The heated debate over refugees, minorities and Islam has affected the upcoming elections in Denmark, writes Bashy Quraishy.
Bashy Quraishy is the national platform coordinator for Denmark of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).
Denmark is holding EU elections on 26 May, but the fact that national elections are taking place on 5 June has confused the electorate. They cannot find out who to vote for because billboards of candidates for both elections are displayed side by side on the streets.
The public debates on the EU elections are mixed up and the issue of refugees, minorities and Islam has taken over regardless.
To understand the present state of political affairs in Denmark, one should go back a few decades. Since World War II, under the leadership of various political parties, Denmark has been a beacon of human rights, equality and democratic values.
In both European and international circles, Denmark was regarded as a role model for tolerance and respect for the opinion of others. Actually, I often heard Danes using the phrase “Let us agree to disagree”.
So when in the early seventies, migrants from outside Europe were allowed to come and work here, they were welcomed. They worked hard, established themselves and became a contributing factor in Danish society.
Nobody asked them if they spoke Danish, what culture and religion they belonged to and if they were satisfied with their situation in the country. As long as they performed the tasks at hand, Danes did not bother them, and they did not complain.
Unfortunately, this changed dramatically soon after the official migration stop and the establishment of the Progress Party in 1972 by Mogens Glistrup.
The Progress Party gained 15.9 % of the votes in the 1973 national election and became represented in parliament with 28 out of 179 parliamentarians.
In the 1980s, when Mogen Glistrup’s popularity dwindled, he started using the presence of minorities, especially Muslims, in his speeches to get attention and regain influence. This tradition of anti-minority propaganda was carried on by the Danish People’s Party, formed in October 1995 after years of internal disputes in the Progress Party.
This party entered Danish parliament with a very large number of seats in the 2001 election. Since then, it became part of the ruling government coalition and single-handedly forced right-wing liberal party governments to adopt very restrictive policies and laws with regard to immigration and the socio-economic rights of ethnic and religious minorities.
Since the arrival of Danish People’s Party on the political scene, the atmosphere in the country started moving slowly but steadily towards the far right, to the extent that the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam narrative has become the norm.
Some large mainstream parties have also supported and adopted the restrictive and hostile attitude toward minorities advocated by the Danish People’s Party.
Since 2001, every municipality, regional and national elections have been marred by heated discussions, lofty claims and negative discourses about non-European groups, thus making minorities a threat, an enemy within and a burden for the society.
No debate – political, media and public – is complete without talking about people with a non-European cultural background – an official phrase and code word for Muslims.
Now, the Danish People’s Party is being challenged even further to the right, by two parties who are running in the upcoming elections.
Nye Borgerlige, “The New Right”, wants even stricter controls on migrants, and has called for a ban on headscarves in schools and public institutions.
The latest party on the far right is Stram Kurs, or “Hard Line” in English. It is led by Rasmus Paludan, a lawyer whose demands are: ban Islam and the Quran, deport all Muslims and preserve “ethnic Danishness”.
He has specialised in publicly burning the Quran and regularly provoking unrest through anti-Islam demonstrations and inflammatory speeches in areas of the Danish capital where large numbers of Muslims live.
Although these two parties on the very far right of the political spectrum are unlikely to win many votes, they reflect how far the Danish People’s Party’s discourse has permeated the political spectrum. All in all, there has been a very frustrating, dangerous and unwanted injection of hate in Danish politics.