A digression: Origins of xenophobia in Denmark
In today's Denmark, xenophobia is an important political factor. This is a significant point, since it is a fact that deviates quite strongly from the way Danes tend to view themselves. Ask any Dane, and they will tell you that it is typically Danish to be helpful and open towards foreigners. This is the way Danes see themselves, and it is fundamental to their worldview.
Yet a significant portion of the same people who claim to be open and tolerant will, given the right circumstances, openly utter strongly xenophobic remarks directed at a particular segment of the population of Denmark -- to wit, the large group of first- or second-generation immigrants living in Denmark.
As of January 1 2000, 7.1% of Denmark's population were first- or second-generation immigrants. Of these, the largest groups were Turks, Germans, Bosnians and Lebanese, with Pakistanis, Yugoslavs, Iraqis, Somalians, Norwegians, Swedes, Iranians, Poles, Britons, and Vietnamese as other major groups. The Turks made up the most significant group, with twice as many Turks as Germans.
This figure, 7.1%, is supplemented by a number of refugees with more or less permanent asylum in Denmark, bringing the total to about 8.4%.
The fact that many of the immigrants, and refugees, are Muslims, is an important factor in shaping the thrust of the xenophobia. When xenophobia manifests itself in any population, it strikes those most different from the local population. Thus, the many Nordic immigrants encounter few, if any, twinges of xenophobia, whereas the Muslims are often made the target of outright discrimination.
Now, despite this, Denmark has a long tradition for emphasizing tolerance and mutual respect between the peoples of the world -- so how did this sudden wave of xenophobia come about?
To answer that, we have to go back to 1814.
Until 1814, the kingdom of Denmark was a dual monarchy, governing both Denmark and Norway. Furthermore, the king of Denmark also ruled the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Thus, the kingdom had within its borders at least three major ethnicities. Roughly speaking, the ethnic Danes made up about half the kingdom, and the Norwegians and Germans each made up another quarter. Many artists and entrepreneurs were either German or Norwegian, and German was regularly spoken on the streets of Copenhagen.
In the Napoleonic Wars, the Danes had found themselves on the losing side (through a combination of bad luck and poor leadership). By 1814, Denmark was bankrupt and faced with the payment of war reparations to the winners -- which included neighbouring Sweden, a long-time enemy of Denmark. As part of the settlement, Denmark handed over Norway to Sweden. The result was a new distribution of ethnicities within the now-reduced kingdom. With the disappearance of the Norwegian minority, the Germans now made up approximately a third of the kingdom's population. The Danish moiety had grown from half to two-thirds.
In 1864, the pattern repeated itself. As part of Bismarck's grand project to unify Germany under Prussian hegemony, Denmark lost the Duchies -- and the greater part of its German population. Suddenly, Denmark had become a nearly homogenous nation, with only one ethnicity to speak of.
From 1864 and for a century thereafter, Denmark cultivated its sense of defeat and loss, transforming it into a mirror-image sense of pride in being a close-knit society. This was only reinforced by the Nazi occupation of Denmark from 1940 to 1945, which solidified the image of the foreigner as Other in the Danish collective mentality.
Not long after the Second World War, Europe underwent a period of economic expansion, and the general level of education in the population rose. As a result, Danish people suited for unskilled or semi-skilled labor became relatively scarce. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, this shortage led to the importation of large number of migrant workers. Most of them were Turks, and they were originally called fremmedarbejdere ("foreign laborers"). Later, the term gæstearbejdere ("guest laborers") was introduced, presumably to emphasize the fact that their stay was expected to be temporary, not permanent.
Many of the Turks that chose to migrate came from the poorest, most backwards areas in Turkey, and friction with the Danes was to be expected. The most obvious difference was religious, and to many Danes, the image of the unassimilated foreigner, the outsider within Danish society, became associated with Islam. Nevertheless, the initial reception was moderately friendly. As the number of immigrants grew, during the late 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s, however, the mood cooled considerably.
To explain the cooling, a number of economic factors can be brought in -- but from a nationalist angle, the cause was more straightforward. Formerly a nearly homogenous nation, Denmark was having to get used to something that had been outside its experience for over a century: the idea that significant ethnic minorities existed in the country, and were no less "Danish" for not being ethnic Danes.
A new political party, Fremskridtspartiet ("The Progress Party"), had been formed as a tax-protest party in the early 1970s. By the mid-1980s, the party had adopted xenophobia as part of its platform. The party's leader, Mogens Glistrup, openly called the Muslims "Mohammedans" (a term deeply abhorrent to Muslims, since it wrongly implies a worship of the Prophet Muhammad as if he were divine).
In 1995, the Progress Party splintered, and a breakaway faction led by Pia Kjærsgaard formed a new party, Dansk Folkeparti ("The Danish People's Party"). The new party appealed to its voters through a platform consisting of xenophobia and an appeal to the socially disadvantaged (pensioners, in particular). This populistic appeal won it a growing influence in Danish politics. By 2001, they had become the third largest party in the Folketing, the Danish parliament. As the main support of the minority Conservative-Liberalist government led by the Liberalist Anders Fogh Rasmussen, they have managed to wield a significant degree of power over government policies.
Unsurprisingly, they have used a lot of this influence to support their xenophobic programme. In effect, they are the "invisible" third party in what is in reality a majority government.
When I return to the subject of the "cartoon row", in my next post, please keep this development in mind. Remember that this is a very vocal and highly influential group in Danish politics -- but that they still make up a minority of Danes. Many sensible Danes abhor them and their policies (though many who openly disavow them probably secretly support some of their views -- human nature being what it is).
Addendum - some selected recent blogposts and news stories on this topic:
Dunner's: How often? I don't!
Mikhaela's News Blog: Even More on the Mohammed Cartoons: Or, Mikhaela's Cartoon Wars FAQ
Salon.com: Rotten judgment in the state of Denmark
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