denmark’s west coast by the North Sea. A small group of young teachers settled there to live collectively and with a shared economy. They sought to become pioneers in social development, education and with sustainable environmental projects. Today, there are hundreds of members in the “Teacher’s Group” in several countries.

The first task was to build living quarters, mainly from prefabricated wooden buildings. They dug foundations and made water and sewage systems. They bought and repaired ten buses, which would be used to travel to other countries to learn and teach.

The “Teacher’s Group” developed an educational system based on the concept of a rural collective and a travelling school. They expanded internationally becoming a global people’s corporation.

On September 1, 1972, 100 youth—ten young teachers and 90 students—created a four-year training program to become teachers in primary and secondary schools. This program is called the Necessary Teaching Training College (DNS in Danish letters).

DNS was started from a “necessity to train another kind of teachers to bring more relevant knowledge, mobilization and life to children.”

The times were a-changing but the Establishment and its schools were not. There were pressing issues and contradictions, such as the growing inequality between rich and poor, which were not on the agenda of society’s schools.

DNS became an international program. Today most students at Tvind are from many European countries. There are few from Denmark since the state has refused to support studies at Tvind financially following allegations of tax evasion and misuse of funds by former leaders—a matter still pending. Clearly Tvind/DNS are as controversial today as they were half-a-century ago.

In 1996, Tvind started an international network “Humana People to People”. Humana assists people to lift themselves out of poverty. During a ten-month program, international volunteers learn and work with poor people to learn new skills to farm organically, using windmill energy, assuring clean water, building solar water pump and solar light systems, producing jatropha seed oil for biodiesel energy and animal feed, building homes, and establishing mini-loans for self-employment especially for women. Another aspect is planting tens of millions of trees.

Humana programs exist in the Caribbean, India, Malawi, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Zambia. One form of financing these activities is the UFF—development aid from people to people—which collects used clothing that is sold to support Humana projects.

With a DNS bachelor monograph graduates (now over 1000) can become teachers at some schools in a few countries; take jobs with UN aid programs; work with the poor in many countries. Their notion is that the battle for the future of humanity is, “the fight of the poor against the three sisters of capitalism: free trade, free enterprise, freedom of endless profiteering.”

Tvind in Ulfborg also has a care center for people with special needs, a day school, and a school for youth with special needs and others who seek an alternative education—all supported by the local municipality. Students, other than those in the day school, live on campus. The DNS students also live there. There is a second school in Denmark, One World Center at Lindersvold.

The “Teachers Groups” has three other schools in England, Norway and Michigan, USA using the “determination of modern method”, the pedagogical approach shaped at DNS. This gives the student the main responsibility for training and results. Learning is structured with 50% individual studies, 25% common courses, and 25% personal experiences.

Tvind is renowned for building the first modern windmill (1975-8), the largest in the world at that time (54 meters tall with a 54 meters wingspread). Four hundred people began the construction, and through the years several thousands participated. An estimated 100,000 people visited Tvind to watch the process. When the mill was completed, it had only cost the equivalent of $1 million in today’s value—paid for out of Tvind teachers’ salaries.

Tvindkraft (windmill’s name) offered the designs and ideas to any and all, but the state didn’t want them because it was committed to going with nuclear energy. Nevertheless, the Danish people soon rejected this idea, in part because Tvind showed that windmill energy was possible, cheaper and much better for the environment. Tvindkraft is the basis for all of Denmark’s famous windmills.

By 2015, the windmill had produced 20 million kWh. Tvindkraft still provides all the energy Tvind uses. Yet Tvind gets no credit from Denmark’s Establishment since they teach that collective living, common production and sharing is better for people and the environment than capitalism’s greedy foundation.  Nevertheless, in 2008, they won the European Solar Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in renewable energy.

Tvindkraft still standing and functioning 41 years later. Tvind comes from the local dialect word for the surrounding “twisting” brook in that area (Jette Salling Photo)

Ron Ridenour is an anti-war activist and author of eleven books. His latest is The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert, Punto Press. Read other articles by Ron, or visit Ron's website.