In the aftermath of Denmark’s controversial – and still to this day unused – ‘jewellery law’, many experts feared that negative headlines in media outlets around the world would do irreparable damage to Denmark’s global reputation.
But an international survey of respondents in the US, UK, Sweden and Norway show that Denmark is still viewed as favourably as ever before. If anything, its international reputation may have improved over the past six months.
The survey, conducted by Infomedia for Politiken newspaper, concluded that 75 percent of all respondents had not changed their view of Denmark in recent months, while 11 percent said they think better of the small Nordic country and only seven percent said that they now have a worse opinion.
The vast majority of respondents in all countries gave Denmark a positive evaluation.
As Danish politicians were finalizing a wide-reaching immigration bill that included an infamous provision to allow authorities to confiscate goods and valuables from refugees, many warned that Denmark’s reputation would suffer damage on a scale not seen since the ‘Mohammed crisis’ from a decade ago.
And indeed the bill generated massive criticism from rights groups and negative coverage in influential outlets such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and The Guardian, which famously ran an editorial cartoon depicting Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen as a Nazi.
There were fears that the negative coverage would be a major blow to how Denmark is viewed abroad, especially since the nation had been through a wave of negative stories just months earlier when it ran anti-refugee advertisements in the Middle East.
According to Infomedia, Denmark was the subject of at least 1,333 reports in the American, British, Swedish and Norwegian press over the past six months, with the majority of stories putting Denmark in a negative light.
But Rasmussen and others consistently countered that the bill was misunderstood and that Denmark’s reputation remained solidly intact. The PM even went so far as to say that “it’s a particular Danish discipline to be masochistic and let some selective newspaper clippings whip things up”.
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Poll results “not relevant”
The Infomedia poll appears to show that he was right.
“Regular people we spoke with continue to associate Denmark with something very positive. We clearly have a very strong national brand, which would really take a lot to affect,” Lasse Skjoldan, an Infomedia consultant responsible for the poll, told Politiken.
Not everyone, however, was convinced by the results.
Ole Wæver, a professor of international politics at the University of Copenhagen, said the poll didn’t paint an accurate picture.
“The interesting thing is not what the average American at a post office in Oklahoma thinks. The relevant people are those who interact with Danes and make economic or political decisions,” he told Politiken, saying that he stood by his previous warnings about Denmark's reputation.
Michael Ulveman, who served as spin doctor for former PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen, agreed.
“Regardless of what the numbers say, the discussion of the jewellery law and the comparisons to the persecution of Jews have been very damaging,” he told Politiken.
PM accepts some blame
Rasmussen admitted that his government could have been better with its messaging on the controversial law.
“I will admit openly that neither myself nor others in the government anticipated how it would be received. If we had known that, there would have been things we would have done differently to nuance the picture,” he told Politiken.
In a Constitution Day speech on Sunday, Rasmussen told Danes that they have plenty to be proud of when it comes to the nation’s international reputation.
“We let our babies sleep outside, we are among the most climate-friendly in the world and out in the countryside you can set rhubarbs and potatoes out on a table and people will pay for them in a cigar box. That is who we are in Denmark and that is the impression the rest of the world has of us,” the PM said.