Saturday, March 11, 2006

Inside Fortress Denmark UPDATED

A small, clean and nice country becomes the target of islamic anger only because of a couple of caricatures. It is not noticed how Danish politics for years has been dominated by enmity to foreigners….
The German reporter Wolfgang Zank writes in the prestigious magazine die Zeit about his encounter with Denmark. At first he visits Jyllandsposten, which is like a fortress in itself, a kind of symbol of the larger fortress that is the whole of Denmark. Later he talks with the progressive businessman Lars Kolind, for many years the boss of successful Danish high-tech companies like Oticon (electronic hearing aids) and Radiometer (medico equipment). Kolind says:

“Until about five years ago it was always a pleasure to travel around in the world as a representative of Danish business. Denmark was known as an open, humanistic and socially responsible country. That is no longer the case. The brand name that it took almost a hundred years to build up, is destroyed. I have also met the notion that Denmark is a closed country, that it is bad at adopting people that are different to ourselves.”

Zank notes that Denmark has changed from the colourful utopia that was once part of its brand. The image of the country was among other things associated with the “Republic of Christiania”, in the centre of Copenhagen, a place of anarchy, cannabis and thus a signal of tolerance of alternative life styles. Now the country is associated with racist remarks made by politicians from the Danish People’s Party, for instance Louise Frevert and Mogens Camre.


“Denmarks immigration policy prevents social tensions, and it is copied by other European countries”, Fogh says to the news agency Ritzau on March 12th, by way of answering the criticism made by Die Zeit.

“I reject that criticism entirely”. On the contrary, an international investigation recently showed that the Danish population is among the most open and engaging populations that one can find, and that is also my clear image of Denmark. It is an open society. It is a tolerant society……. I see that still more European countries are following in the steps of Denmark”, both with regard to debate and political development.
“We welcome people with a foreign background, if they come to Denmark with the intention to contribute with something positive. But it is also obvious, of course, that the Danish population impose some limits, because it must be possible to offer work and education to those who come. If the consequence is just that the number of people on social transfers increases, then It leads to social tensions in society that serve nobody”.

It is sensational that the Danish prime minister answers criticism in a magazine. Die Zeit is generally considered the most prestigious and serious newsmagazine in Germany. Still it is unusual for a PM to comment on what a magazine writes. And considering the number of articles about Denmark in newsmedia around the world after the cartoons crisis, he would have to be rather busy.
So, does that mean that something really is rotten in the state of Denmark, when the PM feels this need to explain the current policy? One might say he could have been more detailed in his characterization of Danish immigration policy and for instance mentioned the lower rate of welfare payments to asylum seekers and the 24 year rule for family related residence permits, - and perhaps also new rules for exams that applicants for citizenship are given. Most important, however, is the climate of opinion. A lot of Danes are tolerant and open, but there are quite a few that express very derogatory views on immigrants, among them politicians from the DPP (in the archive on this blog, you can find documentation of racist remarks, transcribed in English).


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