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Populists in Europe (3/8) : Danish ethnocentrism

Thursday, 15 May, 2014 - 14:04

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The far right has been riding high in Denmark for over ten years. Xenophobic ideas defended by the Danish People’s Party have crept into the whole society.

Refusing a multi-ethnic society is the basic ideology of the Danish People’s Party – Dansk Folkeparti or DF – founded in 1995 by Pia Kjærsgaard and led since September 2012 by Kristian Thulesen Dahl. This ideology comes from French far-right groups and is inspired by Alain de Benoist’s “Research and Study Groupe for European Civilization” or GRECE.

The DF advocates excluding foreigners not because of race but because of a supposed incompatibility between cultures and civilizations. The party does not see Denmark as a natural immigration country and therefore refuses to see it become a multi-ethnic society and wishes to dramatically reduce immigration in order to counter the “islamization of Danish society”, as our colleagues from France 3 show in the video below.

Because of their support to the liberal-conservative coalition from 2001 to 2011, the DF managed to pass several of their ideas into law, for instant reinstating border controls with Germany and Sweden, which goes against European treaties signed by Denmark.

They are also calling for harsher sentences for immigrants who commit crimes such as rape and assault. When it comes to foreign affairs, the party is Europhobic, advocates maintaining the Danish crown and is opposed to Turkey entering the EU.

National populism with a social focus

The DF is cultivating ambiguity. They have no problem mixing left-wing principles such as gender equality, LGBT rights and strengthened social security with right-wing policies like promoting free enterprise, rejecting multiculturalism and uniting around the Danish Church. They also have a profoundly islamophobic stance with Pia Kjærsgaard declaring publicly that “muslims are liars, cheaters and profiteers”. 

As soon as it was created, the DF encountered success with a 7% share in the 1997 municipal elections, threatening even the social-democrats in their traditional constituencies. In the 2001 legislative elections, they got 12% of the vote and won 22 seats out of the 179 that make up Denmark’s single house parliament.

Uniting with ‘‘respectable’’ parties

It was then that Pia Kjærsgaard set up the strategy which would prove very successful and which is also used by the PVV in the Netherlands. Instead of entering government with the liberal-conservative coalition, he offered his parliamentary support to a minority cabinet.

This strategy turned out to pay since the alliance lasted ten years. From 2001 to 2011, the liberal-conservative coalition ruled the country practically without having to share power and profoundly affected legislation, especially regarding foreigners.

In the 2011 legislative elections, the social-democrats made a comeback with 24.8%, far ahead of the DF’s 12.3%. But a March 13th 2013 poll by MetroXpress showed that the public opinion had already turned and that in case of an election, the DF would win with 17.8% while a centre-left coalition would only receive 16.5% of the vote. This was a real slap in the face for Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt who had said during the campaign that “any result below 30% would be a complete fiasco”.

Since then, the left-wing government has been feuding over a series of issues. These tensions may well reinforce the appeal of the populists.

A difficult stance to counter

Fighting a party which takes on a dual role is not easy. Not only are the DF and their ideas a heavy influence on government policy, but they also play the part of the outsider encouraging or criticizing leaders depending on the circumstances.

This is why denunciations of DF-inspired immigration policy came mostly from outside, especially from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance which criticized the human rights breach this policy caused, particularly regarding the right to family reunification. In a recent report, ECRI lashed out at the treatment given to immigrant populations as can be seen in the excerpt below.

Some media continue to portray minority groups, especially Muslims and Roma, in a negative light. Some politicians, especially from the Danish People’s Party, have continued to make disparaging statements about groups of concern to ECRI in general and Muslims in particular, portraying them in a constantly negative light. Few have been prosecuted. The public’s attitude towards Roma is negative and they face discrimination and harassment. Asylum seekers are still not allowed to attend high school or university in Denmark. The cumulative effect of these trends has been to produce a climate which has affected negatively specific areas of policy which impact directly on groups of concern to ECRI.

In June 2011, the Danish Parliament adopted new rules for spousal reunification which further tightened the strict rules already in force. Some elements of this law amount to direct or indirect discrimination against groups of concern to ECRI. Among other things, the spouse residing in Denmark must not have received public assistance for the past three years and must have had ordinary full-time employment in Denmark for at least two years and six months out of the past three years. These, combined with the high amounts involved in the process disproportionately affect groups of concern to ECRI who suffer from higher levels of unemployment and poverty than ethnic Danes.

During the Muhammad cartoon row involving the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on September 30th 2005, antiracist activists had a hard time countering the DF’s discourse on “defending Freedom of Speech as a fundamental Danish value”.

The strongest resistances to the People’s Party came from Danish cities which have been fully competent since 2007 regarding education, social protection, health, urban development, employment and local economic development.

It was the case with Copenhagen which was led by a left-wing coalition. The city was on the opposite path of the national majority from 2001 to 2011. It launched two initiatives that can be compared to Wij Amsterdammers in the Netherlands: VI KBH’R’ (We, the people of Copenhagen) and Engage in the City. The objective was to “promote inclusion and dialogue between citizens of the city and celebrate its diversity” and to oppose the DF’s stance.

FOCUS : When the DF steps aside in favour of pork

In Denmark, city councils are often made up of coalitions of diverse parties with different objectives. None of the 98 Danish municipalities are ruled solely by the Danish People’s Party but, as with the government, they manage to impose their ideas at the local level, even when they have no seats in the Council.

In Hvidovre, a small town located ten kilometres from Copenhagen, a DF candidate gave up his seat to the social-democrats in exchange for a promise to serve pork in the school cafeteria.

“Things like toast, minced meat, roast pork and meatballs. The rule is to serve traditional Danish food” he explained after an intense day of negotiations.

This initiative brings to mind the “pork sausage and wine parties” organized in France by nationalist groups.

The DF has not taken up power but instead has been spreading its ideas, which have permeated all levels of society. Denmark has become the European country with the toughest laws on asylum and immigration.

(Tranlation : Clemence Grison)