Andrew Osborn

 

 

Chief Russia Correspondent

 

Deputy Bureau Chief Russia/CIS

 

Reuters

 

 

Rise of the far right sees Denmark's liberal traditions under attack.

The Guardian, 31st August 2000 17:18

By Andrew Osborn in Copenhagen.

A wry smile plays across the face of the fair-haired young man as he explains his feelings about asylum-seekers. `When refugees are no longer in need they should go home but they don't and that's the problem. About 6,000 come here every year and if they bring their families that can add up to as many as 16,000 people.'

Such views have struck a chord with many in Austria and eastern Germany but this is Denmark, a country whose liberal tolerant society has long been the envy of the world. But things are starting to change. The young man is Carl Christian Ebbesen, a board member of the ultra-nationalist Danish People's party (DPP) whose popularity ratings were as high as 15% earlier this year. The DPP's staunch opposition to Denmark ditching the krone in favour of the euro in next month's referendum has done wonders for its image and won it new-found respectability.

Its leader, the 53-year-old self-styled housewife Pia Kjaersgaard revelled in a public one-on-one debate with the Danish prime minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, on the euro last week. An elfin-like blonde lady and mother of two, she does not look like a demagogue. But appearances can be deceiving and the core policies of the DPP or the Dansk Folkeparti as it is known in Danish are far from respectable.

If it ever does win power, Denmark's reputation as a liberal society would be shattered forever. Aid to the third world would be privatised and poor coun tries forced to take action to `restrict population growth' if they wanted to receive any help. Recidivist paedophiles would find themselves forced to undergo `medical castration' and the criteria for Danish citizenship would be severely tightened.

Refugees should, the DPP argues, be repatriated to their country of origin and only small numbers provisionally accepted. `Denmark is not a country intended for immigration and the Danish People's party disagrees with the statement that Denmark will develop into a multi-ethnic society,' the party's programme reads.

The party is also hostile to the EU and would like to see the European Parliament, where it has one MEP, abolished.

Just 4.5% of Denmark's population of 5.3 million is made up of immigrants but the DPP has shown itself adept at whipping up popular anti-EU and anti-foreigner sentiment.

In 1998 Pia Kjaersgaard urged Danes to rally at Denmark's border with Germany and protest at cooperation between Jutland and Germany's Schleswig Holstein region. According to Bendt Bendtsen, the leader of the Danish Conservative party, the `cooperation' involved only minor activities such as student exchanges and a joint ambulance service. It was portrayed, however, `as a joint EU-German attempt to regain control over old German territory in Denmark.'

Mr Bendtsen adds: `It was tasteless, but by playing this tune on nationalistic strings they have distorted public discussion in Denmark to a point where a real dialogue is no longer possible.'

Former EU commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard warned last week that if Danes say `nej' to the euro next month it will be seen as a swing to the DPP. Earlier this month even Jorg Haider's Freedom party refused to meet with Kjaersgaard.

Yet the DPP is a real political force in Denmark. It polled 7.4% of the vote in the last parliamentary elections in 1998 and has 13 MPs in the Folketing (parliament). Now suggestions are growing that it may soon be in a strong enough position to prop up a centre-right government in exchange for a slice of power.