An advert for the Danish People's Party. Flickr/Jacob Christensen. All rights reserved.
How would it feel to wake up one summer day, and whilst having breakfast and turning over the pages of your morning paper, to come across a full-page ad with your full name on it, together with 683 other people, led by the caption: ‘The government together with the other parties are lavishly dispensing citizenship: A person on this list represents a serious threat to Denmark’.
What would be your reaction?
What would you think about suddenly being suspected of being a potential threat to the country where you live and where you have just become a citizen after years of permanent residence, work, a complex bureaucratic list of prerequisites, language and citizenship tests assessing your level of integration and factual knowledge about Danish history, society and politics? I doubt this would make you feel at ease, would it? Likely you would start wondering why an established and influential Danish party would feel the urge to publish a communiqué discrediting the names of over 600 citizens. And you also would question as to what made the chief editors of three Danish mainstream papers decide to publish the ad, without considering the effects it may have for the people behind those names. No matter what explanations you would find, you would no longer feel so welcomed in your country, would you? I would not.
The party behind the ad is the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DPP). Electorally, one of the most successful populist, radical right wing parties in Northern Europe, which since the late 1990s has mobilised Danish voters with an agenda based on anti-migration, ethno-nationalist politics, anti-Islam, populist anti-elitist and anti-EU appeals, and welfare ‘only for native Danes’. In recent opinion polls, the party ranks as the third largest political force, at only about 1 percentage point behind the Social Democrats now in government, which lately hit a historically unprecedented electoral bottom.
The DPP is not a marginal party. It is part of the establishment and it is not only doing well in opposition. The party, from 2001 until 2011, played a central and influential role in supporting the two Liberal and Conservative minority cabinet governments. The DPP has never been directly involved in government activity, and this perhaps represented a positional strength that allowed the DPP to achieve political goals, particularly on immigration and citizenship matters, upholding at the same time a degree of freedom from the rest of the political establishment.
The question of naturalisation, that is the acquisition of Danish citizenship, has from the DPP's beginnings been one of the party’s central issues. Party programmes and declarations describe it as the highest, most precious reward conferred by the Danish state to foreigners that have successfully and fully assimilated into Danish society; A prize to those looking like us, doing like us, behaving like us. For this the DPP often criticised previous governments for the way naturalisation law was dealt with, as an ‘office practice’, issuing every year 'like a grinding mill' thousands of passport to the Promised Land, to unworthy foreigners in the country.
Citizenship is in Denmark constitutionally approved by law twice a year; a praxis that refers to a naturalisation paragraph (indfødsret) of the Danish Constitution approved as early as 1850, for which each case of citizenship has to be discussed and individually evaluated by the Parliament. It is in respect to the old spirit of the ‘founding fathers’ Ove Høegh-Guldberg and N.F.S Grundtvig that “only the Nation’s children, must enjoy the Nation’s bread”, to which the DPP wishes the Danish state to roll back to, thus drastically reducing the number of foreigners being naturalised through a meticulous process evaluating each single case.
A central role in the discussion of citizenship rights was played by those within the party like pastor and former MP Søren Krarup, who also acted as DPP member of the naturalisation committee (infødsretsudvalget), and had a dominant voice in the debate about citizenship that led to new and much stricter regulations passed in spring 2002. For Krarup ‘the country’s most precious gift’ had been reduced to a poor and indifferent item, automatically assigned to people ‘with no relation whatsoever to Denmark, and no insight into Danish society’.
At the same time, naturalisation is defined by the party as something intrinsically related to identity, culture and religion; something almost exclusively to be inherited from one’s parents and hardly acquired by law. Or as another former prominent DPP MP, Jesper Langballe blatantly put it once: “something that comes together with mother’s milk”. Significantly, the present leader of the naturalisation committee is DPP MP Christian Langballe, son of Jesper Langballe.
Considering the DPP's positions on citizenship rights, it is hardly surprising that the party, as early as 2001 issued a similar ad to that published last week, listing all names and surnames of 4374 new Danish citizens. Also at that time the party emphasised the way mainstream parties lavishly dispensed Danish citizenship. The DPP also called specific attention on the new Danes with Middle Eastern sounding surnames, thus implicitly maintaining not only the cultural and values incompatibility of these new citizens, but also their potential threat to national security in a post 9/11 world.
But numbers are not an issue, when the purpose is to target them all. DPP leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl, explained that the contentious ad was necessary to ‘kick the debate off again’, and inform ‘the public opinion on what the Parliament is doing’. In short, the end justifies the means, especially when the fellow citizens named on the list are not considered as belonging to those ‘common people’ the populist party maintains to speak for.
DPP strategies and media campaigns have changed little over the years. From the advantageous position of now being a mainstream party in opposition, the DPP has no troubles to employ discriminatory and exclusionary politics and practices, endorsed by several mainstream printed media that see no ethical problem in the whole issue. Media become the arena from where to trigger and discuss issues on the premises dictated by a radical right wing populist party; it is part of what many today consider the ‘respectable face’ of parliamentary populism. The question is: whose respectability are we talking about? And respectable with respect to what?