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It is said that experience is the same as buying a ticket for a train that’s already left the station. I, personally, am willing to stick my neck out and say that people should be careful about giving others their opinion if their advice is solely based on having a long career as an insider, be it in politics, business, art or any other field, and, as a result, feels in a position to share one’s thoughts with his or her successors whenever the urge arises.
To be honest, I consider myself to be old enough to be considered what is euphemistically called a “veteran” in my field, and, what’s more, I’m not shy about making sure people are aware of my curmudgeonly opinion about the society to which I feel I belong. However, I am also fully aware that new times require new people with new answers.
I’m not alone in thinking that I know better than others. Politics is replete with examples. Take, for example, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Danish PM between 1993 and 2001. Since being voted out of office, he hasn’t been one to keep his mouth shut, even if what he’s talking about at times has nothing to do with his remit, be it as MEP (2004-2009) or as a sort of ‘at large’ former prime minister and former chief of the European Social Democrats.
Most recently, Mr Rasmussen felt himself in a position to give Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the current Danish PM and herself a Soc Dem, something to chew on when he appeared at a conference being held by the Danish far left where he stumped for a financial transaction tax. This is something Ms Thorning-Schmidt and her party are dead-set against, and as could be expected, Mr Rasmussen’s comments made the news, where he was criticised for being disloyal to his party.
Another example from Denmark is Hans Engell, a former defence and justice minister. Although, as a journalist and political analyst, he might be excused for saying all sorts of things about what his former party should and shouldn’t be doing. Even so, for the people who have earned the right to bear the title as the ‘current’ this or that, it must be irritating to listen to all this advice while at the same time trying to deal with the complexities of a situation.
Greenland is, of course, no stranger to the phenomenon, but here we’ve also got a situation in which we have a former premier and party leader now sitting as the speaker of Inatsisartut, the national assembly. The position is one of the country’s most important political jobs. Yet, Lars-Emil Johansen, who currently holds the position, has turned on his party’s current leader and his political ally in the matter of whether Greenland should continue to seek its independence, and, if so, how much priority the efforts should take.
Under the leadership of Kim Kielsen, the current premier, the government has accepted that independence is not realistic in the near term (or even in the medium-term, for that matter), mostly on account of economic problems. In so doing, Mr Kielsen has driven a stake through the heart of the aspirations of his predecessor, who promoted, somewhat rashly, independence as quickly as possible.
No-one disputes that Mr Johanesen has the right to express his opinion about what’s going on politically, but he ought to respect the decisions of Mr Kielsen and his government, regardless of what the issue is.
One could, in fact, argue that the chair of the national assembly has a duty to remain non-partisan, and that as a former party leader and former premier, he would be wise not to speak his opinion publically.
The reason is that, in his position, he no longer has any political responsibility. Instead, he has the responsibility to ensure that Greenland’s democratic system is functioning according to the rules that have been set out. In order to do this properly, he cannot be completely entangled in politics.
Mr Johansen was elected to the national assembly by the slimmest of margins. Even so, his political authority is widely respected, and should he have enough political ambition to once again lead the country one day, he needs to make this clear to his fellow party members and to voters, so they know what his motivations are.
No-one is suggesting that Mr Johanesen has done anything wrong, but I can only envision how terribly burdensome it is for Mr Kielsen to have to put effort into managing an internal opposition made up of veteran members of his party.
Once someone becomes a former leader of anything, they must learn to accept that their current situation does not involve the same responsibilities, and that their opinions about things might be best kept to themselves rather than shared with their successors.
I would suggest screaming into a pillow. It works well enough for the rest of us.
The author is a Danish barrister and a columnist for Sermtisiaq newspaper, which is owned by this website’s parent company.