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Ulrik Wilbek: Irrespective of political ideologies, I always strive to involve as many council members as possible

Ulrik Wilbek: Irrespective of political ideologies, I always strive to involve as many council members as possible

An interview with Ulrik Wilbek, the Mayor of Viborg in Denmark

Although Ulrik Wilbek had always been involved in politics and was a member of the City Council, he was also known as Denmark’s most successful handball coach. Now, he is the Mayor of one of Denmark's largest and oldest municipalities, Viborg. Wilbek assumed office in 2017 and is now working hard to give back to the city he has lived in for decades. 

Mayor Ulrik Wilbek, how would you describe Viborg and what does the name of the city mean?

Viborg Municipality is the 9th largest municipality in Denmark in terms of citizens and the 2nd largest when it comes to size. The municipality has around 97,000 citizens living in more than 70 towns and villages – the largest being the City of Viborg, with its approximately 41,000 citizens.

As a UNESCO Creative City in Media Arts, we are known around the world for our visual industry. Other strongholds are bioeconomy and agriculture, healthcare and welfare technology, data centre technology – and of course, our strong women’s handball team – Viborg HK.

The City of Viborg is the second oldest in Denmark. The formation of the city started around the year 1,000 but before that, the place was already a sacred gathering place. The name Viborg means the holy hill in that ‘vi’ stems from the old word ‘wii’, which means holy, and the word ‘borg’ is derived from the old word ‘berg’, which means hill or mountain.

Prior to becoming the Mayor of Viborg, you were Denmark’s most successful handball coach. Could you tell us more about when and how you decided to pursue a career in politics?

I have always been involved in politics and was, several years ago, also a member of Viborg City Council. In 2016, I was at a stage in my life where I wanted to do something new. And if I were to do that, it had to be now.

I, therefore, decided to run in the local elections – and became mayor in 2017. This has given me the opportunity to do something for the municipality that I have lived in for 30 years.

Viborg is the second oldest city in Denmark, and it is also the second largest in size. How do you ensure the preservation of its rich history and heritage?

This is one of the important obligations that politicians in a municipality like Viborg have. It is important to preserve the cultural heritage and develop it at the same time.

This is the reason why we are in the process of rethinking Viborg Museum and turning it into a museum where we - as an old royal city – will tell the history of Denmark, as seen from the perspective of the Western part of Denmark.

How has the pandemic impacted your city and what measures did you find most effective against the spread of the virus? Moreover, how did you manage to persuade the city’s large population to cooperate and comply with these measures?

In Viborg Municipality, we have until now been both rather lucky and good at keeping the spread of the virus at a minimum. Everyone has been very disciplined and good at complying with the restrictions and hygiene guidelines – something that I’m very proud of.

It has however been a difficult time for many of our local companies as well as our culture and experience-based sector.

Once the pandemic is over, what are some plans and projects that you have in mind for the city’s recovery?

We have continuously launched many different initiatives – not least within the experience-based sector, culture and sports. I follow the development very closely and am very focused on the challenges that exist. This also applies to the welfare services where some of the most vulnerable people need more help now.

TheMayor.EU is a unique platform that allows European mayors to share their achievements and explain how they have overcome challenges in their cities. As the Mayor of Viborg, what ideas or advice would you like to share with other leaders?

My humble advice: The best you can do as mayor is to involve all city council members and encourage all politicians to contribute as much as possible. Viborg City Council has 31 members who, between them, represent six different parties.

However, irrespective of political ideologies, I always strive to involve as many as possible. As a politician, the more democratic the decisions are perceived to be, the larger the inclination to work for the solutions is.

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