Mark Collins – Refugees, Migrants, Muslims–Guess What: The Danes are Danish

In the first half of the 1970s I had for several years in Canada a Danish girlfriend and also spent some time with her in Denmark.  I was struck by the profound nationalism of the Danes, most of the time of a light-hearted yet very confident sort.  They viewed Norwegians as sort of country bumpkins and the Swedes as humourlessly serious; but at least not Germans.

My girlfriend’s mother had lived through the German occupation and her shop in the summer catered mainly to German tourists.  She knew their language and used it with them because she needed to.  I had no Danish but did have some German; but when my girlfriend and I stayed with her she refused on principle to use German with me even though she had no English.  We still got along well but I think her example was indicative of the national character (yes, RoC Canadians, there is such a thing) that is described in the following excerpts from an article in the NY Review of Books:

Liberal, Harsh Denmark

Hugh Eakin

And then there is Denmark. A small, wealthy Scandinavian democracy of 5.6 million people, it is according to most measures one of the most open and egalitarian countries in the world. It has the highest income equality and one of the lowest poverty rates of any Western nation. Known for its nearly carbon-neutral cities, its free health care and university education for all, its bus drivers who are paid like accountants, its robust defense of gay rights and social freedoms, and its vigorous culture of social and political debate, the country has long been envied as a social-democratic success, a place where the state has an improbably durable record of doing good. Danish leaders also have a history of protecting religious minorities: the country was unique in Nazi-occupied Europe in prosecuting anti-Semitism and rescuing almost its entire Jewish population.

When it comes to refugees, however, Denmark has long led the continent in its shift to the right—and in its growing domestic consensus that large-scale Muslim immigration is incompatible with European social democracy. To the visitor, the country’s resistance to immigrants from Africa and the Middle East can seem implacable. In last June’s Danish national election—months before the Syrian refugee crisis hit Europe—the debate centered around whether the incumbent, center-left Social Democrats or their challengers, the center-right Liberal Party, were tougher on asylum-seekers. The main victor was the Danish People’s Party, a populist, openly anti-immigration party, which drew 21 percent of the vote, its best performance ever. Its founder, Pia Kjærsgaard, for years known for suggesting that Muslims “are at a lower stage of civilization,” is now speaker of the Danish parliament. With the backing of the Danish People’s Party, the center-right Liberals formed a minority government that has taken one of the hardest lines on refugees of any European nation…

These developments culminated in late January of this year, when [Liberal Prime Minister] Rasmussen’s minister of integration, Inger Støjberg, a striking, red-headed forty-two-year-old who has come to represent the government’s aggressive anti-refugee policies, succeeded in pushing through parliament an “asylum austerity” law that has gained notoriety across Europe. The new law, which passed with support from the Social Democrats as well as the Danish People’s Party, permits police to strip-search asylum-seekers and confiscate their cash and most valuables above 10,000 Danish kroner ($1,460) to pay for their accommodation; delays the opportunity to apply for family reunification by up to three years; forbids asylum-seekers from residing outside refugee centers, some of which are tent encampments; reduces the cash benefits they can receive; and makes it significantly harder to qualify for permanent residence. One aim, a Liberal MP explained to me, is simply to “make Denmark less attractive to foreigners.”

Danish hostility to refugees is particularly startling in Scandinavia, where there is a pronounced tradition of humanitarianism…

In part, the Danish approach has been driven by the country’s long experience with terrorism and jihadism. Nearly a decade before the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January 2015, and the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris in November, the publication of the so-called Muhammad cartoons by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten had already turned Denmark into a primary target for extremists. Initially driven by a group of Danish imams, outcry against the cartoons gave strength to several small but radical groups among the country’s 260,000 Muslims. These groups have been blamed for the unusually large number of Danes—perhaps as many as three hundred or more—who have gone to fight in Syria, including some who went before the rise of ISIS in 2013…

…many Danes I talked to are less concerned about terrorism than about the threat they see Muslims posing to their way of life. Though Muslims make up less than 5 percent of the population, there is growing evidence that many of the new arrivals fail to enter the workforce, are slow to learn Danish, and end up in high-crime immigrant neighborhoods where, while relying on extensive state handouts, they and their children are cut off from Danish society…

…The modern  state emerged in the late nineteenth century, following a series of defeats by Bismarck’s Germany in which it lost much of its territory and a significant part of its population. Several Danish writers have linked this founding trauma to a lasting national obsession with invasion and a continual need to assert danskhed, or Danishness.

Among other things, these preoccupations have given the Danish welfare system an unusually important part in shaping national identity. Visitors to Denmark will find the Danish flag on everything from public buses to butter wrappers; many of the country’s defining institutions, from its universal secondary education (Folkehøjskoler—the People’s High Schools) to the parliament (Folketinget—the People’s House) to the Danish national church (Folkekirken—the People’s Church) to the concept of democracy itself (Folkestyret—the Rule of the People) have been built to reinforce a strong sense of folke, the Danish people [and then there’s Hyggelig, the essence of Danishness]…

As the advanced democracies of Europe reconsider their physical and psychological borders with the Muslim world, the restrictive Danish approach to immigration and the welfare state offers a stark alternative. Brought into the political process far earlier than its counterparts elsewhere, the Danish People’s Party is a good deal more moderate than, say, the National Front in France; but it also has succeeded in shaping, to an extraordinary degree, the Danish immigration debate. In recent weeks, Denmark’s Social Democrats have struggled to define their own immigration policy amid sagging support. When I asked former prime minister Fogh Rasmussen about how the Danish People’s Party differed from the others on asylum-seekers and refugees, he said, “You have differences when it comes to rhetoric, but these are nuances.”

In January, more than 60,000 refugees arrived in Europe, a thirty-five-fold increase from the same month last year; but in Denmark, according to Politiken [the leading newspaper], the number of asylum-seekers has steadily declined since the start of the year, with only 1,400 seeking to enter the country. In limiting the kind of social turmoil now playing out in Germany, Sweden, and France, the Danes may yet come through the current crisis a more stable, united, and open society than any of their neighbors. But they may also have shown that this openness extends no farther than the Danish frontier.

—February 10, 2016

Some history well known to Danes: in the war of 1864 they were defeated by the Prussians and Austrians; but in the war of 1848-51 against the German Confederation the Danes won (more here from 1850).  On one visit to Denmark my girlfriend–a smart and very liberated modern lady–made a point of taking me to a battlefield.  One would have been hard pressed to find a Canadian lady of her generation doing anything similar.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds 


2 thoughts on “Mark Collins – Refugees, Migrants, Muslims–Guess What: The Danes are Danish”

  1. Now consider this compared to what Canada will be doing vs ISIS–and how broad is the political support:

    ‘Denmark to send troops to Syria

    A majority of Parliament has approved sending Danish F-16 fighter jets, a transport aircraft and a team of special forces to fight the organisation Islamic State in Syria.

    As of mid-2016, the total Danish military contribution will encompass about 400 soldiers, incuding pilots and support personnel. 60 of the 400 will be member of the two Danish special forces groups: the Hunter Corps (Jægerkorpset) and the Frogman Corps (Frømandskorpset).

    “The government wishes to intensify the battle against the terror orgnisation IS. We need to fight IS, which kills innocent men, women and children, with targeted efforts and power,” said the prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

    “It’s a serious decision to send Danish men and women on a mission in one of the world’s flash points and I appreciate that the government’s proposal enjoyed broad support from the parties in Parliament.”

    Aside from the Venstre-led government, the broad majority that supported the proposal consisted of Dansk Folkeparti, Socialdemokraterne, Konservative and Radikale…’

    Mark Collins

  2. In 1978, while on a leave of absence from External Affairs, I attended on behalf of the CBC the funeral in Toronto of the major Canadian capitalist John Angus (Bud) McDougald at a “limo-lined Catholic funeral at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Cathedral”…

    I noticed that all those limos were Cadillacs, Lincolns and Rollers with not a Mercedes in sight (no Lexi back then). I asked someone with whom I was, and who well knew the Laurentian elite, about that; he explained that our Anglo elite had still not got over the Germans. Bit of principle?

    Mark Collins

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s