“IF ALL goes to plan, Schleswig-Holstein will make political history this month. Its new government will include an ethnic-minority party, for the first time in a German state. The party, the South Schleswig Voters’ Committee (SSW), will have one minister in a coalition dominated by the Social Democrats and Greens. It will make Germany a tad more Danish.
About 50,000 Germans who identify themselves as Danes live in Schleswig-Holstein (population: 2.8m). Their forefathers stayed after Prussia and Austria snatched the place from Denmark in 1864. The border was redrawn by plebiscite in 1920. After 1945 Germany and Denmark agreed to recognise the rights of minorities on both sides (a precondition for Germany’s entry into NATO). Denmark finances 50 Danish schools plus other cultural institutions (including a daily bilingual newspaper, Flensborg Avis). Most students go to university in Denmark. Schleswig-Holstein helps pay for the schools and exempts the SSW from the rule that parties need at least 5% of the vote to win seats in the legislature.
Danish identity is chosen, not necessarily inherited. You are Danish if you feel Danish, which Danes say means being less stuffy and more egalitarian than Germans and admiring the Danish welfare state. “There is a big difference between the German and Danish mentality and culture,” says Bjarne Lonborg, Flensborg Avis’s editor. He adds, “We have Danish identity, but we are an integrated part of this society.” Tempers flared two years ago when the Christian Democrat (CDU)-led state government cut subsidies to Danish schools. Denmark’s prime minister intervened and the CDU chancellor, Angela Merkel, chipped in with federal funds.”