Immigration in Denmark and Norway: Protecting Culture or Protecting Rights?
Moore, Harald F., Scandinavian Studies
DANES HAVE TRADITIONALLY been seen as a tolerant and liberal people who place importance and value on social cohesion and equality. This characteristic has been most evident in the country's smoothly functioning welfare state and the historical interest in global humanitarian issues. Yet Denmark has not escaped the notable and wide-spread rise of xenophobia and racism that began in the mid-1980s in Europe. Notably, this rise coincided with an increase in immigration and the proliferation of anti-refugee and anti-immigration sentiment from growing far-right factions that finally established itself within the Danish government (Wren 142). Norway too has been viewed as a tolerant and egalitarian society as demonstrated by the development of a strong welfare state and by its becoming the Scandinavian leader in global peacemaking and humanitarian aid. Yet Norway has also faced xenophobia and the rise of a far-right party in conjunction with a similar rise in immigration. There is a difference in attitude toward the far right, however, within Norwegian politics. Despite the popularity of the far fight and anti-immigrant Fremskrittsparti [Progress Party], a definite resistance from both the left- and right-leaning parties to any association with them--be it in joining to promote policy issues, or in forming government coalitions--can be observed. This attitude was exemplified in 1999 when the then Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik of the right-leaning Christian Democratic Party was asked whether he would allow the Fremskrittsparti to influence policy on immigration in order to stay in power. He replied, "As a country with a Christian and humanitarian cultural heritage, we must take our part of the responsibility for these people, without bringing this into an internal political game over the national budget" (Hagelund, "The Importance of Being Good" 178).
Notably typical roles have been reversed with regard to the governments of Norway and Denmark, and with regard to xenophobia, discrimination, and human rights. For example, Jews in Norway were prohibited from holding office in the Norwegian Parliament when independence was first declared in 1814; they also suffered anti-Semitic violence and employment discrimination. The Norwegian state repeatedly turned a blind eye when anti-Jewish signs began appearing around Norway in 1940, when the Norwegian police handed the occupying Nazis a list of Jews living in Norway, when Jewish identity cards were issued, and again when the Nazis began gathering them for transport to concentration camps (Friedman 327-9). At the time, Norway prohibited Jews from holding office in the Norwegian government, while Denmark's government by contrast outlawed all forms of racial and religious discrimination with punishments such as fines and imprisonment. Jews were also formally allowed to organize into official councils headed by rabbis who were selected by the state. During the Nazi occupation, the Danish police sanctioned special patrols of Jewish businesses, synagogues, and neighborhoods in order to provide heightened security and protection. Furthermore, when the Nazis suggested the creation of a Jewish Ghetto and proposed that Jews should wear the yellow Jewish star, King Christian himself threatened to move his palace to the ghetto and maintained that he would wear the yellow star as a sign of solidarity. Most significantly, Danish citizens with the tacit aid of the Danish government smuggled thousands of Jews out of German-occupied Denmark. Fewer than 5 percent of Danish Jews were arrested by the Nazis during the occupation (Friedman 320-5).
With these considerations in mind, how and why Denmark and Norway have struggled with the recent rise of immigrants to their respective countries--many of whom have arrived as asylum seekers or refugees--can be examined. Since the mid-1980s, an upsurge in popularity of the Fremskrittsparti in Norway and the parallel third consecutive term for Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Denmark, whose center-right Liberal Party relies heavily on a coalition with the far-right Konservative Folkeparti [Conservative People's Party], is revealing. The following analysis discusses how the far right won its place in both countries and the subtle but important reasons their participation in government varies. The ultimate difference lies in the contrasting political traditions of Danes and Norwegians, evident in their respective governments' party leadership and articulated in their media's either championing the far right's message or actively rejecting it. In more basic terms, Denmark, a former predominant power in Scandinavia, has reversed its position and become more insular and exclusive while Norway--historically the weaker and more compliant country--has extended focus beyond its borders by maintaining an all-inclusive and open society at home.
THE GROWTH OF FAR-RIGHT PARTIES
The main anti-immigration party in Norway is the Fremskrittsparti and the Danish People's Party (DPP) in Denmark. (1) Oddly, neither of the parties emerged with immigration as part of their platform, but rather were strongly opposed to taxation in the rapidly growing welfare states with their high rate of taxation. The DPP initially had more of a following than the Norwegian Fremskrittsparti at its first and unexpected electoral success in Denmark's 1973 elections, in which it won 15.9 percent of the vote. Four years later during Norway's 1977 parliamentary election, the Fremskrittsparti made its initial and surprising advance, winning 5 percent of the vote. The party thereby met the required percentage to capture seats in parliament. However, Norway's far-right party slowly began to grow during the 1980s and eventually in the 1997 parliamentary election, the Fremskrittsparti realized results similar to the 1973 DPP race. It thus became Norway's second largest party at the time with 15.3 percent of the vote. After achieving these gains in their respective parliaments, their platforms changed to anti-immigration (Schain 107-8).
What, though, spurred the growth of the far right in Norway and Denmark? Historically, both countries had been ethnically homogenous, and neither had an explicit history of racism or xenophobia. They shared, rather, the traditional Nordic convictions of open-mindedness and egalitarianism. However, as immigration rates rose in the 1960s and 1970s and as the newcomers filled the lower-tier economic positions rejected by the native Norwegians and Danes, public sentiment began to show uneasiness. By the mid-1980s, when the inexpensive immigrant laborers were replaced by asylum seekers and refugees, concern among the public sphere increased even further.
There is, however, a sizable difference in degree of political mobility in the two countries. In Norway, for example, the number of voters who reported feeling concern about immigration grew relatively modestly, from 4 percent in 1989 to 6 percent in 1997. In Denmark this figure jumped from 4 percent in 1987 to 25 percent in 1998, clearly a substantial shift in attitude. Polls revealed that immigration issues superseded unemployment, taxes, and the economy as the single most important concern to voters (Schain 109). High unemployment rates can without doubt have an influence on attitudes toward immigrants, and Denmark struggled with rising unemployment in both the unskilled labor and lower-level management sectors duc to shifting employment trends resulting from globalization. The burden of taxes and the uncertainty of a weak economy only exacerbated the issue and resulted in increased economic inequality and insecurity. Increased immigration produced an added mistrust of the government and led the Danes to support their more radically right and anti-establishment parties (Kestila and Soderlund 562). The unemployment rate in Denmark averaged over 9 percent between 1980 and 1990, while in Norway it averaged 2.67 percent (Anderson 506). The disparity between the two rates contributed to differences in public sentiment toward immigrants. The increase in asylum seekers in both countries during this period was roughly parallel. In Norway, the number of asylum seekers rose sharply from zoo in 1983 to 8,613 in 1987; in Denmark, those figures rose from 800 in 1983 to 9,300 in 1986. The war in Yugoslavia occasioned almost 14,000 refugees in Denmark in 1992, and neatly 13,000 in Norway the following year (Schain 109-10). Although unemployment rates were significantly different, a similar increase in the number of refugees arriving in Denmark and Norway prevailed, and yet there were very different attitudes toward them. This disparity suggests that unemployment was a major factor in the anti-immigrant sentiment rather than xenophobia, as some have proposed, but one that is far more difficult to track.
Another factor contributing to the rise of the far right in Denmark was a deep division in the populace concerning membership in the European Union. That concern was accompanied by a significant distrust of and alienation from politicians and government institutions in general. This overall dissatisfaction came from a profound disappointment with the new conservative government, which came to power in 1968 after many years of social democratic control. Instead of implementing promised changes, they retained the same policies as the previous government, and--worse yet--levied a sharp income tax increase. Polls revealed that the Danes had the highest degree of mistrust for their government of any Nordic or EU country (the EEC at the time) (Ignazi 142). These factors produced a deterioration of class and political party identification, and opened the door even further to the far right.
In Norway, immigration became a part of political discourse in the early 1970s with the growth of non-Nordic workers from Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco, and Yugoslavia. Some labor migration from other Nordic countries--though relatively modest in number--had taken place, but the workers were considered similar enough to Norwegians that they could be easily assimilated. As a result of the apprehension about the non-Nordic immigrants, the government put a temporary end to immigration in 1975. Officially it allowed only a few exceptions such as temporary migrant workers, those with needed expertise (such as in the petroleum industry), and a limited number of refugees. Some allowance was also made for family reunification. But as traditional immigration was curtailed, a sharp increase in refugees and asylum seekers, particularly in the mid 1980s, can be seen. This increase was so significant that by zoos, 6.6 percent of Norway's population was immigrants, of which half came from Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Hagelund, "A Matter of Decency?" 49). But other elements contributed as well: high taxation, the strengthening of the welfare state, and divisiveness over joining the EU. These issues prompted voters to leave the powerful pro-EU and high-tax Labor Party. While anti-tax voters went to the right-leaning pro-Europe Fremskrittsparti, many in the anti-EU contingent defected to the left so that gains were shared on both sides of the political spectrum. Additionally, due to a lack of strong party leadership in the wake of party chairman Anders Lange's death, support for the Fremskrittsparti dropped in the late 1970s: the party did not see much support until the elections of 1989. In that election, under the Fremskrittsparti's new and charismatic leader Carl Hagen, the party received a remarkable 13 percent of the vote. In 2001 that number jumped to 14.7 percent, making it the third largest party in Norway (Hagelund, "A Matter of Decency?" 48). This rise in popularity was attrobited to the doubling of immigrants arriving in Norway between 1986 and 1987 (7,500 to 13,000) and a subsequent strong anti-immigrant message from the revitalized Fremskrittsparti (Ignazi 152-3). The party managed to achieve this success in spite of highly publicized links between party members of parliament and racist and nationalist organizations, a cause for concern among the other political parties. Gro Harlem Brundtland, then the Norwegian prime minister, asked at the time in response to the Fremskrittsparti's popularity, "What kind of society will we have if these attitudes are allowed to spread?" (Hagelund, "The Importance of Being Good" 193). This kind of query suggests that xenophobia may indeed have been a contributing factor in Norway's shift to the right.
Certainly, in a country whose government and citizens take pride in its humanitarian record, low unemployment, and enormous wealth from oil, the Fremskrittsparti's popularity could be considered unusual. According to research done by Elina Kestila and Peter Soderlund, ethnic prejudices in Norway do not seem to exhibit a positive correlation to immigrants already there, but rather to the significance and consequences of continued immigration such as the effects of the unemployed exploiting the welfare system and threats to cultural and national identities (Kestila and Soderlund 561). As a result, the party has maintained a high level of support by following the current of public sentiment. In Norway's 1995 election, 47 percent of Fremskrittsparti voters said immigration was their most important issue. In the 1997 election, opinions changed: 20 percent of their voters believed immigration was the most important issue, and 37 percent deemed welfare issues to be most important. By 2001, an electoral shift occurred and immigration hardly rated as a concern at all. To maintain their electoral base, the Fremskrittsparti found success in adjusting their message to fit the mood of the moment, most notably to the issue of tax relief (Hagelund, "A Matter of Decency?" 48). Nonetheless, the exploitation of welfare is still reminiscent of immigration, as is protecting cultural identity by keeping others out.
"OTHERNESS" AND THE MEDIA
Inconsistencies and distinctive differences between countries in the way the public media have handled the issue of immigration in their respective countries are apparent. Danish attitudes toward immigrants began to shift toward the negative in the early 1980s as demand for their labor began to fall. The immigrants, who had up to that time been greeted amicably and who had helped to fill labor shortages, were now viewed as people to be excluded. This change in attitude took place in terms of an "othering" of immigrants--that is, employing language as a means of setting immigrants apart from society in general. For example, immigrants working in Denmark were described by both the public and private sectors as either gaestearbejdere [guest workers], an expression that carries the connotation of transience, or as fremmedarbejdere [foreign workers], which also carries a second meaning of foreign and "strange" Both of these terms were psychologically and socially exclusionary and alienating. Over time and with added pressure from immigrant rights groups, a change in terminology at the government level was undertaken in an attempt to lessen the stigmatization. The more suitable term invandrer [immigrant] was introduced, but usage took hold by and large only in governmental agencies. This "othering" which adds a level of stigmatization to the non-natives, seemed to establish itself in the Danish consciousness rather quickly and came to envelop all types of perceived immigrants, even carrying over to third generation Danish-born "immigrants" (Wren 147).
Overall, Danish governmental support for immigrants has been somewhat muddled as well. Discrimination based on race is illegal in Denmark with some exceptions. It does not include acts of discrimination by government departments, public authorities, or the labor market, and penalties in the court of law are minor. Discrimination can also be authorized if it is deemed in the ethnic minority's best interest (Wren 148). It is a willful way of invoking not only an isolating "otherness" among the immigrant population and their descendents, but also the source of a sense of insecurity and a level of hostility supported directly by the state. The law also does not apply to racism in the form of public debate, which in turn excludes the media from any legal responsibility. Herein is another difference between the Danes and Norwegians. The Danish media has been criticized as having been a very effective medium for communicating anti-immigration sentiment and for portraying ethnic minorities in a negative light by repeatedly using the word fremmede [foreigners] when referring to immigrants. As a result, the media has been influential in the debate as well. An example of this practice can be seen in the Danish daily tabloid Ekstra Bladet, which in 1997 began publishing stories on refugees abusing the welfare system. These storeis then progressed into an ongoing and widely-read series of newspaper articles on that topic of "foreigners." This series subsequently inspired the development of a reality television series about a Somali man who had two wives and eleven children and had, the series claimed, received approximately $75,000 annually in government assistance. This story, of course, led to an outcry from the Danish public and overt feelings of hostility toward immigrants as well as the government. After the series ended, the paper undertook a campaign to reduce welfare benefits for refugees that ended with a wary Danish government quickly implementing the benefit reductions the following year (Suransky 22).
In contrast to the Danish media, Norway's 1999 election cycle saw the Norwegian media give the popular Fremskrittsparti campaign coverage, both in print and on air, as they did the other political parties. However, when Fremskrittsparti members began publicly disparaging immigrants during debates by attributing to immigrants a rise in crime and affirming their position that different cultures cannot and should not live together, the mainstream Norwegian press reacted differently from their Danish counterparts. They responded critically by referring to their political rallies in a more condescending manner, using terms such as "circus" or "side-show." At the same time, politicians from the left and right publicly distanced themselves from the party, thus sending them and the public a warning that their messages served only to build up prejudices, and calling their beliefs indecent and offensive. In fact they defined themselves and their campaigns by the fact that they vehemently opposed the Fremskrittsparti (Hagelund, "A Matter of Decency?" 58-9).
This analysis notes similarities and differences between the various components that shifted Denmark's and Norway's politics to the right. It is clear that economics, distrust in government, xenophobia, and the strong desire to protect Norwegian and Danish culture and heritage motivated the rise of the far right. But why was there a difference in how the two nations' leaders responded to this increased popularity? The explanation may lie in the difference between the political mentality of the Danes as opposed to the Norwegians. The Danes came to fear external forces that threatened not only the Danish state, but also the Danish nation, a fear that was reflected in their concerns about membership in the European Union, which they viewed as dangerous to their autonomy (Hansen 61). There was also a perceived risk to Danish culture and "Danishness," which has been successfully cultivated by the far tight politicians, public figures, and the media. This attitude stems at least in part from Denmark's being a former political and military power in Scandinavia whose influence extended into a small empire. Denmark ultimately lost not only territory, but also prestige. Denmark's relationship to Germany, by which it has recently been dominated culturally and socially, is another facet that has strengthened the far right's influence (Wren 150). The loss of Danish empire and conflict with external powers over Denmark's real or perceived sovereignty changed the nation's attitude and focus to look inward instead of outward.
Norway, on the other hand, spent hundreds of years under the political control of either Denmark or Sweden and subsequently endured a German occupation as well. This historical background provides a reason that the acceptance of the far right has produced an opposite result to that of Denmark. Norway has an understanding of what it is like to be powerless and to lack prominence in the international community and has therefore assumed the task of being a world leader in human rights and being a mediator for peace. This historical experience has helped Norway look outward and engage the world, which means avoiding the racist and populist dogma of the Fremskrittsparti. Times change, of course, as economies shift: global dynamics change and political discourse evolves, but for now Norway presents legal protections for immigrants by outlawing discrimination based on race, religion, and ethnicity, and actively promotes human rights in all forms both at home and abroad (Ingebritsen 70).
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Harald F. Moore
(1.) The DPP rose to power in 1995 after the collapse of the Denmark's Fremskrittsparti. However, I have chosen to use the DPP throughout this article as support simply shifted from the old to the new party, as well as to avoid confusion with the Norwegian Fremskrittsparti.…
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Publication information: Article title: Immigration in Denmark and Norway: Protecting Culture or Protecting Rights?. Contributors: Moore, Harald F. - Author. Journal title: Scandinavian Studies. Volume: 82. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 2010. Page number: 355+. © 1999 Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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