ON a weekend train ferry between the Danish islands of Funen and Zealand, an old Muppets show plays on overhead TV screens to wide interest and broad smiles. But when the program changes to a news special on the implications of Denmark's May 18 vote on the European Community's Maastricht Treaty, heads turn away.
"Isn't Sunday supposed to be a day of rest?" responds one young woman when asked why she did not continue watching the TV. "I wait here," she adds, looking out from a railing toward the sea, "until they put on something else."
Waiting, says Danish historian Soren Morch, is what many Danes are doing today. "There is a feeling that an epoch of history is running out, so people are waiting to see what will come to fill the void," he says. "Unfortunately, the European Community does not answer this desire, this expectation that something will come along. It's too bureacratic and distant."
According to Professor Morch, people in Scandinavia are wondering about the future of the social welfare states they have built. On the one hand, he says, people are bored with that system, as if the level of health, education, and material comfort attained has lost its appeal. "It's the Candide syndrome," he says, referring to the Voltaire character who finally reaches El Dorado but becomes bored with its perfection.
On the other hand, he adds, people are worried that a sinking economy could be a long-term change, with an influx of foreigners "leading to a new proletariat." With trouble mounting in eastern Europe, people fear the region's instability will increase.
Morch notes that environmentalism has attracted some limited interest, but says spirituality has remained too "fragmented" to constitute a common vision. "People aren't embracing a center, only a lot of different spiritualities," he says.
Part of the reason for the questioning, Morch says, is that Denmark is a homogeneous country where "the average Dane feels it is his responsibility to make things work." But now, as they contemplate a new step with the EC, many Danes worry this responsibility is slipping out of their hands.
"People are waiting for something to respond to this mix of dreams and fears," Morch says, "but the absence of any vision says they simply don't know what."