Immigration in Denmark and Norway: Protecting Culture or Protecting Rights?

Article excerpt

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. …


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