Denmark, Decency, and Decay

Once again Denmark appears in the international community and media for the wrong things, this time for a law package with three main, draconian anti-refugee laws. One legalises stealing – that’s what it is – valuables owned by refugees upon arrival if they exceed US$ 1450; the second cuts down on the already meagre daily benefit and the third extends the family reuinion period from 1 to 3 years.

188 MPs voted yes, 108 No and 37 abstained. The main argument is that Denmark wants to “signal” that asylum seekers should go elsewhere. Otherwise marketing-conscious politicians have overlooked that there are millions upon millions out there who are not asylum seekers and they get an extremely bad impression of Denmark. Like they did when Denmark put ads in Middle Eastern newspaper some time ago to deter potential refugees.

The three laws – of which the first clearly provokes memories of what the Nazis did to the Jews – are just a peak point in a long (mal)development of Denmark’s foreign policy. It can be characterised by incremental absence of ethics, solidarity, compassion, empathy and sound human judgement – all concepts outside the domain of ‘real’ politics – combined with increased interventionism, militarism and lofty contempt for international laws.

By passing these laws, the country’s parliamentarians – with a few exceptions – have soiled the image of the country abroad even more and for a very long time ahead, one must fear.

It is not unreasonable to assume that terrorists will pay attention to this development which is de facto targetting refugees which are almost 100% Muslims.

Many Danish citizens including myself now recognise that ‘Dane’ rhymes with ‘Shame’. This trend in Danish policitics doesn’t happen in our name.

Once upon a time

Denmark used to be known and appreciated around the world as a welfare state with equality – gender and otherwise – and solidarity with the disadvantaged. Known for citizens with a diversified free education – also at people’s colleges and elsewhere where culture and good manners were taught.

Quite a lot of it was based on Danish pastor, author, poet, philosopher, historian, teacher and politician, Grundtvig – others inspired by Kierkegaard. Out there educated people associated Denmark with composer such as Carl Nielsen, painters like Asger Jorn, entertainers like Victor Borge. It didn’t go for nuclear energy but became a major producer of windmills.

Danes were proud of being democratic and peaceful – remember the poster with the policeman who stops the cars to let some ducks pass a road? Or, say, furniture design, Carlsberg, H.C. Andersen and the Little Mermaid. Piet Hein.

It was known for rescuing 7000 Jews to safety across the Øresound to Sweden in October 1943. And known for talking about problems, not killing people.

Perhaps a bit idyllic, too good to be true? Yes, but still! There was something one could be proud of.

Militarist and interventionist “active” foreign policy

And what’s the image the rest of the world is getting these years?

A rogue state, a warrior country any time it’s called upon by US/NATO – five wars or occupations: Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya – and then Iraq again. And now special forces on their way to Syria.

When I was a member of the Danish government’s Commission on Security and Disarmament all through the 1980s no one even thought about Denmark as a war-fighting country far away. Defence, not offence, was the issue. International law was important. The Commission even produced a report on the Nordic areas as a nuclear-free zone – not bad for a NATO country. At the time there were elements of independent thinking about Denmark’s role in the world.

The first war participation – bombing Serbia two nights in 1999 – was decided by a government led by a social democratic prime minister, Nyrup Rasmussen and a foreign minister from a small historically anti-militarist, liberal party, Helweg Petersen.

They broke the traditional image of Denmark as adhering to peace and international law (the destruction of Yugoslavia had no UN mandate).

The doctrine of an active foreign policy was good in and of itself. Small countries have to be active and work together when the big ones play their games. But in Denmark’s case it was destructive – active meant joining wars, not being active in terms of early warning, conflict-resolution, mediation or any of the sort.

This was only the beginning of the road to rogueness.

Jan Oberg is a peace researcher, art photographer, and Director of Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF) where this article first appeared. Reach him at: oberg@transnational.org. Read other articles by Jan.