Following Queen Margrethe II of Denmark’s official visit to Bahrain recently there has been mounting criticism of the fact that King Hamad was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Dannebrog. The Socialist People’s Party suggested already during the Egyptian revolution that Queen Margrethe should strip Hosni Mubarak of his Order of the Elephant (as happened to Nicolae Ceausescu at the time of his downfall in 1989), but this idea was rejected by Prime Minister Løkke Rasmussen of the Liberal Party.
Awarding the Grand Cross of Dannebrog to another dicator shortly afterwards did of course not look very pretty. It looked even worse when protests erupted in Bahrain a few days later and the army began shooting and killing protesters.
The main opposition parties - the Social Democrats, the Socialist People’s Party and the Social Liberal Party - demanded that Foreign Minister Lene Espersen (of the Conservative Party) should explain to Parliament the reasoning behind the decision to grant the Grand Cross to the King of Bahrain.
Today the news agency Ritzau reports that the smallest of the opposition parties, the Red-Green Alliance, has proposed that Danish orders should in the future only be awarded to heads of state of countries which are “democratic and respect fundamental human rights” and that Parliament’s committee on foreign relations should be consulted before orders are awarded to foreign heads of state. The Socialist People’s Party has announced that they will support the motion, while the Social Liberal Party calls it “an interesting idea”.
However, Michael Aastrup Jensen, the foreign policy spokesman of the Liberal Party, replies that orders are nothing but “a piece of metal” and “are an old tradition and something one exchanges like presents during state visits”. As the far-right wing Danish People’s Party, which holds the balance in Parliament, has a rather - let’s say flexible - approach to human right issues and only very recently spoke supportingly of Hosni Mubarak it thus seems likely that this motion will pass during the current political situation. Another outcome might of course be possible after this year’s general election, which it seems likely that the current government will lose.
What Michael Aastrup Jensen is right about is of course that it is a tradition to award high orders to foreign heads of state during state and official visits. If one in each case should consider if the visitor/host is worthy of a Danish order one would naturally risk insulting those who are not given any orders. Having a general rule such as the Red-Green Alliance suggest seems a better and more practical solution.
Among earlier despots who have received the Order of the Elephant are Nicolae Ceausescu, Josip Broz Tito and the Shah of Iran, while the Grand Cross of the Order of Dannebrog has also been awarded to Herman Göring and Elena Ceausescu.