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Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

Ok, so this newest offering from Sophie Kingo’s Bits and Blogs is, again, not within the craft remit the blog has mostly tended to be. But, it does fit the ‘anything else I feel like blogging about’ declaration, so I’m allowed. And this post is much needed as it’s a culmination of my growing grievance at the growing intolerance in Denmark.

As you may know, I am half Danish – that is, my Mother is Danish. I was born in Britain, spent the majority of my eighth year on this planet in Denmark, and have pretty much visited Denmark’s third largest town Odense (with a population roughly the same as Rochdale, the UK’s 40th largest urban area) every year of my life. So I know a fair bit about the place. Now don’t get me wrong. I like Denmark. Maybe more because it feels somewhat like a home from home and holds a lot of memories for me. But I also know that people can be remarkably unfriendly – more or less no one holds a door open for you, and my Dad will testify he never sees any customer in the local baker say please, thank you or smile as they order their pastries – and that it’s also a little backward  – don’t even think about going shopping or to a museum on a Sunday or a Bank Holiday. Even in the capital city.

Over the last couple of years I’ve come to realise more so that Denmark isn’t the rosy, liberal, open-minded and accepting place that people from Britain tend to think it is. There’ve been several instances where it’s evident Denmark is fast becoming, if it wasn’t already, a county that is intolerant to change and to people of different backgrounds. Here are six reasons why.

  1. Back in 2008, Jeffrey and I went to Denmark for five nights to visit my family and have a short (over-priced) stay in Copenhagen. For those of you who don’t know, Jeffrey’s black (I’m white). Jeffrey’s parents moved over to London from Ghana back in the 1970s. Jeffrey was born in Britain. He has always lived in Britain and has only a British passport. (Even his parents hold British passports, unlike my Mum.) So why, when we stepped off our Easy Jet flight at Kastrup Lufthavn, did he have loads of questions thrown at him by passport control? Why did they need to ask him (and a woman who looked like she was of Somalian origin) and not me and countless other white British people stepping off the flight, questions including: Why are you here? How long are you here for? Where are you staying? As far as I’m aware, if you’re from an EU member state you are free to travel within Europe as long as you have a valid passport from your EU member state. There’s no need for the interrogation thanks.
  2. In 2009 my Mum had a job as a Danish speaking sales/client relationship person at a packaging factory in Hull. For this, she had to spend three weeks in Nyborg, Denmark. While she was there she noticed a growing negative feeling towards immigration and a growing intolerance.
  3. In February this year, Radio 4 broadcast a programme Driving on the right looking at the growing support for far right politics in Denmark and Sweden. The Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) wins less than 15 per cent of the national vote,  hasn’t entered government formally, and yet manages to influence mainstream politics massively. They hold the balance of power in the Liberal/Conservative coalition government and offer support in getting the government’s new policies through parliament in return for demands on immigration and economics. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if the DPP wasn’t blatantly racist. Pia Kjærsgaard, the DPP leader, believes there are too many immigrants in Denmark. In the report, Kjærsgaard throws about her scare tactics: “Denmark is a very small country…We have very many who hasn’t a job who just want money from our taxes.” Her supporters – both young and old, both typically traditional nationalists and younger people, put Kjærsgaard on a pedestal. They believe that she has, and will continue to, reduce the number of immigrants in Denmark by influencing government. A former bouncer, and a supporter of the DPP, said, “I don’t think anybody should come to Danmark…We have enough already”. Then you have Youth Politicians and young teachers: “many people  don’t like the country. If it was me I would go home…actually if you leave DK you can get DKK100,000.” A young Danish mother adds: “when I go into a mall and go…to nurse [my baby]… there are so few Danish mothers there…they are outnumbering us”. The DPP has managed to influence government policy on immigration, bringing down the number of immigrants from outside the EU being allowed into Denmark massively. The DPP has even influenced immigration policy which results in mixed nationality married couples being unable to gain a permanent resident permit for Denmark. One couple – a Dane and a Mexican –  have been living in Denmark for 8 years. Both are working graduates, both have been paying taxes and neither are in debt. But the Mexican woman cannot get a permanent resident permit. The Danish husband believes this is because they are “an acceptable casualty” in the political compromise. He goes on to warn people to “think twice before you marry a Dane”. Now, opposition parties are not willing to oppose to current immigration law in fear that they will not win power in the future. So this feeling, viewpoint and political stance will not go away easily.
  4. “Think twice before you marry a Dane” – well, maybe people will have to. It is increasingly difficult for a non-Dane to marry a Dane as a number of conditions must be met: both the Danish and the foreign partner need to be at least 24 (yes, 24!) years old; the Danish partner needs to post a bond of £7,200 collateral; the foreign partner has to pass a language and knowledge test; and both need to demonstrate a combined attachment to Denmark greater than to any other country. Source:
  5. In 1958, the Nordic Passport Union was introduced fully to allow citizens of the “Nordic” countries – Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Faroe Isles and Iceland – to travel and reside in other Nordic countries without a passport or a residence permit. Citizens from outside of these countries can also pass the borders without having their passport checked, but still have to carry a passport or other approved travel identification papers. However, this year, Danish police have been requesting black and “Asian-looking” Swedes to show their passports while on the train from Sweden to Denmark. Unsurprisingly, the DPP fully supports this new practice, in apparently fighting illegal immigration. It strikes me as odd that it’s only black and “Asian-looking” people that can be illegal immigrants. Racist, no? Source:
  6. Finally, I’ll close with another (semi) personal experience. When my sister Lisa and I were arriving in Billund, Denmark, for our Grandma’s funeral earlier this year, the Arrivals from the EU customs gate was strangely closed. This meant that everyone had to go through the Nothing to Declare or Goods to Declare gates. In front of us was a man of Asian-looking origin, about 22 years old and carrying a rucksack. My sister and I were both watching him as the Customs officer pulled him to one side to speak to him. We both looked at each other ready to exclaim “surprise surprise” to each other as it was absolutely no surprise to us that this one young not typically “Scandinavian” looking male had been pulled aside by the officer. And it certainly didn’t seem coincidental that no white people were being pulled over. Luckily, a few words in Danish from the young man meant the officer soon let him on his way. But I wonder how many other people weren’t so lucky. And what would have happened if Jeffrey had been with us this time…?


Addition – Saturday 2 April 2011, 23:41

After tweeting a link to this post on Twitter and to a few people who had recently tweeted about racism in Denmark, I received the following tweets. I think it’s well worth sharing these with you as they reiterate what I have outlined above:

@perritob – Sadly but true, the increasing racism in my land makes me cry, we used to be much more open to other people.

@moshebli – I experienced the same thing 4 weeks weeks ago when I went to Amsterdam. I have a european passport, but I look middle eastern

@moshebli – infact I got used to it every I travel now. Except @ my home eu country

@Idélaboratoriet – Denmark’s immigration policy is becoming a shame for whole of Scandinavia and country will continue to slide in the creative class index…

@Idélaboratoriet – …but today we will enjoy one of the immigrants that has made Denmark an interesting place: Rene at NOMA, the no1 restaurant in the world!

Previous tweets from @perritob on this theme include:

  • Where is the justice, when a foreigner gets punished more by the Justice system than a native citizen in Denmark, it shows our racist mindset
  • Danish minister of integration says harder laws toward throwing people out of our country will come, sir you are a racist.
  • But what to expect in a country like Denmark were the government is supported by a fascist and racist party Dansk Folke parti.
  • Humanity is one Race with different beautiful colors, each one more beautiful than the other, together those colors become even more pretty.
  • I talk alot about one race, the problem is, looking at my own country it does not at all share my view, Denmark for Danes is common here
  • And it means Denmark for Danes not Arabs/Muslims, this is sad but true, I talking to people to listen but most shake on there head at me
  • Free speech in Denmark means free speech to critisize people that are different or who supports openess towards people of other cultures.

Other tweets I’ve come across tonight:

  • @shukriadams – I love April 1st in Denmark, it’s the only day of the year when the news isn’t all about immigrants.
  • @shukriadams – Denmark seems to classify foreigners by one of three categories : “fit for labor”, “fit for fucking”, & “fit on a plane back home”. #dkpol
  • @shukriadams – Thinking of coming to work in Denmark? Well get ready to be double-taxed, because Danes want even more of your money

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Books, anthropology and the danger of the single story

The types of novels I enjoy reading seem to stem from my interest in Anthropology from when I studied Sociology and Social Anthropology at uni. Before then I’m not really sure what I read but it didn’t seem to be the kind of books I read now, but it certainly wasn’t any Mills and Boon either.

The novels that tend to stick in my mind are those by writers such as Andrea Levy and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Frank McCourt etc. Novels that have some cultural or historical significance. But I also enjoy non-fiction books by, say, Bill Bryson or Kate Fox. Or TV programmes which open up anthropology to the masses, such as Tribe, which I remember seeing a lot of criticism towards at the time for not being ethnographically accurate and thinking ‘who cares if it’s getting people interested in different cultures’.

Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be a post about anthropology, ethnography or literature. It was supposed to be a short introduction to a talk on TED which I recently stumbled across and thoroughly enjoyed. I was going to say how I have also always been interested in equality and diversity and hearing other voices – and found this talk fascinating.

So, when I came across  Chimamanda Adichie: the danger of a single story I decided to share it on Facebook  (though I’m only aware of two of my friends actually watching and enjoying it). In it Adichie discusses how she grew up in Nigeria reading and writing novels white children with blue eyes who “played in the snow…ate apples…talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out”. How when she went to study in the USA she met a girl who was surprised she could speak English and listened to Mariah Carey and not “tribal music”. How, when we are subjected to novels which paint one picture, how can we expect people to fully understand other cultures and individuals? And the strong need encourage African writers so that we receive a fuller picture and get to hear many stories. About the danger of the single story.

So, while programmes such as Tribe might be criticised for being simplistic or not of value to serious anthropologists, surely they’re a good start to providing a fuller picture alongside work from a diverse group of novelists.