CULTURAL BRIEFING
The Wonderful World of Make-Believe

May 10 - I have a job interview today. It's not a real job interview, just an exercise we've been doing in Studieskolen. Each student has to bring in a resume, cover letter, and job listing, and then two other students will interview him or her as though they were the prospective employers.

Some students use actual jobs they've applied for here, others just drag in any old "help wanted" ad. I interviewed a guy last week for a gig in the crime prevention unit of the Copenhagen police. Another student applied for a job as a waitress. I'll be applying for a job as press secretary for the Dansk Folkeparti. (I'm in the "drag in any old ad" category.)

I've mentioned the Dansk Folkeparti before. Their name is probably best translated as the Danish People's Party. That's how they translate it on their own website, but many Danes seem to prefer calling them "the Danish Folk Party" in English. I'll abbreviate them for the remainder of this Almanac as DF to limit confusion.

DF is the ultra right-wing party that everyone seems so scared of. I haven't met a single Dane who supports them yet, even though I've met a lot of "right-wing" Danes (most of whom would probably be center-leaning Democrats in the U.S.). So far I've refrained from commenting on DF because I felt I had insufficient information to go on. I've heard perfectly reasonable American conservatives vilified so virulently over here by people who simply don't know any better that I assumed there was some hyperbole at play when the same people described DF.

In researching them a little to prepare for my mock interview, I came across this, in English, on their site:

Denmark is not an immigrant-country and has never been so. Therefore, we will not accept a transformation to a multiethnic society.

Denmark belongs to the Danes and its citizens must be able to live in a secure community founded on the rule of law, developing only along the lines of Danish culture.

It ought to be possible to absorb foreigners into Danish society provided however, that this does not put security and democratic government at risk. To a limited extent and according to special rules and in conformity with the stipulations of the Constitution, foreign nationals should be able to obtain Danish citizenship.

Ding Ding! Ding Ding! Hear that? It's the sound of Mr. Rogers's magic trolley, ready to whisk us away to the Land of Make Believe.

This isn't standing athwart history and shouting stop. This is standing in front of a moving steam-roller and closing your eyes to make it go away.

"We will not accept a transformation to a multiethnic society."

The sentiment is perhaps understandable. Until very recently, "diversity" in Denmark meant three shades of blond. Danes aren't like Americans, with grandparents from here and there and there. They're just Danish. Their grandparents were Danish. Their great-grandparents were Danish. And so on. Sure, there'd be a Swede or Norwegian here and there, or, God forbid, a German, but that was about it.

Now you've got all these immigrants pouring in from all over the world. DF may like to think that "Denmark is not an immigrant country," but the numbers suggest otherwise.

The foreign-born population of Denmark as recently as 1980 amounted to 135,000, which was 2.6% of the total population. In 2003 it was nearly 332,000, or 6.2% of the population. According to the Foreign Ministry, more than half of this immigrant population live "in the metropolitan area." (Whereas only about a tenth of Denmark's total population lives in greater Copenhagen, meaning foreign borns are disproportionately represented.) Meanwhile, lots of these foreign-borns have been having Danish-born children—hence the phrase andengenerations-indvandrere, or "second-generation immigrants." This is, as I've learned on the blog, usually used as a euphemism for "Arabic-looking people who speak fluent Danish."

Here are some of the providers of Denmark's foreign-born population resident in Denmark in 2003: Turkey (12.0% of the foreign-born population); Iraq (6.8%); Somalia (5.0%); Afghanistan (3.1%); Pakistan (2.6%); and Iran (1.8%).

That was sneaky of me. The biggest provider of Danish immigrants is actually Europe. In 2003, 47.5% of all foreign-borns in Denmark had spent their last year of residence prior to moving to Denmark in another European country.

But these are tricky stats. A Turk who moved to Germany for a couple of years before coming to Denmark would count in these statistics as a German, not a Turk.

What the numbers can't say, and DF won't say, is something that any school child could tell you: there's a big surge of brownish Muslims pouring into Denmark and it's freaking people out.

They're not freaking out because the newcomers are brownish, and they're not freaking out because the newcomers are Muslims. They're freaking out because the incoming cultures don't blend very well with Danish culture and the new immigrants don't seem to be assimilating nicely. This isn't something only the DF is worried about. Danes of every political persuasion acknowledge the problem.

The Social Democrats, for example, declare flatly that Denmark is a multi-ethnic society, but they recognize the problems articulated in Anders Fogh Rasmussen's 2004 New Year's Speech, which cited many years of failed immigration policy having created, "immigrant ghettoes, where the men are unemployed, where the women are isolated, and the families only speak the language of their homeland. (...) Ghetto development leads to violence and crime and confrontation. (...) We must stop this unfortunate ghetto development."

Anders Fogh Rasmussen's Venstre party, which currently runs the government as part of a center-right coalition, is moderately right-wing. (They're called "Venstre," which means left, because they were founded in 1996 by a group of disgruntled Konservativ members lurching leftward toward center.)

Taking their cue from the Prime Minister, the Social Democrats hope to bridge the emerging chasm with, among other things, "Less Ghettoes, More Integration."

In other words, Danes across the political spectrum seem to agree on the paramount importance of assimilation. But another broadly-shared if rarely-articulated belief is that too much of the current Muslim immigrant population isn't at all interested in assimilating. This is frustrating to some Danes, irritating to others, and a pulse-pounding outrage to still others—for example, our friends in DF.

They take their outrage to a whole new level. According to this BBC article, their outspoken leader, Pia Kjærsgaard, defends Swedish criticism of Denmark's new immigration laws thusly: "If [Swedes] want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmø into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Øresund Bridge."

That kind of talk disgusts most Danes. The notion that increased Muslim immigration is tantamount to Lebanization contains a certain soft racism that most Danes see right through. You'll notice I keep saying "most Danes." That's because DF got 13.3% of the vote in the most recent election, and now has 24 seats in Denmark's 179-member Folketing. Fogh Rasmussen won't give them any offices in his government, but he can't let go of them, either. His coalition would lose its majority without them.

I'm very uncomfortable generalizing like this, and I should underscore for those to whom it isn't already obvious that I've been generalizing all over the place. There are, of course, as many ideas of how to address this problem as there are people to think about it. Many Muslim immigrants assimilate rapidly to, and thrive in, the Danish culture. Danes are by and large an open, welcoming people.

But their welfare-state is becoming too costly to sustain. The system is breaking down. Danes are nervous about their future, and an expanding immigrant population that offers more costs than benefits in the short-term doesn't excite their enthusiasm.

As an American, I tend to look at immigration as a long-term phenomenon. We've been through it repeatedly. Danes have not. They're anxious. DF represents the sharpest and ugliest articulation of their anxieties.

Rule of Law, Force of Culture

Let's have a very quick second look at the second paragraph of the DFP's statement: "Denmark belongs to the Danes and its citizens must be able to live in a secure community founded on the rule of law, developing only along the lines of Danish culture."

This is tricky stuff. Founded on the rule of law, but developing only along the lines of Danish culture. I've made several false steps at trying to parse this, and I don't seem to be able to make any sense of it. I can't even get any good jokes out of it. As an American who's tried to endure Gammel Dansk with breakfast, however, allow me to be the first to say thank God Danish culture isn't mandatory under Danish law.

Out in the Real World

I need to wrap this up for the time being, so let's ease our way out with an illustrative personal anecdote.

At some point this winter, in the entranceway that leads from the street to our courtyard, someone had written "Danmark for Danskerne" in thick marker on a wall. It means "Denmark for the Danes." It's not quite "Deutschland uber Alles," but it's hardly the kind of thing that gives me the warm tinglies.

The graffiti bothered me and every time I saw it I became very indignant and full of anger and wondered what I ought to do about it. Inevitably, however, I kept forgetting about it five minutes after I saw it. Weeks passed. Then one morning I noticed someone had scribbled it out with a ballpoint pen. I wish I had had the sense to have done it myself. It's still there like that. See for yourself.

So the writing is on the wall—but it's being crossed out.

I like to hope this graffiti battle might function as an allegory for the Danish reaction to Muslim immigration. Hard little spikes of anger and resentment that eventually get struck down by the larger culture, like a socio-political game of whack-a-mole.

The fact remains, however, that I still have to get through tonight's mock interview for a mock job with the DFP. I can't just lash out at my mock prospective employers, because the point of the exercise is to develop our Danish job interview skills.

I've got a pretty bad feeling about my mock prospects.

The WC

On May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill was sworn in as British Prime Minister. Three days after being sworn in, he told parliament that he could offer only "blood, toil, tears, and sweat." This was grudgingly deemed satisfactory by a palpably disappointed parliament, but only after he agreed to be fitted with an IV.

On May 10, 1871, France and Germany signed a peace treaty in which France had to give up a lot of land (Alsace-Lorraine) to Germany. They weren't happy about it, so after World War I they took it back. In the second World War the Germans reclaimed it. After the war the victorious allies held it briefly but decided not to get involved. They gave it back to France, where it remains to this day.

Today is the birthday of one-name wonders Bono (1960) and Donovan (1946), as well as Pat Summerall (1930), David O. Selznick (1902), and Fred Astaire (1899).

It's Constitution Day in Micronesia and Inauguration Day in South Africa.

Happy Tuesday!

© 2005, The Moron's Almanac™

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