Friday, April 21, 2006

Across the love bridge to the promised land

(Across the bridge, my Dear, you and I will find the promised land of our mutual love)

One of the readers of my blog, Elizabeth from New York, wrote and asked me to evaluate something, her father had written on her blog about Danish racism.
This is quite interesting as an example of how foreigners view Denmark and Danish "racism", particularly in view of the enormous transformations Danish society is going through at the moment. The present situation can be characterised as one in which Denmark is opening up to globalisation in the economic field and closing to it in the field of human relations. That leads to a strangely backward and contradictory way of doing things and viewing the world. Large swathes of the Danish population even get at odds with progressive business interests that want an open and tolerant attitude to immigration, as this is a precondition for the effective development of the economy in the supposedly "open" global market.

Especially this part of Elisabeth's (father's) piece on Danish "racism" is quite to the point:

"Danes are odd in that they are well educated and great travelers, and have a splendid record on foreign aid, but at the same time seem to have very little empathy for people from different cultures. They like their homogeneous tight little island and feel uncomfortable if too many swarthy people are walking the streets with them. Much of the problem stems from their 1973 decision to alleviate a shortage of production workers by opening the gates of immigration to a lot of poor folk from the south and east -- mostly Yugoslavs, Pakistanis, and Turks, as it turned out."

- Even though, it's a bit exaggerated. Actually, only some 60.000 foreign workers came as part of the gueest worker programme, most of them Turks.
They are not the big integration problem, however. That is the asylum seekers and refugees entering the country in the 1990's. Particularly the 200.000 muslims, and especially the approximately ten per cent strong islamic believers among them. Many Danes see them as quite alien to the secular Danish culture.Denmark is not, like America, a "melting pot" of immigrant groups where people come and often live in separate groups next to each other. The Americans have their Chinatowns, their Little Italys, etc. Denmark, on the other hand, is a quite homogeneous country, - or has been a quite homogeneous country. Some years ago a certain neighbourhood in Copenhagen got populated mostly with Turks, and it was called "Little Turkey". A lot of Danes found it highly inappropriate that "foreigners" should gather in the same place. Demands were put to politicians that "the ghettos be dissolved". "Ghettos" are considered dangerous fractional activity.
The "foreigners" only constitute some 6-7 per cent of the Danish population. And those of them that are found hard to integrate only some 3 per cent. But the "problem" gets an unproportionately large media coverage. And the problem has transformed traditional Danish politics in fundamental ways. Previously the Social Democrats, who consider themselves the builders of the Danish welfare state, had a kind of birth right to government formation. Large party to the centre/centre-left in the political spectrum. That position they have no longer. The Danish electorate no longer feel they can handle the immigrant problems, and they have been voted out of power.

Danes get very uncomfortable at being called racist. They have traditionally considered themselves one of the most tolerant, humanitarian and generous (for instance in development aid) peoples of the world. It's difficult to come to terms with the new image of the "ugly Dane" participating in the Iraq war, America's staunchest ally in Northern Europe, tough on immigration etc. And a lot of them are yearning back to the good old times when they were world leaders in progressive policies, like calling for boycott of South African goods under apartheid in that country, giving more than one per cent of GDP in development assistance and supporting freedom fighters in Africa and Latin America. Many Danes are yearning back to that time. Usually that part of the brain that is dealing with the question of national identity is one of the most complex and contradictory: I want to be one thing, but I also want to be that other thing. What is going on there is opposed to the logic of normal language.

For some reason the Swedes seem to be better at integrating foreign people. The Bridge to Malmoe across the Sound is called the "Love Bridge". More than a thousand couples of mixed nationalities have moved to Malmoe, even though they continue working in Copenhagen. They flee the tight immigration laws in Denmark that make it difficult to be united with a bride or groom of another nationality, if that person is under 24. One of the official excuses for the policy is that it prevents arranged marriages, and hence is necessary to protect the girls. But it has the effect of stopping many inter-national couples, in which one is a Danish citizen, from moving together and getting a common home in Denmark:

A group of Danes recently gathered on Malmo's main square to protest, saying they felt hurt and betrayed. They also expressed deep gratitude to their Swedish neighbours. “I'm very grateful to Sweden. I know they had to take me but they were extremely welcoming,” says Ms Reves, who now lives in a Malmo apartment with her Egyptian husband. As many as 1,000 couples have now crossed the love bridge. The Swedish migration board reckons that Danes are arriving at a rate of 60 couples a month. The exodus could one day even exceed the country's previous migration record, set in 1943, when more than 7,000 Danish Jews were spirited across the Oresund to escape the Nazis. Then, as now, Danes found welcome refuge in Sweden. (The Economist)


Blogger Sophia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Sophia said...

I like the poetic tone of this post.
As for multiculturalism, I can tell you as I exerienced it in a north American society, multiculturalism is better than integration for jobs and rights. However it does not bring social justice for immigrants. In my opiniuon, multiculturalism does not produce a 'melting pot' but only a mosaic society where individuals must be grouped wthin their communities if they want to defend their rights. This is communautarism. Communautarism is different from individualism. I defend cultural and social individualism (not economic individualism), the kind of cultural and social context that permits the indvidual in a foreign society to choose the values he wants to adhere to. As an immigrant, I may not want to stick to the values of my ethnic and cultural community of origin. I lived in France for 11 years in a mixed marriage and as a middle eastern and I can tell you, despite all the international outcry about the French model, I completely adhere to the French model of universalism, integration and individualism. The weakness of the French model is that it is only a theory and nobody in the French society is actually ready to apply it.
I understand that European societies want to stay homogenous and therefore to integrate. Danish are not the only ones. There is nothing wrong with integration when you give as much as what you ask from immigrants.
My preferred model of immigration is integration. I felt that 'multiculturalism' in North America is indifference. There is no synthesis between cultures and no common values, this is contrary to building a real society and a real CITY (in the ancient grecque philosophical sense of the term).

8:52 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Duck said...

The French model, I've heard, is sometimes called republicanism. It is based on the traditions from the French revolution: Liberté, egalité, fraternité. Everybody is supposed to be equal in the public sphere. That's the reason why the French have adopted a ban on religious head dress.

Actually, when it comes down to reality, everybody is not equal. To some extent it has something to do with the high level of unemployment. It is mostly immigrants that become the victims of unemployment, and then you get the problems of the desolate suburbs with unemployed immigrant youth.

In Denmark the integration policies that have been the norm up to now are on the point of being replaced by a push towards assimilation. This is due to the influence of the Danish People's Party (DPP) on the Danish conservative-liberalist government. It's hard for the DPP to accept the immigrants of a muslim background unless they are more or less assimilated into Danish society. That's a pity. I think multiculturalism is a better model: You should integrate the immigrants by accepting their differentness. We don't all have to drink Tuborg or Carlsberg and have small statuettes of the Little Mermaid, - and read the cosy tales by Hans Christian Andersen.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Duck said...

To continue the previous post: Of course it is only in schools and public institutions in France that religious head dress in prohibited.

We have had almost similar cases in Denmark, but they have been won by the muslim girls/women, in on case in a civil law suit against a supermarket, and in the other case with Asmaa that has been referred to in a post on this blog, so they're allowed to wear veils.

In Denmark there are no mosques of the real kind with minarets and everything. The mosques are in abandoned factory and warehouse buildings, but now the City of Copenhagen is contemplating building a large mosque.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Sophia said...

Just to tell you I read the update. An excellent post !

11:12 AM  

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