The only positive thing about the situation in Denmark—where we have not only a riled up racist public sphere in which “foreigners” are smeared and mocked on a daily basis, but also actual race-based laws against immigrants and asylum seekers—is the certainty with which we can recognize the national democratic system as an obstacle to any kind of progressive offensive aimed at radically restructuring the wretched state of affairs at present. A first step in doing so would be to abandon any kind of confidence in the national democracy’s political forms, such as the party or the union, that still refer to the nation-state. At this point in history, the project in Denmark, and perhaps the West in general, is primarily a negative one: we must dissolve the various old, white, middle-class institutions, and stop forcing the lower classes of the world into them. We have to start over.
But how did the situation get so bad in Denmark? Of course, it can be difficult to pinpoint the turn that enabled social democratic, conservative, and liberal politicians alike to cast suspicion on immigrants in a very brutalizing language, followed by the establishment of race-based laws. When in 1997 Poul Nyrup Rasmussen’s social democratic government named Thorkild Simonsen minister of interior affairs, explicitly assigning him with the task of making it more difficult to gain asylum in Denmark, the process was already well under way. When the Nyrup Rasmussen government was reelected the following year, the newly-created, explicitly racist right-wing Danish People’s Party, headed by Pia Kjærsgaard, gained thirteen seats in parliament. The party’s campaign was solely based on hatred of foreigners, especially Muslims, and it would repeatedly allege that Islam and Muslims sought to destroy Danish society and Denmark as a nation through immigration. “The latest figures show that there are approximately 415,000 foreigners in Denmark and that in just fifteen years there will be more than a million. We are confronted with a genuine mass-migration from the Third World,” a press release stated. These figures are completely wrong—in 1998 there were 195,000 immigrants from “less developed” parts of the world, according to Statistics Denmark, making Denmark one of the least “mixed” countries in Europe.
In the winter of 1998–99, the two Danish tabloids BT and Ekstra Bladet joined the “battle” and began publishing stories on a daily basis about the ways in which immigrants were “cheating” the Danish welfare system. The racist rhetoric was setting the agenda in Denmark, and the social democratic government tried yet again to conform to the new discourse by making Karen Jespersen minister of interior affairs, with the explicit aim of tightening the immigration rules. From then on, almost all parties joined the scramble for the racist votes, all arguing against immigration and referring to a loose idea that the Danish community and a very specific Danish sensibility was threatened and needed protection.
But of course, keeping up with the Danish People’s Party was difficult, as it produced increasingly demonic representations of a small, innocent Danish heaven with green pastures and smiling people being slowly demolished by the arrival of hateful and barbarian Muslim foreigners unwilling to assimilate into the Danish community and accept its values and customs. As Danish People’s Party member Mogens Camre explained in 1999, “Muslims come here with a beggar’s staff in their hands and as soon as they are allowed inside Denmark the staff is transformed into a stick whipping us into line.” The scene had been set. When the director of the Confederation of Danish Industry, Hans Skov Christensen, wrote a feature article in the daily Politiken in 2000 arguing that Denmark in fact needed more immigrants in order to be able to compete on the global market, he was immediately met by a storm of protests and forced to affirm his Danishness by declaring that he too hoisted the Danish flag on national holidays. Even as early as 2000, it seemed that it was already too late for Denmark. And in many respects the racist backlash was only reaffirmed in the 2001 election, when a coalition between the conservative and the liberal parties, headed by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, gained power with the support of the Danish People’s Party.
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