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Uffe Ellemann-Jensen is dead. He turned 80 and leaves a great miss on family and friends and on all of us for whom he has always been here.
His life and significance for Denmark and Danish politics is impossible to get down to a few lines. But many will make the attempt.
Uffe Ellemann-Jensen never became Prime Minister of Denmark, but he became something else: An icon for Europe and the liberal, freedom-loving Denmark. And he will be remembered as one of the great Danish politicians of the post-war period. One of those who with a rare authenticity stood firm on what he believed in.
The first time I met Uffe Ellemann-Jensen was on my second working day as a trained journalist. I had been employed by Det Fri Aktuelt and had to cover a Community vote. For Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, it became one of the days that defined him and his great political project for the next many years.
It was June 2, 1992. The polling stations were closed and the atmosphere at Christiansborg worried. I had been given the task of following Denmark’s Foreign Minister, writing a report on Uffe Ellemann-Jensen’s reaction and the events in the Liberal Party’s group room.
“Keep an eye on Uffe, look at him, which way turns the corners of his mouth, what does he say,” my editor had said.
The feelings were outside the clothes for Uffe Ellemann-Jensen. Although most expected that it would be a yes for Denmark to join the European Union, it was a close race, which could very well turn out to be a no.
Everyone knew that the vote on the Maastricht Treaty was Uffe Ellemann-Jensen’s great moment, the culmination of what he had fought for and hoped for. The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union dissolved, the Baltic countries on their way to freedom. Now Europe must be united in a strong community.
The dream of Europe
Uffe Ellemann-Jensen had for ten years stood in the middle of the turning point in world history, engaged in it like no other, met the leaders of the world. The freedom and democratic ideals of the Western world had triumphed. And Denmark’s Liberal Party and its chairman danced on the wave. Gone was the Cold War and the long and bitter showdown over the footnote policy, and all the noses that Uffe Ellemann-Jensen had received in the Folketing, and which had been diligently reproduced by cartoonists, were forgotten.
As the evening progressed, the corners of his mouth slid farther and farther down, there was fire in the pipe, a grim expression appeared on Uffe’s face. He was genuinely upset, disappointed and angry, especially at the no-party parties on the left, which he perceived as demagogic, dishonest and manipulative. Which he did not hide.
When it became clear that 50.7 percent of the voters had voted no, the most compelling force for Uffe Ellemann-Jensen was that the Danish no should not prevent the other countries in the EC from moving forward in ever closer European cooperation. For Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, it was about keeping alive the dream of Europe, which with him was so alive and strong.
Maybe it was tactless, but he got furious when the Social Democrats’ chairman, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, criticized him for his EU socks with stars on.
“What does it matter to you,” he hissed. It was before the spin doctors that he despised when they later spread in the political landscape.
That Uffe Ellemann-Jensen before his death managed to experience the Danish defense reservation being lifted in a referendum on 1 June was a great joy. And it only got bigger because his son Jakob was at the forefront of the Liberal Party’s very EU-positive campaign.
Just over six months after the Danish no in 1992, the skeptical Denmark held the presidency of the EU. There was war in the Balkans, the former Yugoslavia was being split into atoms. Uffe Ellemann was on a peace mission. In a Danish Hercules plane, he flew to Zagreb and Sarajevo, to Pristina, Belgrade and the other capitals of the divided ex-Yugoslavia with the message that Europe was ready to receive them if they just wanted to make peace.
We were a team of journalists and photographers watching, reporting home and waiting outside while he talked to another political leader. When Uffe Ellemann-Jensen in Belgrade came out of his meeting with the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, he was a thundercloud.
“What a disgusting fellow,” he said.
It required a shower after such a meeting.
The left-wing chairman was so embittered to face the nationalism that he thought was a chapter in European history, and he could not wring it off.
There was no peace in the Balkans. And shortly after, the Schlüter government resigned due to the Tamil case, which Uffe Ellemann-Jensen had nothing to do with.
He became the longest-serving foreign minister after World War II – from 10 September 1982 to 25 January 1993. And he was at the forefront of Denmark’s foreign policy in the most important years during and after the Cold War.
After six years with Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (S) in the Prime Minister’s Office, Ellemann thought it was “home” – at least on the front page of Ekstra Bladet. But it was not. A few hundred votes were missing in the Faroe Islands to win the election. And the Foreign Minister’s terraced house in Hellerup had been made part of the Social Democratic intimidation campaign. When the votes were counted, he knew it was over with him as party chairman.
When the national conservative wave that Ellemann had seen in Milosevic’s eyes almost 20 years later really took hold in Europe and the western world, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen had retired and now actively followed Danish politics from the sidelines.
When I met Uffe Ellemann Jensen again, it was at home in the terraced house in Hellerup in the autumn of 2017. He had written another book – “Your own day is short”. And he was deeply concerned about the world. Donald Trump was president of the United States, the Danish People’s Party sat in the Folketing with 21 percent of the vote. And Britain had voted out of the EU.
I asked if he had not been mistaken because it had turned out that the peoples did not want his freedom, his globalization and the close European integration? He replied that he disagreed – and then it came:
God save me well. Across Europe, people are jumping on the bandwagon of national conservative and populist parties and being seduced by bodega politicians. “
That day – June 23, 2016 – when the British voted no to Europe, lightning struck very symbolically in the Ellemann family’s house. There was a huge bang, and Uffe Ellemann-Jensen tumbled out of bed. All the power had gone, only the dog Oscar slept on, age had settled on the hearing, which he told with one of his well-known crooked smiles and growling laughter, which has made Uffe Ellemann-Jensen achieve what many top politicians dream of: Getting on first name terms with the entire population.
Although he tried to be optimistic and analytical as in the “Ellemann and Lykketoft” programs on TV 2, where he had the opportunity to unfold his vast knowledge, he looked gloomily at the world.
Hard to endure
And when Russia entered Ukraine on February 24, 2022, and he woke up in the morning to the news with a similar set, it only got worse.
In his last major interview with Berlingske shortly after the invasion, he said:
“I have a hard time enduring it.”
The film rolled for his inner-Ukrainian children who had to say goodbye to their fathers before going to war. He had seen it all before and he did not think he would see it again in the Europe he loved. It’s hurting, ‘he said. Simply hurt.
“I was born while there was war, and now there is probably also war when I die. It’s strange to think about, “he told Berlingske’s Kasper Kildegaard.
When Uffe Ellemann-Jensen became chairman of the Liberal Party, he took over something resembling a bankruptcy estate. In the 1980s, the Conservatives were big and had a grip on the young, while the Liberal Party was perceived as a collection of peasant robbers. Ellemann won a battle election over the strong Jutland candidate Ivar Hansen, because the grassroots, after all, believed more in the rap-jawed Ellemann. Later, however, he had to prove that he could milk a cow by hand.
DR journalist Mette Fugl said on TV that he had been chosen to sell tickets. “Was it at the end,” she wanted to know.
Ellemann, who himself had a career as a journalist and editor behind him, was so surprised by the flabby question that he called her a stupid bitch.
After a few years of decline, he set about modernizing the party. This was done in close collaboration with party secretary Claus Hjort Frederiksen, and the party leadership was able to establish after analyzes and measurements that in relation to the rest of the population there was a significant over-representation of Leftists who drank cherry wine.
An expression that the Liberal Party was still a stagnant peasant party, whose voters were just getting older and older.
But the Left’s turnaround worked. The party penetrated the bridge quarters in Copenhagen. The freedom, the liberal values, the global village matched with a generation of big city youth. Ellemann was God when he appeared in high schools for election rallies with other candidates.
When Anders Fogh Rasmussen won the election in 2001, Ellemann’s era was over – and New York was attacked by terrorists. Fogh did what Ellemann could not do, namely ally with the Danish People’s Party with all that entailed. Meanwhile, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen insisted that former chairmen should be seen, not heard.
In all the years that followed, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen was an active debater and always with sharp comments on the course of the world. He now says goodbye. “Your own day is short,” as one of his books is called.
He has reluctantly passed on the baton to his son, the Liberal Party’s chairman Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. Reluctantly because politics is a grueling place to be and he was never home when the kids were small.
And in Uffe Ellemann-Jensen’s words, the world may not be as good as we thought, he told Berlingske. He knew he was going to die soon. In his life, he made a difference both for the world, for Denmark and for those closest to him.
‘I can not ask for more. I have nothing to gain, “were the words in mid-March.
Source: www.berlingske.dk by www.berlingske.dk.
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