Introduction from the Book: ”That a whole town could be criminals”
“Idea, thoughts and action”
From December to July 2002, a Serbian family of seven lived hidden in Lemvig.
The family was one out of a larger group of Serbian refugees who were denied asylum in Denmark.
Many people in and around Lemvig participated actively in hiding the family and helping them in their everyday life, collecting money, making research on conditions in their homeland, talking to politicians to urge them to take up the case once more, involving the media and so on. The final initiative to obtain permission for all the Serbian families in Denmark to live and work in the Faeroe Islands also came from Lemvig.
Like rings in the water, the discussion spread throughout the Danish society. Strong criticism of the Refugee Council’s and the courts’ superficial way of handling refugee cases started a debate in the media about the laws and the responsibility of the politicians. By taking responsibility on themselves and performing civil disobedience with subsequent court cases, penalties, and the risk of losing their jobs and positions, the involved Danes finally succeeded, thanks to stubborn perseverance and a will to solve the problems and find a compromise with all the involved authorities, from the Prime Minister on down.
This event is the background for our sculptural installation at Hygum Art Museum, “Through faith, we will overcome”. We have visited many af those involved, and our concept was to ask every single person to donate an object, a document or whatever was important to them and signifies this event.
It is these objects that are installed in the cabinet in the museum as an archive or monument over a period in the history of Lemvig. Each object has a label with the name of the donor and a brief, written explanation.
During our visits, we made a video of them telling their stories. These stories have been transcribed directly from the videotape, just the way they were told, with only a minimum of editing and in the same order as we filmed them. This is contemporary history at the “ground level”, told by those who created it – their thoughts, considerations, fears, and joys. There are repetitions and contradictions. But this was the way each person experienced it and acted. We could have continued, since many in and around Lemvig were involved – so where to stop? – from the grocer to the mayor, from the school to the congregation at the Apostolic church. We are still open to new donations for the cabinet at Hygum Art Museum, and to new stories.
The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben maintained that capitalism destroys meaning, but art creates meaning. In each their own way, the stories in this book create meaning, in words and actions. Together, they orchestrate a new work of art through the human voice. With the sculptural installation at HM and this book, we want to create a monument over a spontaneous local initiative of a kind that can change the world. An example of civil disobedience, which is necessary to counteract the global forces that are trying to turn large groups of people into outlaws and are creating the immigrant problems we see in the world today.
A big vote of thanks to everyone for your support and help with donations to the sculpture at Hygum Art Museum and the setting in scene for this book.
Also thanks to Katja Løgstrup-Hansen, Marianne Søgård Sørensen and Nanna Dissing for proof reading, criticism and advice, and to Lisbeth Hermansen for help in realizing the book and the sculpture.
Finn Thybo Andersen and Kirsten Dufour
1Giorgio Agamben: Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and bare life, State of exception
2Zygmunt Bauman: Globaliseringen og dens menneskelige følger.
Review in the Nationale radio (DR program 1)
A Strange Sculptural Installation.
On November 12,1998, a number of Serbian refugees were refused permission to stay in Denmark. They were to leave the country before November 26. At Hygum Art Museum, there is a strange sculpture installation called Through Faith we shall overcome. It is a tall glass cabinet with a bottom and 3 shelves.
On the bottom and the 3 shelves, some objects have been placed which are reminders about some people’s struggle to save some human beings and make it possible for them to become Danish citizens. And when they don´t succeed the first time, then to help them come to the Faeroe Islands, where we can hope to help them return to Denmark one day.
One of the exhibited objects is a pair of ram’s horns like those you can see on the magnificent animals in the Faeroe landscape. They were given by Jens Pauli Olsen, who writes: “These magnificent spiral-shaped horns come from animals living on the steep cliffs of the Faeroe Islands, where the climate is tough and cold, and the flora is sparse.”
This is the story about 21 Serbians from a group of 300, who came to Denmark, and now in the Faeroe Islands have found a new life, where they industrious and clever, participate in supporting the society there.
And it is the story about Lemvig, where two-thirds of the citizens became criminals so that nothing evil could befall the Serbians when all the city’s leaders helped them – the school director who made sure their children could go to school, the hospital staff that received them as patients before the their workday began, the dentist and the ear doctor, yes, even the police: In the cabinet, you can read a thank-you letter from Anna Laigaard to an unknown policeman. She wrote: This story is about a trip Tanja and I took (Tanja is the mother in this Serbian refugee family).
Anna Leigaard tells how they were stopped by a policeman who asked to see Tanja´s driving license. Since she didn´t have one, she became disstressed and gave a false name. The police wanted to verify her identity on his cell phone, and Tanja began to cry and Anne Laigaard then told him the truth. He answered Tanja by saying: “Who are you, to lie to the authority?” After which he said: ”Drive, and remember your safety belt!”
In the cabinet there is also a clipping from Lemvig’s local newspaper, which tells that the police will not react to anonymous calls in the refugee case. The chief of Hobro criminal police says that they are just chicane.
The best-known people in this refugee case were “the idiot and the theologian”. Kim Larsen, who was a long distance driver and had been a candidate for the socialist party was “the idiot”. By being out in the world, he had learned about reality. He became one of the most experienced and sharpest opponents of the system, which during this period was represented by Minister Thorkild Simonsen, who apparently did not know anything about what was going on in areas where life was difficult.
The theologian was Leif Bork Hansen, who had shown civil courage many times by protecting his fellow human beings, because he believes it is his duty to care for them. Kim Andersen, laughing, tells that since I´m not a theologian I must be the idiot”.
It is also the story about a family hidden in the attic in the house of Ribe’s reverend, Jørgen Bork Hansen, just opposite Tårnborg. They were hidden there for 13 months, in peacetime!!
All this and much more is related in a wonderful book published by Hygum Art Museum( and SAAS), with the title “That a whole town could be criminals!”. It is dedicated in memoriam to Villy Pedersen, who participated in the local resistance movement in his youth and who was the one who took the initiative to hide the refugees in Lemvig.
The texts have been transcribed from videotape interviews with the persons responsible for the refugees. They are only slightly edited by Kirsten Dufour and Finn Thybo Andersen.
This is documentation about another Denmark than the Denmark of the people in power; a Denmark with courageous people who defend true values.