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Borgen is back – what the series gets right (and wrong) about Danish politics

Writer : Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, Professor in Scandinavian and Comparative Literature, UCL

The political drama Borgen first aired in Denmark in 2010. It quickly turned clear that its creator, Adam Worth, had an uncanny means to foretell and, at instances, affect political occasions in the actual Christiansborg Palace, the seat of Danish parliament. Borgen started with centrist politician Birgitte Nyborg changing into Denmark’s first feminine prime minister. This feat was “repeated” a yr later in actual life by Social Democrat Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Airing within the Sunday primetime slot simply earlier than the information, it was typically troublesome to inform fiction from political reporting. Episodes handled points comparable to prostitution or industrialised pig farming that went on to develop into sizzling matters in politics and the press.

Virtually ten years after the third sequence ended, the present is again for a fourth. Borgen: Energy & Glory follows a now middle-aged Nyborg, a workaholic and principled minister of overseas affairs in a coalition authorities led by PM and Labour chief Signe Kragh. Kragh’s aptitude for down-to-earth Instagram snaps of meals and sporting occasions will remind Danish viewers of the present Social Democrat PM Mette Frederiksen.

Worth has maintained a few of his predictive means. Within the first episode, Nyborg mentions the sanctioning of a Russian oligarch over the latest invasion of Ukraine. Almost certainly written with the 2014 annexation of Crimea in thoughts, viewers ought to be excused for believing that Borgen is entangled in a geopolitical current. Every week after it aired in Denmark, Russia invaded Ukraine.

The brand new season has one main narrative arc: oil has been found in Greenland. The seasoned Nyborg rightly predicts bother when geopolitical superpowers Russia, China and the US rush to claim themselves within the Arctic. Financial pursuits threaten to trump her occasion’s environmental beliefs, and the already tense relationship between Greenland and Denmark threatens to erupt in a bitter wrestle over political energy and earnings from oil extraction.

One in every of Borgen’s strengths lies in its portrayal of the more and more tense geopolitical actuality within the Arctic. Denmark and Greenland are each small gamers dependent upon bigger powers.

The ornate main entrance to Christiansborg with two Rococo pavilions on either side, against a pale blue morning sky in Copenhagen
The actual ‘Borgen’. How a lot do the occasions inside Christiansborg Palace replicate the Danish political drama?
kavalenkava / Shutterstock

It additionally depicts the unequal impacts of local weather change. Whereas colonial powers’ oil extractions have pushed local weather change for hundreds of years, Indigenous folks such because the Greenlandic Inuit are witnessing the results on their susceptible ecosystems. This actuality opens previous wounds within the Danish realm that features the previous colonies and present dependencies of Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Colonialism continues on display

Denmark colonised Greenland within the 18th century, practically shedding the nation to the US through the second world conflict. In 1953, Denmark initiated a “decolonisation” of the nation by integrating Greenland as an equal a part of Denmark. Greenlanders’ want for independence led to the introduction of house rule in 1979, and 30 years later Greenland achieved self-rule. At this time, the Greenlandic folks’s proper to self-determination is recognised, and most insurance policies, aside from overseas affairs, are determined in Greenland. Nonetheless, the abuses of colonial rule all through Greenland’s fashionable historical past have led to social issues comparable to alcoholism, sexual abuse and unemployment changing into endemic.

Borgen has by no means shied away from displaying the darker sides of the colonial relationship between Denmark and Greenland. Within the first season, Nyborg meets with Greenland PM Jens Enok to resolve the case of secret US flight landings with terrorist prisoners in Greenland. Enok reminds her that the difficulty began 300 years in the past when Denmark colonised Greenland, and 60 years in the past when Denmark forcefully eliminated the Inuit to create space for the American airbase. Nyborg initially dismisses Danish colonial guilt by suggesting that the Greenlanders are simply “sitting round ready for the ice to thaw to allow them to strike oil and get wealthy”. However Enok makes her realise that Denmark has performed a considerable function in Greenland’s ongoing struggling.

Within the fourth season, oil is lastly struck – and little has modified in Nyborg’s thoughts. She bullies a Greenlandic delegation, arguing that they can’t be trusted to run their very own nation. Jens Enok, now a Greenlandic MP, enters once more to elucidate Greenland’s want to pursue oil extraction. He argues that Greenlanders are the victims of local weather change, not its perpetrators. As such, Denmark mustn’t stand in the best way of their want to complement themselves and obtain full independence.

Greenlanders select the atmosphere

Opposite to the plot of Borgen, immediately’s Greenlanders prioritise environmentally sustainable improvement on the highway to full independence. In 2021, Greenland’s new authorities was elected on the promise to cease a controversial Uranium and rare-earth mining challenge in Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeldet) in southern Greenland. The identical authorities additionally put a cease to additional oil exploration for environmental causes.

It has additionally develop into close to unimaginable to remain blind, as Nyborg does, to the colonial abuses perpetrated by the Danish state towards Greenlanders. Earlier this yr, the Danish PM publicly apologised on behalf of Denmark to 22 Greenlandic “kids of the experiment”. They’d been taken from their households within the 1950s and despatched to Denmark to be skilled as a future Greenlandic elite.

In June 2022, the abuse of 4,000 Greenlandic girls as younger as 13 by Danish well being authorities, who implanted intrauterine units with out consent within the 1960s and 1970s, was revealed. In response, the Danish and Greenlandic governments have agreed to arrange a fee to make clear the historic relationship between the 2 international locations.

As Borgen can be the primary fictional tv sequence to inform you, there’s nonetheless a necessity for brave politicians to ship on environmental sustainability – and investigative journalism to carry them to account – and uncomfortable however obligatory confrontations with colonial pasts. Borgen gives the drama and stays near life, however shouldn’t be anticipated to at all times get its predictions proper.


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