The prime minister of Denmark, Mette Fredriksen, Holding a speech.

The New Old Denmark: Leaving Liberal Democracy Behind?

2 mins read

Denmark is one of the premier democracies in the world and is generally considered to be one of the best countries to live in. Its success is based on being a liberal democracy and as such supporting far-reaching freedom for the individual. But all upsides must by the laws of nature also have a downside. Like the other Nordic countries, Denmark has lately faced many problems linked with the emergence of parallel societies, caused in part by a rather poor integration rate of immigrants into Danish society. Although restriction is a real global buzzword in the 2020s, Denmark has gone further than most Western European countries in attempting to put an end to these parallel structures – to the dreaded dismay of some and the hopeful aspirations of others. 

Prime minister Mette Frederiksen, a social democrat, and her administration presented in 2018 a highly controversial reform package to eliminate what the government identifies as ghettos – 25 in total. One example is that children aged only one and born in these areas will be put in a primary school of sorts to learn about so-called Danish values. Another is that some crimes can lead to a doubling of the penalty when committed in a ghetto rather than elsewhere. Frederiksen has stated that in her view, Islam is often a hindrance for people to integrate properly and her party has endorsed laws banning burqas and niqabs in public, and said she would like to close the Muslim schools operating in the country. What Frederiksen also brings to the table is a traditional class perspective, saying that the high level of immigration hurts the lower classes especially. 

Immigration has been a question that has long sparked a big interest from the Danish people, so that an administration, regardless of its ideological base, takes action on this issue is hardly surprising. Already in 1973, a mere year after its creation, Fremskridtspartiet under controversial lawyer Mogens Glistrup became the second largest party after the general election. Especially from the 1980s and onwards, their focal point has been anti-immigration and anti-Islam in particular. They have been followed in later decades by the breakout party Dansk Folkeparti as well as Nye Borgerlige, Stram Kurs (founded by yet another controversial lawyer, Rasmus Paludan), and Danmarksdemokraterne, formed only earlier this year. With the exception of Stram Kurs and Fremskridtspartiet, all of the above are currently represented in the Danish parliament, promoting radically decreased immigration and an end to multiculturalism. 

It has now also become the outspoken goal of Danish asylum policy that Denmark should have no asylum seekers outside of the country’s quota and that repatriation instead of integration is the main aim. New bills have been passed in the parliament and these include, among others, the possibility to confiscate money and various valuable goods from refugees at the Danish border. This bill notably received international attention and was even criticized by the United Nations Human Right Council, comparing it to the treatment German Jews were subjected to by the Nazi regime. Furthermore, prime minister Frederiksen has been quoted as saying that the individual’s freedom must not be considered more important than the good of the collective. Pitting the individual against the collective like this is unusual in a liberal democracy, but it seems to jive well with a common view in contemporary Danish politics. 

Interesting to note is additionally that the church and state are not separated in Denmark, despite the country being thoroughly secularized, and state secularism is a hallmark trait of modern democracy. There is also an official Danish Culture Canon, consisting of 108 works of several art forms meant to foster the cultural tastes of the Danes and not least help in the integration process. Regardless, Denmark is still a leading democracy. But how will the longing of the nation to get back to the “good old days” affect its previously immaculate ranking? As openness and tolerance, two fundamentals of liberal democracy, are being put aside in an effort to protect the nation-state from perceived deterioration, a pair of kindred questions spring to mind; is liberal democracy the only kind of genuine democracy? And, more hands-on, how far can a genuine democracy depart from universally accepted democratic values and remain a genuine democracy?

By Eric Axner-Norrman

Image source: News Oresund

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