So it's election time again in Denmark...hold your nose

So November 13 is the magic day - the culmination of what will be a whirlwind 20 days of flat out campaigning. There is a certain charm that is the election process in Denmark - I've been through a couple of them since living here. Within hours of an election call, the leaders of all the parties are assembled (even the minority parties with no seats in parliament) and debating the issues in front of the cameras for television.

Consider the mess in the U.S. where weeks are spent negotiating the rules of the debate, with each side trying to get the upper hand based upon their perceived strengths. Or in Canada where the few significant fringe parties (with no elected members of parliament) are endlessly pushing for the right to participate in any televised debates, and the mainstream parties are endlessly pushing for the right to exclude them.

No, in Denmark the whole process is characteristically quick and efficient, with the television station basically dictating the rules of the game - since no self-respecting leader would dare spurn the opportunity to join the live debates.

There is both a lot at stake in this election, or not much at all - depending upon where you sit and how you see things.

It seems that it would take an epic cock-up for the government to be unseated. Then again, when you've placed your bets on a racist party to prop up your government as an unofficial coalition partner (as this government has for the past 6 years in office), well, frankly all bets for the future are off.

It breaks down like this: the average Dane is loath to admit that a vote for either Venstre or Konservative, the 2 governing parties, is tantamount to jumping into bed with a bunch of racists. But it is.

Still, it's a sweet deal if you can stomach the racist stench. The government has done a commendable job keeping the economy purring over the past 6 years - by most accounts there is a overall shortage of qualified staff in Denmark, meaning companies are scrambling to find the employees the need to fill vacant positions. Which means Joe Average in Denmark has it pretty good, in spite of the high taxes (which the government has managed to slightly reduce, it should also be noted).

Unfortunately, on the human scale, this government is an embarrassment.

The act of virtually cutting off the flow of Iraqi refugees to Denmark over the past years, through neat little legalistic tricks that make it virtually impossible for such refugees to gain asylum here, while simultaneously Maersk, the largest Danish company, rakes in literally billions thanks to it's involvement in the war in Iraq (along with the recent presence of Danish troops in Iraq), is simply repugnant beyond what words can possibly express.

It took a study showing the children of those refugees who have made it into the country, only to become ensnared in the prison-like holding tank Sandholm (where they are left to languish while their claims lay in limbo often for years at a time), have an unfortunate tendency to develop mental problems during the tediously long asylum process, to finally high-voltage electric cattle prod the government into allowing these families to relocate away from this squalid place while their claims are decided. Of course, they still won't be permitted to work, lest they actually start contributing measurably to society.

And who really wants to talk about welfare (as the Social Demoncrats, the primary opposition party seem to want to), when everything else is rolling along in such a swell manner, pesky refugees and distinctly zenophobic immigration policies aside?

So we probably haven't seen the back of Anders Fogh Rasmussen just yet. But let's see what happens. You've been warned.

K.I.S.S. my ass

Intent on subjecting myself to another few weeks of pain and torment integrating myself better into Danish society, I recently signed on for another round of Danish classes. A combination of extended out-of-country traveling and the demands of a new job mean two years have passed since the last time I sat myself down at least twice a week to agonizingly memorize the 15 sentences of Danish (among other things) required by K.I.S.S (Copenhagen's Intensive Language School) for each class. Actually, I enjoy learning Danish, but I'm not a natural at languages, so it's a lot of work and very time consuming - and provides a fair amount of amusement for others, though not myself, as I stumble and stutter to form meaningful sentences. And that's not to mention the cost, call it a tax for living in a foreign country, on my social life as I dedicate some 15 hours of class and study time in the evenings each week. It's a lot.

But, an unwanted reprieve was at hand, just in the nick of time.

Much to my dismay my language school of choice, KISS, a private language school that receives the bulk of it's funding from the local Copenhagen government (who pay for most of the students, myself included), has effectively been forced into bankruptcy this past week by the overzealous lot at Copenhagen Kommune. It's the consequence of a simmering dispute, over some 4.5 million kroner (600,000 Euro) that the local government claims K.I.S.S. owes, that has now boiled over.

The escalation of the dispute began in July when funding to K.I.S.S. was cut off quite suddenly by the local government. Unsurprisingly, K.I.S.S. disputes the amount it is claimed it owes.

The story goes, very loosely, like this:

K.I.S.S. was receiving some 8,000 kroner per student enrolled from the Copenhagen Kommune, and the Kommune in turn received 18,000 per student from the national government to pay K.I.S.S. - got it? So quite a profit was being made by the local kommune. But K.I.S.S. claimed it couldn't balance the books while being paid this amount of only 8,000 kroner. Furthermore, a change in legislation meant the local government could no longer pocket the difference - the 10,000 kroner profit it made on each K.I.S.S. student. It should be noted that the local government runs it's own language schools - language schools that are not nearly as highly rated as K.I.S.S. in terms of the performance of their students, but for which the municipality receives 18,000 per student (significantly more than the 8,000 kroner K.I.S.S. receives). Hence why I, and many other, opt for K.I.S.S..

After a lengthy fight, the amount paid to K.I.S.S. was increased to 10,000 kroner per student, and K.I.S.S. was able to balance the books, at long last. Shortly thereafter came the letter informing K.I.S.S. it was time to pay all the money back that it owed, apparently from the times when it couldn't balance the books. That amount, claims the municipality, is some 4.5 million kroner.

There's obviously plenty of politics at work here, perhaps from both sides. There is surely a way to find a way to resolve this dispute - without closing the school.

Of course, out of all of this it's the students, such as myself, who suffer.

The K.I.S.S. method of teaching is absolutely unique (and Steen Christiansen, the head of the school, owns the copyright). I can attest first hand that it works (I made it to level 5 of 11). It's tough, much like being in the military (I imagine), but effective. If you can't keep up, you are booted out. That is, you are obliged to continue repeating each level until you pass. I've done that too.

I'm not sure how this will end, but I can tell you this much: my stated ambitions for my stay in Denmark of 'becoming Prime Minister' (well, you see, that was what I told my 'Danish Integration Officer' while answering one of at series of irrelevant questions I was obliged to answer during the recent 'integration to Denmark' interview that I was obliged to attend - I had to tell him something!), if not derailed, have certainly been delayed. But I'm a patient guy.

We'll see how this unfolds, this story is not over. I'll keep you updated.

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