Best columns: Europe
Why Danes are always so happy
Le Temps (Switzerland)
Danes get little sunlight and pay extraordinarily high taxes, yet they are some of the happiest people in the world, said Nic Ulmi. Their secret, as we now know thanks to a flurry of books on the subject, is hygge (pronounced HOO-guh), loosely defined as the happiness that comes from snuggling with friends in candlelight, eating candies. Denmark burns through more candles than any other European nation, and Danes each eat about 18 pounds of sugar a year, double the European average. But how did they get this way? After all, other Northern European countries also have long, dark winters, conducive to hunkering down under warm blankets by the fireside. The secret lies in Danish history. The Danes’ empire crumbled in the 19th century, and they lost control of land in Germany, Iceland, Sweden, and Norway. Rather than bemoaning their diminished status, Danes decided to embrace it and “identify with simplicity.” Their defeat “was not deplored as a loss, but celebrated as a gain.” Delight in simple pleasures is now a national trait, indeed, it’s a source of patriotic pride. Hygge is “the feeling that one is safe, sheltered from the world.” After a rough 2016, perhaps we can all learn from the Danes in the coming year.
What you can learn from darts
Why do Brits love the World Darts Championship so? asked Daniel Harris. Every year around New Year’s, hundreds of thousands of us gather rapt around televisions for the two-week event because we can all relate to the intensity and the anguish. Just about every one of us has enjoyed a game of darts in a pub at some point, so we know “how easy it is to play but how impossible it is to play well.” We also recognize that “darts is about far more than chucking a pointy thing at a flat thing; it tells a story of humanity.” On camera and in front of a crowd, championship players must “perform a fine motor skill predicated on a steady hand and an empty mind.” We watch as a thrower misses his chosen target by just a millimeter and displays “every expression of tension, fear, devastation.” The themes of darts are the same ones we find in all great art forms, whether literature, theater, or painting. And just as with any great art, enjoying it is not a matter of taste: There are only those who love darts and those who haven’t yet discovered the game. But is it a sport? you may ask. The correct answer, of course, is this: Who cares?
Germany: Will closed borders stop terrorism?
The terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market is proof that European leaders must “reassess their doomed commitment to open borders,” said the Daily Express(U.K.) in an editorial. A week before Christmas, Anis Amri—a 24-year-old Tunisian who came to Germany seeking asylum—hijacked a truck, killed its Polish driver, and then smashed the vehicle into a crowd of shoppers at Berlin’s bustling Breitscheidplatz. Twelve people were killed before the 40-ton truck came to a halt, and 56 more were injured. And then, thanks to the 1995 Schengen Agreement, which did away with border controls in much of the European Union, Amri was able to traipse through multiple countries. The jihadist, who had pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video message, ended up in Italy, where he died in a shoot-out with police. “When the most wanted man in Europe can travel all the way from Berlin to Milan before finally being stopped, it is clear that something needs to change.”
Europe can meet this threat while maintaining our open borders, said Daniel-Dylan Böhmer in Die Welt(Germany). Terrorist attacks in Europe, whether on a Berlin Christmas market or a Parisian nightclub, have little to do with the free movement of people. They have their roots in Syria, Libya, and other failing nations, where extremists find willing recruits with little to live for. Europe “can only be safe if her neighborhood is safe,” and the nations of this “old, rich, fearful continent” can achieve that only by working together.
Yet our police and security services often seem incapable of cooperation, said Jan Drebes in the Aachener Zeitung(Germany). Amri first came to Italy in 2011, at age 19, though he claimed to be a minor so he could be placed in a school. He was jailed for four years for trying to burn down that school, yet couldn’t be deported because Tunisia refused to take him back. Amri ended up in Germany gaming the benefits system, using fake names and traveling from region to region. “How is it that Italy didn’t inform Germany” that Amri was a convict and an asylum reject? German authorities say they were monitoring Amri—but apparently not very closely. Breitscheidplatz wasn’t even fitted with police surveillance cameras.
It’s time for Germany to get “more selective” about who we let settle in our country, said Jochen Bittner in Die Zeit(Germany). Yes, most Muslims are not terrorists, but it’s also true that “most of today’s terrorists are Muslims,” so the more Muslims we accept, the greater our risk. Our current asylum policy prioritizes those people who can make the often long, perilous journey across land and sea to Germany, a kind of preselection of the most physically tough. People rightly see that as “the state’s ‘loss of control’ and a sellout of Western identity.” We should start requiring asylum seekers to register at German embassies abroad, and to be relocated here only after vetting. That would be a way “to separate the seekers of freedom from the enemies of freedom.”