Pork-pushing persecuting populists

Once revered internationally, Denmark is now getting used to being condemned in the press, first for killing a giraffe and a lion, and now the government’s controversial refugee regulations. The laws may be demeaning, but the global condemnation is also rank with hypocrisy and sensationalism

In recent years a Dane browsing the web could, for the most part, be proud of his country. The best restaurant in the world, happiest people, best place for women and, almost, the most bike-friendly city in the world.

Last November, Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders joked to a DR correspondent that if his campaign did not bear fruit he would “move to Denmark“. Meanwhile, writing for the New York Times, Paul Krugman argued that the structure of Danish society refutes “just about everything U.S. conservatives say about economics“.

Fall from grace
Last month, a change to Denmark’s immigration laws made headlines around the world. From Al Jazeera to Canada’s The Globe and Mail, the issue was discussed and dissected. Columnists were outraged and the goodwill directed at Denmark in recent years began taking serious hits.

International news outlets searched out Danes to comment on the changes. The Guardian placed a form on its front page where ordinary Danes could share their experience of living in such a “tense political climate”. Over the course of just two days, on January 28 and 29, the newspaper published seven articles on the issue, including one where ‘The Killing’ star Sofie Gråbøl said that the new laws “hurt”.

Personally, I find the changes to the laws terrible, shameful and downright ridiculous. But I also found myself wondering why new laws – which don’t even break the UN’s refugee convention – in a small Northern European country were worthy of primetime discussions and front-page articles?

My suspicion is that this is just a phenomenal story. A once near-utopian society turns its back on all its values. A hero becomes a villain.

CNN interviewed MP Kenneth K. Berth from the Danish People’s Party (DF), who said that he had seen refugees return to their home countries “like Iran” because they “could not attend enough discotheques“.

Berth is an interesting choice for a major American TV network to interview on the subject. He might be an MP, but he doesn’t belong to the government. He isn’t even his party’s immigration spokesperson, but rather DF’s representative on EU issues.

So why Berth? Well, he is incredibly inflammatory. In 2004 he channelled the spirit  of Cecil B. Rhodes and claimed that if it weren’t for “Europe colonising Africa”, the continent would have continued with “slavery and cannibalism”.

In the early 2000s he and childhood friend MEP Morten Messerschmidt were sentenced to 14 days in prison for a racist poster campaign depicting blood-splattered Muslim men holding the Koran.

Why does a major American TV network, care about the views of an Islamophobic colonialist from Odense?

An article in the Atlantic entitled “How not to welcome refugees”, referred to the new laws as “passive aggressive”, before mentioning a decision by the north Jutland town of Randers to make pork mandatory on the menus of all public institutions.

The article failed to mention that halal meat will also be served, and that no one will be forced to eat anything forbidden according to their convictions.

Say what you want about ‘frikadeller gate’, but what does a narrowly passed-rule (16 for, 15 against) in Denmark’s sixth-largest municipality have to do with changes in refugee regulations?

The Danish Reich
The sensationalist narrative illustrates that Denmark – a country that presidential hopefuls, left-wingers, bike enthusiasts and foodies once looked up to – is turning its back on enlightened and progressive politics.

This point is illustrated in an outrageous opinion piece by The Guardian religion correspondent, Andrew Brown.

“We seem to be in the middle of a huge re-evaluation of the image of Sweden and Denmark,” he wrote, adding that policies of the two countries were now “being managed by neo-Nazis.”

This was not the only time The Guardian invoked Godwin’s Law. Two days earlier the newspaper’s cartoonist Steven Bell drew a picture of Danish PM Lars Løkke dressed up like Adolf Hitler next to the caption “probably the stupidest party in the world”.

In regards to Sweden, The Guardian published yet another article reporting that the Scandinavian country would repatriate 80,000 asylum seekers whose applications had been denied. “The revelation that a large proportion of asylum seekers will be turned down, and as many as half of failed applications will be forcibly ejected, sends another signal to refugees that Sweden is no longer extending the warm welcome it offered to them just a few months ago,” the article stated.

Does it? If a person doesn’t meet the criteria of a refugee, should they still be granted asylum?

Sawdust and planks
While American media outlets The Atlantic, The New York Times and CNN are incensed by the changes, it is important to remember that the US has only decided to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. This is relative to Denmark accepting only 175 Syrians.

It’s a horrifyingly low number, given that the responsibility for the Syrian and Iraqi quagmire lies heavily on the shoulders of the US and the UK. It is pretty easy to make a mess, but pretty shit to clean it up.

And while it doesn’t make Denmark’s laws any better, other countries already have similar laws to those that were recently introduced here. Since 2008, refugees in the Netherlands have had to hand over 75 percent of their income to the government to cover costs. Last year, the sum collected amounted to around million Danish kroner. For a decade Switzerland has had rules requiring refugees to hand over valuables worth over 7,000 kroner, 3,000 less than the Danish law. Furthermore, refugees that are granted the right to stay and work have to give up 10 percent of their income for ten years to pay for their asylum.

So maybe we should cool it on the outrage. Denmark did not turn into a “neo-Nazi” reich overnight. The refugee crisis is an international problem, so until the large countries of the world start leading by example, then small countries will take unilateral steps they believe to be right. Keep it in perspective. M


By Elias Thorsson

Managing editor. @Eliasthorsson elias@murmur.dk

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