Lin Mortensgaard (Denmark, AC 09-11)
It seems to be happening all around Europe. In the Netherlands the Party for Freedom with Geert Wilders at the forefront has managed to obtain a powerful position in government, in the UK Nick Griffin is proudly spreading the voice of his beloved BNP (British National Party) and in Switzerland the Swiss People’s Party has an estimated 23% of the popular vote. Xenophobia is definitely, and has been for a while, a factor in European politics and it is one which plays a major role in elections all over the continent.
Denmark is no exception. The Danish People’s Party has gained increasing support in both parliamentary elections and European Parliament elections. They are currently the supporting party of the government – without it the government would face the challenges of a minority government. This means that the Danish People’s Party has managed to gain a huge amount of power, which they choose to mainly exercise on issues concerning immigration. In 2002 the Government (including the Danish People’s Party) proposed the so-called 24-year rule which was later passed. This rule basically prevents couples of one foreign partner to immigrate to Denmark before the age of 24. This past year the Danish People’s Party proposed that this law be slightly amended – thus it would be named the 28-year rule instead.
The ‘brilliant’ proposals of the party do not stop here. Another Danish party of the parliament suggested establishing a Danish news channel broadcasting Danish news with Arabic-speaking hosts or subtitles to avoid immigrants with low levels of Danish watching only Arabic news channels and thus not developing their Danish skills. This proposal was immediately countered by the Danish People’s Party; Instead of spending government money on a new channel, the simple solution would of course be to ban TV antennas pointing to the Middle East in areas with many immigrants. However, this proposal was fortunately opposed by the rest of the parties (including the other two in government) and heavily criticized by the Danish Union of Journalists who called the proposal ‘a threat to freedom of speech’. An Iraqi immigrant remarked that he had fled a country with a dictator who had tried to ban TV antennas. This undesirable comparison led the Danish People’s Party to change the proposal slightly: The total ban on antennas should be turned into a ban on ‘only’ Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.
Last week the party accused immigrants of depriving patients in waiting areas at hospitals and at the doctor of something as crucial to patient care as… cake and lemonade! This horrendous offence was, according to the party’s member magazine, committed by ‘the big immigrant families’ whose appetite caused the present lack of free cake, coffee, lemonade and fruit in waiting areas. What a sin!
This accusation, however, turned out not to be true as several professionals in the health care system said that they had never experienced this phenomenon. Of course this led to a new facebook group (as such things normally do these days) dedicated to the noble cause of buying and sending various cakes to the Danish People’s Party’s main office in Copenhagen. As we all know, facebook groups can be quite efficient – and so was this one. Therefore more than 200 hundred cakes arrived at their main office on Tuesday as a means of protest and a sign of contempt. The party chose to ignore the obvious joke that this was meant to be and proclaimed that they would send all of these cakes to ‘people in need’.
This cake-debate may seem hilarious, but the fact that the party has no problem in accusing a particular group of society of depriving others of something as unimportant as cake and lemonade is worrying. Some people will feel offended due to the cake-deprivation and this will as many other small issues increase the big immigrant scare. More worryingly, though, is the fact that the party is using petty accusations as a means of gaining support – even though the accusations were false. That they can even think of banning antennas or TV channels is an offence to the freedom of speech that they otherwise seem so protective of – during the cartoon controversy of 2005 they were at the forefront of defending the cartoonist by using his freedom of speech as a justification.
The fear of immigrants from certain countries is spreading through Denmark and most of the western world. Generalisations about other cultures and religions are made daily by political parties and the media. As UWC-students we have the chance to change this picture whenever we meet it. We have met people from most countries and know that they cannot be generalized in a few words. That they are as diverse in personality and opinions as people in our own countries are. This is one of the most important outcomes of having been a UWC-student and a tool we should use to fight the prejudice, stereotyping and blame-game that takes place on all levels of society.
-United World Colleges Student Magazine-