Denmark’s 356-year long journey towards curbing corruption

In 2012 the University of Copenhagen had noted that Denmark was the world leader in government accountability and criminal justice; one of the most prominent corruption cases in Danish history surfaced in 1676 where king's chancellor was charged, convicted and imprisoned for life for abuse of office and acceptance of bribery


After having concluded in their 2012 study that Denmark, along with New Zealand and Finland, was the least corrupt country on the globe, Transparency International’s International Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 has again adjudged the 8th century Scandinavian nation as a place with lowest incidence of corruption for the second consecutive year—hence negating Shakespeare’s famous quote “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

This line was spoken by a character “Marcellus” in Act I of “Hamlet,” one of the most powerful tragedies in English literature by legendary dramatist and playwright, William Shakespeare, who had lived between 1564 and 1616.

The story of “Hamlet” revolves around cold-blooded murder of Prince Hamlet’s father (King Hamlet) at the hands of his real brother and the subsequent King of Denmark, Claudius, who had not only seized the throne, but had also gone on to marry his deceased sibling’s widow, Queen Gertrude (Prince Hamlet’s mother).

The slain King’s ghost had then appeared before his son Prince Hamlet, whereby revealing that he was murdered by Claudius and had asked the throne’s real heir to avenge the murder.

Although Prince Hamlet had managed to kill his uncle-the ruling King, Claudius, he too had perished later after succumbing to injuries caused by a poisonous sword ealier.

Queen Gertrude had also died after she had mistakenly drunk a glass of poisonous wine, which King Claudius had actually prepared for the young Hamlet.

The story plot of the “Hamlet” thus paints a sorry picture of the state of Denmark a few centuries ago—where blood relatives used to kill each other for the lust of power and in the greed of material gains.

And look, how Denmark has changed today.

It is astonishing to note that there is very little legislation concerning corruption in this country today. Danish criminal law only states that it is illegal to give and accept bribes of any kind or any size, both inside and outside of Denmark.

Research conducted by the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network” reveals that fighting corruption and establishing rule of law has been on the agenda of the Danish rule for more than 350 years when efforts to consolidate the rule of law had formed an integral part of the process of state building since the establishment of the absolute monarchy in 1660. Basically, the historical path to curb corruption in the Danish administration has evolved over several centuries as part of the establishment of an absolute state based on law and order. Continuous, concerted and honest efforts had helped the level of corruption in the administration of state drop to limited levels by the middle of the 19th century.

(References: “A history of Denmark by Knud Jespersen, Patrick Lingsley’s book “How to be Danish: A journey to the Culural Heart of Denmark” and T. K. Derry’s book “A History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland”)

A glance through a study undertaken by Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, with support from the Danish Research Council for Culture and Communication, and by the European Union’s Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, had noted that reforms to improve the administration in the period of absolutism between 1660 and 1849 had come to form an important basis for an administrative culture based on the rule of law which came to minimize corruption.

Saw, as history tells, Denmark wasn’t purged of the menace of corruption overnight and it wasn’t an easy journey to transform it into a mythical place that is known to have good political and economic institutions. Having a population of 5.7 million, Denmark is frequently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world in cross-national studies of happiness. It enjoys a high level of income equality and has one of the world’s highest per capita incomes.

Denmark ranks as having the world’s highest social mobility. It also has one of the best/highest personal income tax rates on planet Earth.

The Tax-to-GDP ratio is Denamark is 49 per cent, about five times that of Pakistan!

Its GDP (purchasing Power parity method) had rested at $257.148 billion, while the per capita income had stood at $45,435.

Similarly, its GDP (Nominal) had stood at $291.043 billion, while the Nominal Per capita income had rested at a very impressive $51,424.

The country’s total exports in 2015 were $94.1 billion.

With reference to the highly commendable level of governance in Denmark, here follow the salient features of the study undertaken by Sweden’s University of Gothenburg:

Within the latest research on corruption and anti-corruption ‘getting to Denmark’ has also been used as the synonym for the ultimate goal of the ongoing focus on how the persistent problem of corruption can be fought effectively.

This historical empirical study sets out to trace and analyse the development of anti corruption mechanisms and practices in the state of Denmark between 1660 and 1900.

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