Velkomst my dear readers! Or welcome my dear readers (for those who are English speakers!)
Today we are off to the land of Vikings, Lego, expensive coffees and trendy Nordic Noir. Yes dear reader I am taking you to Denmark.
Denmark, relative to its size, has been making headlines for several years now and not always for the right reasons. A brief potted history starts in 2006 with the drawing of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him) in a small Danish newspaper and it caused outrage in the Muslim world with embassies of Denmark being attacked and boycotts being launched of well known Danish companies. The furore left the headlines until last year when the most prominent cartoonist at that newspaper was gunned down in central Copenhagen and a Jewish man was killed outside the capital’s main synagogue. All shocking and distressing attacks for sure.
For a long time however, Denmark has struggled with its noted humanitarian credentials and its growing suspicion of its Muslim minority. Less than 3% of its population is Muslim according to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs yet no other issue has dominated the headlines in such a way.
Even the Social Democrats, the traditionally tolerant and progressive party of government in Denmark, has been forced to adopt hardline policies towards Muslims. During last year’s election under the glamorous Helle Thorning-Schmidt (her of Obama and Cameron selfie fame at Mandela funeral!) buses in Copenhagen were plastered with posters saying ‘When you come to Denmark you have to work.’ Fast forward a year, and the Social Democrats and Ms Thorning-Schmidt are now out of office and the centre right Venstre Party, relying on the support of the xenophobic Danish People’s Party (who took a worrying 20% of the vote in 2015’s general election), is back in power.
Led by Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the current Prime Minister, the government has adopted hardline rhetoric and actions towards the big issue of 2015, the refugee crisis. To be fair their has been a justifiable backlash from more socially conscience Danes, who like counterparts in Germany and across Europe have rallied in often inclement weather conditions to show solidarity with refugees. The Danish Refugee Council, a well known Copenhagen based NGO, recently raised €2.8 million in one day of fundraising on the streets of Denmark, showing that humanity still lives and breathes out there despite hostile rhetoric from the media and politicians.
Euronews, the pan European TV service, reported that even some brave sea faring Danes have rescued refugees seeking to reach Scandinavian shores from flimsy boats which would have almost certainly capsized and drowned many in the icy waters around Denmark. Perversely these exemplary Danes are now at risk of prosecution for being ‘smugglers.’ Big LOL if ever there was one!
In one municipality, Randers, Danish journalist, Nicole Mormann from TakePart (an online campaigning group), outlines that there has been a pretty crude display of Islamophobia where the Council has voted to make pork (consumption of which is forbidden in Islam) a compulsory component of meals in schools and day care centres.
The most controversial measure though, is the L87 bill, widely dubbed the ‘Jewellery Bill’ and for some conjures memories of the dark days of Nazi Germany. Basically the Danish Parliament is set to debate, and almost certainly pass, a bill to confiscate valuable items from refugees and increase to three years the period refugees will need to wait before they can be reunited with the rest of their families. Many human rights organisations and international bodies have criticised these measures as deeply inhumane. The dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei expressed his disgust and pulled the plug on one of his exhibitions at a prominent Copenhagen gallery in protest. The Danish Institute for Human Rights called the proposals a clear violation of the European Convention on Human Rights but this has not stopped others such , as Bavarian politicians in Germany and Swiss representatives from taking note of the idea.
As of that weren’t enough the tub thumping Danish PM, has also mooted the idea of ‘reforming’ the Geneva Convention on the rights of refugees, so the West no longer has any obligation to help those in need the English language Copenhagen Post reports. Again condemnation was swift, as the UN Refugee Agency criticised any change to the long held cherished principles enshrined in the document.
The Danish government is trying to salvage its battered international reputation by claiming the bill ‘is the most misunderstood bill in Denmark’s history.’ However, coupled with front page advertisements in Lebanese newspapers warning refugees that Denmark has cut its benefits by 50% for new arrivals (according to the Danish Immigration Service) we can start to paint a picture dear reader.
Reporting this does not fill me with optimism, especially when we consider how the stock of the Denmark (and not just Denmark actually but other Scandinavian states) has fallen as a beacon of tolerance and humanitarian spirit in recent years. Still let us put our hopes on those courageous sailors and donors I mentioned earlier on. Yes, let us hope dear reader.