Denmark’s nationalist party Danske Folkeparti (DF) reached 21% during the elections on June 18th. I cannot think of a single Dane in my environment who would have voted for DF, but in spite of my positive experience of being respected and appreciated by the people I have met, the result of the election leaves a bad taste in my mouth. These elections are symptomatic for an overall European trend, which attacks the principles of freedom of mobility. And I do take it personally, because it is personal.
It is quite simple to state why the topic of immigration and the question of how to deal with foreigners is personal – the way how nationalist campaigns are made is not based on serious political content, but on personalized and emotionalized messages. Immigration, without any doubt, is a challenge to politics. Push and pull factors of immigration, strategies for higher diversity instead of the creation of ghettos in urban areas, or even crime rates could be discussed – but this is not the case. Correlation is not automatically causation, but especially in terms of negative trends, right-wing parties enjoy to pretend as if it was. Politics has to be simple and comprehensible for a wider mass and instead of formulating the pillars of political programs as understandable claims, a black-and-white-picture is being drawn between the host country and immigrants. Kristian Thulesen Dahl, head of DF (picture), has the reputation of being a charismatic speaker and led the party towards a more populist stream.
The result of these populist approaches and the success of right-wing parties in Europe’s parliaments is higher acceptance for discrimination and the harsher distinction from the local to the foreign. The underlying assumption is that every foreigner automatically is bad and this idea piercing through local communities. If citizens start to doubt the honesty, ambition and capabilities of their neighbours because they have a foreign appearance or surname, discrimination in public and professional life are just a glance away. If stereotypes are being outspoken and foreigners directly blamed, ironically, right-wing parties reinforce what they pretend to fight: poor integration.
Since the political debates are already on a personal level, the reactions of the accused ones will be personal as well. I am lucky enough to have access to education and a supportive environment, but still, I am familiar with the personal insults and stereotypes, which have targeted my background. This has always made me angry, I have felt misunderstood and labelled for something, which was far from my own reality. What has been worse to me was when people dared to judge my family’s labour ethics or worldviews without even knowing them – solely based on the country of origin. Just use your empathy for a second and try to picture the emotions of someone who is less fortunate after hearing such stereotypes. Some people are able to shake off prejudice, most people cannot. The consequence is the rejection of the host culture, anger and frustration – the perfect soil for cultural clashes and the beginning of a vicious cycle.
Of course, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the shooting in Copenhagen earlier this year have made deep cuts in the intercultural relations, but the way the debate about foreigners led is far beyond reasonable. Just as it is necessary to distinguish patterns why people, regardless if local or foreign, take advantage of welfare systems, it is necessary to investigate who has difficulties with integration and why. However, immigrants are seen as one suspicious group. This bears another risk – racism among foreigners, where a division among socio-economic classes and races emerges. The protective reflex of “No, no, we are not the bad ones, it’s the Muslims/ Africans/ Roma/ Greek/ Spanish/ Italian/ Eastern European/ etc. who do this and that” only reinforces stereotypes and, paradoxically, feeds right-wing parties, which don’t differentiate between minorities and ethnic groups anyway.
Similar to the case of Germany, I observed a behaviour, which is as well linked to the rise of populism and nationalist ideas – the erosion of the moderate parties’ profile. I was sitting in a bus when I saw a banner by the Social Democrats, saying something in the sense of “More requirements for asylum seekers and more duties for immigrants”. I had to check again – indeed, it was a slogan by the Social Democrats. The topic of immigration bashing was a core of the campaign in Denmark, but the attempt to attract DF voters failed – of course. What used to be one of the features of Social Democrats was an underlying worldview in which people are equal, regardless of race, nationality or religion. By switching towards classic right-wing slogans, it appears as if the nationalists are actually right, so why not voting directly for them?
Unfortunately, I am not surprised by the result. The German think thank “Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung” published a study, which proves that even moderate politics in many European countries are already notably influenced by right-wing populist ideas, especially in terms of immigration – Denmark is one of them. The role of politics is to reconcile the different streams within their own country, but if a government is willing to deepen the ditch between groups, I do not see how anyone could benefit, except the parties themselves, which are nurtured by stereotypes.
While it is possible to implement restrictions on the national asylum law, in the current state, neither the Schengen Agreement, nor the fact that people with different cultural backgrounds are yet holding the Danish citizenship can be reversed or changed easily. What is hidden behind this is a twisted pattern: on one hand, the monocultural ideal of the Danske Folkeparti, Front National or the Partij voor de Vrijheid can hardly be achieved in practise – so these parties win in first place with an illusion instead of realistic politics. One of DF’s claims is the stop of non-Western immigration, this by definition includes as well Eastern Europeans – members of the European Union and therefore free to travel and reside wherever they want in the EU. However – it works. On the other hand, the impossibility of a historic time travel, where globalization, decades of immigration and membership in the European Union never happened, will reinforce the popularity of nationalist parties. It will be easy for them to say that the “problem” is not solved yet and therefore has to be tackled harsher.
Not only in Denmark, but in all the countries which failed to work out a functioning concept beyond multiculturalism, it will be important to rather deal with the policy mistakes made in the past, instead of planting a seed for an unknown, but possible hostile, future, which would reshape society for all citizens. Realistically, the patterns of the past five decades of European immigration are part of nowadays’ society and it is a worrying trend that hardly any party speaks about immigrants as human beings, but solely as possible human capital or a possible threat to the welfare system. However, even the liberal merit-based approach to reward people for their own hard work can be easily replaced with pure discrimination. Interestingly, not a single European party has given a long-term perspective of how demand for labour will be covered without foreigners and how this is compatible with the claim for more mobility (jobs/ internships/ student exchanges) – perhaps because the answer to it is much shadier and closer to Denmark’s southern neighbour’s experience during the 1930’s and 1940’s than most people would like to admit.
Photo: Creative Commons; News Oresund