Self-government at Svanholm

During the last decades there has been a lot of discussion about self-government in Denmark - both as a pedagogical direction, where the wishes, experience and interests of the pupil play a big part in forming the tuition, and in business management. Different, more or less public institutions have been given greater self-government within certain frames. It can be seen as a turning point of the centralization process that had taken place, realizing that an increased share of responsibilities gives greater involvement and quality of life. Especially within the industries and trades, there is a growing awareness that involved and satisfied workers could increase the economical returns.

Often it has been difficult to make self-government work in practice, as neither children nor other citizens are very well exposed to it. In some incidents it has even been necessary to employ specialists to teach people how to be self-governing.

Self-government at ground level

The kind of self-government, applied in the business world, is quite different to the one Svanholm can be said to be a role model for. Firstly, in our model, the ideas come from a grassroots level, the framework is largely made by oneself and the self-government is governed by oneself. Secondly, it's not only about having a say in a part of your life - your accommodation or work- but on all aspects of life. Of course this is limited by the financial situation and the laws and rules that apply to the rest of society too. Even though the "Svanholm model" at start probably didn't receive the ideological blessing of the established society, it is in a way still a "decent' kind of self-government. At Svanholm we have, to a great extent, taken on the framework that the political system has built, combined it with our own rules, and gotten the best from both. Christiania (*), on the other hand, was right from the start in direct opposition to the authorities, because the basis of its existence was the squatting of a military area.

* Christiania is an anarchist commune in central Copenhagen, on a military area, squatted in 1971.

Both feet on the ground

But like Christiania, Svanholm has been founded out of dissatisfaction with the existing society and a wish to create something new and better. In order to do that, we had to create a fresh start and the people of Svanholm chose to stay "on the path of virtue" and bought the property, as opposed to squatting it. For the people of Svanholm this has led to big financial limitations, because of the enormous debt they took on. We have had to keep both feet on the ground and get down to it.  At Christiania, there has probably been more energy and room for fantasy, but on the other hand, also a great deal of social problems caused by living on the borderline of legality.

A potential paradise

Debt or no debt, for the people of Svanholm it meant that they had an estate with 988 acres of land - a potential paradise, a little enclave, where we could more or less do what we wanted to make our dreams come true. And actually, we have developed a kind of state within the State, with our own laws and ideas. Svanholm has its own internal economical structure, traffic politics, environmental politics, education politics, health politics etc. In many ways, Svanholm has been a step ahead of the rest of society. For instance, we've had different kinds of sabbatical leaves, long before the politicians in Denmark thought of it. We've developed waste sorting systems and have worked towards a sustainable way of life, long before the Brundtland report and the term "sustainability" was introduced.