Voters knew what they were getting when they handed the parliamentary majority to the right-wing ‘blue’ bloc of parties in June 2015. With the flow of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa steadily increasing, the Liberal Party (Venstre) promised to tighten immigration significantly if they defeated the left-wing ‘red’ bloc.
And so they did. In March, immigration minister Inger Støjberg announced on Facebook that she had just passed the 50th new immigration law.
“That calls for a celebration!” she wrote to caption a photo in which she held a cake decorated with the number 50 and Danish flag.
The post was condemned for the apparent pleasure it took in thwarting refugees trying to find safety in Denmark. While Støjberg is known for being provocative on social media – writing in Politiken newspaper, Amalie Kestler argues it’s what makes her Denmark’s most popular minister – the backlash to this stunt was particularly acute, and forced Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen to defend her in the press.
“There’s nothing wrong with a government succeeding with its politics. What we are celebrating are the results, not the methods,” he told Ritzau.
A few weeks later, TV2 released a documentary showing that the number of illegal immigrants in Denmark had increased rapidly in recent years. In 2015, 877 people were charged with being in the country illegally, but by 2016 the number had risen to 1,348.
Asked to comment on the data, Støjberg urged Danes to be vigilant.
“I want ordinary Danes to contact the authorities if they are, for example, in a pizzeria and think something strange is happening in the back room because there are too many people walking around and not speaking Danish. It’s utopian to believe that police can visit every back room in Denmark,” she told TV2.
This too was strongly criticised for fostering an attitude of suspicion and mistrust toward non-Danish speakers.
“The question is what comes next,” Uffe Elbæk, leader of the Alternative, told Politiken newspaper. “Some of us remember East Germany and the Stasi and the entire phenomenon of a society that reports on each other.”
Danes protested Støjberg on social media by subverting the newspaper headlines that stated, “Støjberg encourages citizens to report on pizza restaurants”. In Danish, the same word is used for ‘to report’ and ‘to review’ – so Danes promptly started recommending their favourite pizzerias.
The chorus of disapproval did not go unanswered, though this time it was Venstre’s immigration spokesperson, MP Marcus Knuth, who addressed the media in her defence.
“I think the average, sensible Dane can tell the difference between an Italian who is legally working in an Italian restaurant and what looks like five African men walking around in a back room and communicating in a foreign language – or a rapidly changing cast of characters who appear to be behaving suspiciously or covertly,” Knuth said.
He added that the government simply didn’t want Denmark to experience the same issues as countries in Southern Europe that have a large population of refugees and migrants living without papers, often on the street.
“That’s why I am saying that if you see what you often see in Southern Europe – a large group of Africans walking around selling fake sunglasses – alarm bells will start ringing for most Danes. And you’ll think: I ought to report it.”
While the debate raged, Støjberg’s job never seemed to be at risk. Quite the opposite – and the day after her comments to TV2 News, she appeared to be working so hard that she hardly had time to stop.
“Dinner on the way to the last meeting of the day,” she wrote on Facebook, accompanied by a photo of her sitting in a car, eating a pizza. (PS)