Price of an open society “is one we gladly pay”, says visiting Danish minister

Many of the climate-change related impacts occurring in the Maldives appeared to be problems “of planning and capacity building”, visiting Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Søren Pind told Minivan News.

The Danish delegation yesterday toured the islands of Fares-Mathoda and Thinadhoo in the south of the country, both of which are suffering from flooding due to poor drainage, and signed a memorandum of understanding with the UNDP to provide assistance.

Pind said that as a Development Minister it was also very interesting to see first-hand the challenges faced by a country following a transition to democracy, “such as the fight between those who wish to go backwards and those who wish to go forwards – and it’s not always possible to tell the difference.”

Pind noted that Denmark had only adopted a parliamentary democracy in the early 1950s, after a process “that took us 100 years. We had a nasty fight in 1870-1901 between the king and those who wanted a new democratic government.”

Scandinavian countries such as Denmark regularly top human development indices. The country has the highest level of income equality, and in 2006 to 2008 was ranked “the happiest place in the world” by Forbes magazine based on indices of health, welfare and education.

Growing radicalisation

Pind acknowledged that in the years following a transition, “of course there is a threat to democratic stability. I asked President Nasheed and he said he sees radicalisation as a key challenge.”

The way to counter growing radicalisation, Pind suggested, was to foster and promote “open society – civil institutions, NGOs, people fighting for gender rights and freedom of speech – these things counteract the same very conservative thinking that benefits from that prerogative.”

And if a society was found to be going backwards and not forwards, “identify those forces of destabilisation”, he suggested.

Radicialisation, Pind noted, was not a problem unique to the Maldives. “All these countries I’ve visited recently – Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia – all their politicians are talking about this, and referring to some sort of ‘foreign influence’. It seems to be a common problem.”

Pind said he found it sad that concepts such as education, free media “and the whole idea of inalienable human rights” had become a religious issue, “when I have heard people who know Islam say this is not a religious issue, but a political one.”

Asked how he felt the Danish government had handled the issue of the controversial cartoons published by one of its newspapers, Pind said Demark had “never seen it as a confrontation with Islam.”

“But we had to face the fact that one man had drawn cartoons that were published in a major newspaper. We had a hard time explaining that in this country the government could not interfere with the media. That is the price of an open society, and we pay it gladly.”

The Danish delegation – including Pind and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Dr Lykke Friis, visited the Maldives to announce funding of climate mitigation programs in Kenya, Indonesia and the Maldives as part of its US$40 million ‘fast-track’ climate change initiative, but showed a strong interest in other matters affecting the country.


Visiting Danish Ministers announce climate mitigation assistance

Denmark will fund climate mitigation programs in Kenya, Indonesia and the Maldives as part of its US$40 million ‘fast-track’ climate change initiative.

Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Søren Pind and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Dr Lykke Friis held a joint press conference with President Mohamed Nasheed this morning in the President’s Office, and announced assistance for infrastructure and capacity-building projects in the Maldives.

“In global climate talks there is sometimes the tendency to say ‘If we don’t agree now, we’ll just agree next year.’ But if anyone suffers from that illusion they should come to the Maldives, because here you get an education that action is needed now,” said Dr Friis.

“There has been so much debate about [assistance] being just around the corner – what we wanted to do with this visit was get around that corner. We did not come empty handed – we came with some very concrete initiatives with which we will continue to deepen the cooperation between our two countries,” she added.

While the Maldives is graduating from UN Less-Developed Country (LDC) status to middle income in January, something that may lead many donors to perceive the country as less needy’, Dr Friis explained that the Maldives had the ability to “make the case” for climate change action.

“Sometimes climate change is abstract and theoretical – you need concrete case studies like the Maldives,” she said. “Anybody following climate change has been inspired by the President Nasheed’s underwater cabinet meeting.”

“What we take back home is that it is not enough just to talk about climate change, but you have to walk the walk.”

Pind added that travelling to the Maldives and seeing the impact of environment erosion first hand “makes an impression.”

“It is one thing to hear about it, but very different to see it in reality,’ he said.

Pind also added that the Danish delegation had held talks with President Nasheed on other challenges facing the country, such as growing radicalisation.

“I had the opportunity to discuss this with the President,” he said. “I have recently travelled to, Kenya, Somaliland and Ethiopia, and I can tell you that [radicalisation] is not only a challenge faced in the Maldives. We discussed the importance of open societies to be able to combat these challenges.”

During the press conference, President Nasheed also revealed the government’s intention to leave the G77, a coalition of 131 developing nations formed in 1964 to promote their collective economic interests in the United Nations.

“The G77 was formed during the Cold War – now it’s obsolete and unnecessary. I pointed this out in Copenhagen as a well. They do not work on our behalf, and they do not understand our present issues,” Nasheed said. “We do not intend to remain in G77, we do not think this is an organisation that is relevant or necessary anymore. We also think there are many countries within the G77 group that will go along with us.”