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What does it mean to be Danish?

Culture Minister Brian Mikkelsen says the government's proposed national cultural canon will renew focus on the nation's cultural heritage - but opposition parties are wary of state attempts at arbitrating 'Danishness'

The government is firing the opening salvo in the next phase of its cultural and values debate. Later today, Culture Minister Brian Mikkelsen will present his proposal for a national cultural canon that he claims represents the seminal works in all Danish artistic genres.

"We aren't afraid to say that some things are better than others. I want to start a debate on values, about quality, about our cultural heritage and what it means to be Danish in a time when the national state is under pressure and globalization hovers above us," said Mikkelsen.

Experts were assigned to devise a list of 84 leading works in Danish cultural history, 12 works spanning seven disciplines, which the government believes all Danish citizens should learn.

The canon marks a new phase of the values struggle set in motion by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen two years ago. The debate over national identity has sharpened as a result of the recent years' trends in immigration and globalization across Europe.

"We live in a world in which most young people have no idea what it means to be Danish. We need to focus on fundamental values and norms in our society, and set a discussion in motion. What has shaped us and made us into the nation we are? This is crucial in ensuring our society's cohesiveness," said Mikkelsen.

The Danish cultural canon will be promoted next autumn in the form of a book, CD and DVD containing examples of selected works. The book will be published in an initial print run of 100,000 copies. Mikkelsen hopes that a copy of the volume will be found in every Danish home.

"When kids read H.C. Andersen, it's good literature, but it's also a part of our mentality and our cultural history. We must ensure that all Danes come into contact with the best texts and figures in Danish spiritual history," said Mikkelsen.

But Social Democratic cultural policy spokeswoman Mette Frederiksen is sceptical.

"I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Wasn't it (Mikkelsen) that not so long ago was up in arms about 'arbiters of taste'? There's no doubt that our historical and cultural awareness could be better. Brian Mikkelsen wants to cultivate the national cultural heritage. The initiative is essentially aimed at conservation - to remind us of a time long since passed. I believe Danish culture policy should focus on creating a framework for development. Can you promote integration and understanding between new Danes and old Danes by reading Oehlenschläger?" Frederiksen asked rhetorically.

Radical Liberal MP Naser Khader offered his own thoughts.

"It does no harm to point out works that are especially significant within a given artistic genre. It's hard to oppose a proposal like that. But what's the intention? Who is it really aimed that? What use is it? These are the questions I'm left with," said Khader.

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