The Danish People’s Party (DF) last week introduced a statement expressing formal concern over the number of residents in Copenhagen suburb Brøndby Strand who have an “immigrant background”.
“Parliament notes with concern that today there are areas in Denmark where the number of immigrants from non-Western countries and their descendants is over 50 percent. It is parliament’s opinion that Danes should not be a minority in residential areas in Denmark,” the statement reads.
The official declaration was approved by a vote of 55-54, with government coalition parties Venstre, Liberal Alliance and the Conservatives joining DF.
All opposition parties voted against it, with many taking issue with the use of the word ‘Danes’ in the second sentence. Critics argued that by approving the statement, parliament essentially told Danish citizens who are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants that they aren’t really ‘Danes’. Under their reading of the statement, only someone whose parents are Danish, or at least Western, would be considered one of the Danes.
Back and forth debate
Even before the statement was approved, opposition parties slammed the wording of the text as divisive and discriminatory.
“This is one of the most extreme groupings into ’them and us’ that I’ve seen in a long time. And to pass it with votes from a so-called liberal government. That’s too much,” Pernille Skipper of the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) wrote on Facebook.
Morten Østergaard, the political leader of the Social Liberals (Radikale), also took issue with the wording.
“How will we ever achieve good integration if it is stated in advance that your ethnic background prohibits you from being considered Danish? This isn’t just trivial hair-splitting, this is alarming!” he wrote.
As the debate over the wording took off, government coalition party Venstre seemed to express regret, or at least internal disagreement.
“It’s being read as if we believe that you cannot be a Dane if you’re not born in Denmark or if your parents aren’t born in Denmark. We obviously don’t mean that. There are a lot of people who come here and embrace Denmark, and who are Danes, and that is wonderful,” party spokesman Jan Jørgensen said on Sunday morning, adding that the wording was "foolish".
However, later in the same day Jørgensen’s party colleague Marcus Knuth said that Venstre stood by the wording.
Danish People's Party no stranger to this topic
DF’s Martin Henriksen steadfastly defended the formulation.
“I think that most Danes are outraged that there are places in Denmark where the Danes are obviously a minority,” he said in a heated TV2 debate with Skipper.
“If you look at the official statistics, there are places where immigrants and the descendants of immigrants from non-Western countries are the majority. We in the Danish Peoples’ Party think that’s a problem and we need to talk about it,” Henriksen added.
It was also Henriksen who spurred a previous round of national hand-wringing over who should be able to call themselves ‘Danish’ when he refused to say whether an 18-year-old man participating in a political talk show – who was born in Denmark, went to state schools and speaks fluent Danish – is “a Dane”. Henriksen said he couldn't say whether Jens Philip Yazsani, whose mother is Danish and father is Iranian, is a Dane because he “[doesn't] know him”.
Yazsani said it was the first time in his life that someone had questioned his Danishness and the much-discussed televised exchange was followed by endless posts on social media on what makes one Danish. In the midst of that debate, things took another turn when Queen Margrethe told Der Spiegel that Denmark is “not […] a multicultural country”.
'Danishness' was 2016's hot topic
A few weeks later, the queen caused the ‘Danishness’ debate to flare up again when she said that “it’s not a law of nature that one becomes Danish by living in Denmark”.
All of this followed another protracted and heated debate over the summer as a result of DF’s ‘Our Denmark’ campaign that was criticised for lacking diversity. That controversy only intensified when DF spokesman Søren Espersen defended the ad by using a word that many in Denmark find racist.
“Personally, I'm colour blind so I don't even know what colour they [the people featured in the campaign] are. …We could have inserted a Negro [into the campaign], and so what? What would that change?” he said in an interview with TV2.
There were in fact so many debates about ‘Danishness’ in 2016 that it was selected as the word of the year.
Seven weeks into 2017, and it looks as if the Danes are no closer to deciding who’s a Dane.