BY TABITHA REEVES
Associate News Editor
At 18 years old, Mathias Niebuhr made national news when he was declared the temporary leader of the Social Democratic Party, one of 14 Danish political parties, during a time of turmoil within the organization. Shortly thereafter, he founded the Social Democratic Rainbow Network in the interest of strengthening LGBTQ+ rights and began working on political campaigns within the party.
Though he isn’t much older than university students, Niebuhr, now 22, was invited by the European Studies program to speak at the university on Feb. 15, giving students the opportunity to learn more about European politics and how the United States is viewed. Closely familiar with the history of Denmark, he explained the ins-and-outs of the Danish government, contrasting his home country to the U.S. in terms of Denmark’s close-knit society.
Electing younger people into positions of power is an issue Niebuhr considers to be globally important, especially since he’s been nominated as a candidate for one of Denmark’s seats in the European Parliament next year.
“Young people need to see representation if they want to participate in democracy,” Niebuhr said.
Mina Rulis, a senior computer science and international relations double major who attended the event, pointed out that the ages of U.S. politicians are not a proportional age representation of the U.S. electorate. She believes that significant age differences can be reflected in policy focuses and approaches to problem-solving.
“Obviously, the character of whoever’s running for office matters a lot more than their age, but I think it would be good if there was less stigma against it, or we had more faith in young politicians to be competent in their positions,” Rulis said.
The average age of a U.S. Congressperson is 58 years old in the House of Representatives and 64 in the Senate. On the other hand, the Danish Parliament has an average age of 45, with the youngest member being 21.
Sophomore European history major Jaden Rickards, who came to see Niebuhr speak, believes that a stronger civil society, in which individuals share collective goals and values, can lead to greater youth involvement in politics.
“Perhaps if younger people get more involved in their communities, there could be a higher chance that younger people will hold offices,” Rickards said, referring to the university community, as well as students’ home communities. “I think that we need to be more social with the people around whom we live.”
According to Niebuhr, citizens of Denmark tend to share certain personality traits and worldviews, making for a “culturally homogenous” society, where it is not difficult to get along socially. Despite generally having shy personalities, this also means citizens have a high level of mutual trust where many even leave their home doors unlocked.
“People in Denmark would rather stand up on the bus than sit next to a stranger,” Niebuhr said, depicting the cultural shyness. “We’re really restrained personally. But people can also leave their children in their strollers out in front of the stores and just go in, because who would steal a baby?”
The sole exception to this would be areas that attract tourists, such as Copenhagen, the nation’s capital, according to Niebuhr.
“Of course, [Denmark is] going to be more culturally homogenous than the United States,” Rickards said. “I mean, we stretch across an entire continent and, of course, we have a history of diverse populations.”
As the third most populous nation in the world, the United States has over 330 million citizens. Denmark, on the other hand, has 5.9 million.
Amber Kirste, a junior international relations and European studies double major who attended the event, grew up in Los Angeles, where she said she personally experienced ideological unity. She believes that the size of the U.S. makes unity difficult, but that it can still be found in certain regional communities.
Aside from expounding on the age variability of politicians, size and cultural unity of Denmark, Niebuhr seemed to make a point to teach attendees about his country’s history. Many students who attended reported learning a great deal about Denmark.
“It’s interesting because there were a lot more similarities than I thought, as much as there were differences,” Rickards said.
By immersing himself in American culture in Newark, Niebuhr learned a lot about America in the similarities and differences to his own country. For example, he learned what a Philly cheese steak is and that the cars in the U.S. are much larger than cars in Denmark.
Rickards described talking to foreigners about America like looking into a mirror, in which Americans can understand more deeply how their country is viewed.
“Having a broader worldview is always beneficial,” Rulis said. “So I’m really glad that this event was put on. I would definitely be interested if other similar events were put on to learn more about the rest of the world and the way they do things.”