This is the last issue of The Murmur. We’ve come a long way since our first issue in June 2014, and we’ve survived this far despite the odds. Throughout our 41 issues, we’ve stuck to our promise to deliver high-quality news and features about Danish society, culture and politics – in English, for everyone.
We’ve had to make some sacrifices to keep our writers writing, the printer printing, and our distributor driving. We made our own money, and earned some government funding along the way. But it’s not been enough to grow in the way we had hoped. The sensible decision is to call it a day.
The Murmur wouldn’t have been possible without my three co-founders, Jesper Nymark, Mark Millen and Kevin McGwin. They took a chance on including me in the project, for which I’ll be forever grateful. Mark’s done a fantastic job as our director and head of sales and marketing by keeping the money flowing. It’s been an absolute pleasure working beside our art director Mette Salomonsen, who designed and laid out the newspaper every month. Rasmus Degnbol has been my rock as photography editor – I’m honoured he chose to work with me. Aileen Itani is the best proofreader I could have asked for. And special mention must also go to James R Luke (AKA Barnes) and Hristo Aleksandrov for tirelessly delivering the newspaper month after month.
But most important are you, the readers. I’m moved beyond words that we had a loyal audience who supported our work and shared us with their friends and colleagues.
I’m sitting at my desk at 22:33 on Saturday night. Tomorrow at 16:00, the newspaper goes to print for the last time. All I have to do is write this, and I’m not sure what I want to say. I’ve always found the editorial hard to write. If there’s anything this job has taught me, it’s to be sceptical of opinion writers. Few people have clear worldviews that can be condensed into regular chunks of prose. The world is too complicated for that.
I hoped to let the content do the talking. What we had to say about Denmark could be found between the lines of the interviews, features and articles about living in Denmark today. But no matter how hard we tried to diversify the content, we constantly found ourselves circling issues of identity and belonging – what does it mean to be Danish? What does it mean to be a minority in Denmark?
Denmark is a paradox. It’s a small, homogenous country with enormous social cohesion. But it’s also incredibly outward-looking and cosmopolitan. The first causes the second – the best defence against external forces is to be open to them.
It’s this negotiation that Denmark is struggling with. And they’re not alone. Brexit and Trump are both manifestations of a desire to claw back a sense of control and independence. The fear is that the outside world will corrupt what makes ‘us’ special.
For many Danes (and Brits and Americans) the biggest external fear is Islam – or rather, the idea that Muslims, armed with anti-democratic values embedded in Sharia law, will overrun Denmark through mass immigration, refugees, and rapid population growth. Just like in Germany in 1933, they’ll vote away democracy.
This fear informs the highest levels of Denmark’s right wing government. They express skepticism at the possibility of having religious convictions and also believing in democracy. The government – with the help of the Social Democrats – has now withdrawn Denmark from its obligation to resettle UN refugees. Their answer to perceived anti-democratic forces is to abandon humanism. To preserve Denmark as a free, open and tolerant country, the only solution is to be illiberal, closed and intolerant. How far will they go in abandoning their values in order to protect them?
Quite far, it seems. The repeated cuts to social welfare and spending on research, education and foreign aid would not have been possible without DF’s votes – a party that is otherwise pro-welfare. In exchange for these votes, they’ve been granted restrictions on immigration. And as the number of immigrants and refugees has dropped, so too has the quality of public services residents can expect. It doesn’t matter that their grandparents in nursing homes only get one shower a week – at least they don’t live next door to a Muslim. Ugh.
And look, I’m not an open-borders fanatic. It’s the most vulnerable who are most affected by high levels of immigration, through competition for limited low-wage work and cheap housing. I’m a huge supporter of the EU, but even I had to admit in the Brexit debates that EU migrants to the UK suppressed wage growth at the low end of the scale and ultimately undermined support for the project. It’s sad that Social Democrats are now lending their votes to the anti-immigration agenda. But if a majority of Danes want tighter borders, they’ve got to get in on the action in order to stem the flow of voters to DF. It’s disheartening that the only conceivable future left-wing government would have to continue these strict immigration policies.
I don’t have an answer to how many immigrants and refugees Denmark can afford to take. I’m hopelessly unqualified to answer that. I just know that the closer to zero we make that number, the less Denmark becomes a place that is worth living in. The collateral damage gets too high as it becomes increasingly impossible to make a life in Denmark without a Danish passport. The net just continues to tighten around those of us in the international community (expats, refugees and immigrants alike).
In the process, Denmark gets poorer, because we are the fresh blood that is vital for keeping Denmark culturally and economically wealthy. They can’t do it without us – the people who move here for the promise that this country offers, and who now watch Parliament in shock and wonder, “How far will they go in abandoning their values in order to protect them?”
If anything, I hope that The Murmur contributed to making the argument that liberal freedoms and human rights are worth fighting for. That we need to listen to each other and acknowledge each other’s hopes and fears. And that while the world is big and scary and there are horrible people out there with religious arguments to justify their bigotry, we all lose if we fight back with bigotry of our own. M