On September 15 the Danish parliamentary elections will host a showdown between incumbent, Lars Løkke Rasmussen for the conservative Venstre party, and leader of the Social Democrats Helle Thorning-Schmidt. A victory for Thorning-Schmidt, former member of the European Parliament, would bring an end to Venstre's decade-long stay in office, the longest in Danish history for anyone outside the Social Democratic Party. But just as important is the blow this will deal to the recently empowered Danish People's Party. It's about time too.
Denmark's constitution provides a system whereby administrations lose their place in office once they become a minority. This has created a government in which the best way to secure enough political power to take steps away from the crippling compromises of centrism are by weaving together a network of separate party resources. Venstre, literally 'the Left', has pulled this off in a masterful way through collaboration with the Conservative, Liberal Alliance and Danish People's parties, among others. They saw their first success with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark's Prime Minister from 2001 to April 2009, a victory that handed the nation's underdog a winning streak that would've made Jean Chrétien blanch.
Such newfound power has allowed Venstre to move Danish politics away from the centre and toward something more reminiscent of the US Republican Party. But these right-wing machinations have alienated the traditionally moderate people of Denmark, and Venstre is taking notice. This week it made a pledge with the Social Democrats to get back on friendly terms, which would mean shrugging off the Danish People's Party, and this has hit the DPP where it hurts, as even the Conservative Party has softened on what seems to be the DPP's pet obsession: Immigration.
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Already feeling the sting of being left out, DPP leader Pia Kjærsgaard vented in a recent debate. Kjærsgaard, who has made headlines for her remarks about Muslims, attacked what she sees as a betrayal by the Conservative Party. The DPP has always been against immigration, but while anti-immigration arguments can be made in fiscal terms, the DPP has never made efforts to conceal the fact that its worries are, in fact, racial. In a speech on immigration policy given in 1997, Kjærsgaard openly stated her opposition to multiculturalism, saying that it was in no way enriching and that it could only lead to "katastrofe".
Meanwhile, public support for the DPP has been increasing since 2001. Two years ago it won over 15% of the vote, a significant increase, and already this influence has been felt. Earlier this year, Denmark came under fire when President of the EU Commission, Jose Barroso asked whether Denmark's new border controls were in violation of the Schengen Agreement. Rest assured, this year's elections will be powered by concerns over the economy and little else, but if the Danes vote only with their bankbooks in mind, and the influence of the DPP continues to grow, Copenhagen will cease to be a role model for the rest of northern Europe while Berlin, already a far more eclectic and successful city, will continue to pull ahead as the older brother Copenhagen longs to do. Scandinavia's most influential city will lose its reputation for tolerance in a place where tolerance has given the rest of Europe a reason to be envious, and outside perspectives of charmingly blunt Danes will slide out of focus as new images will emerge of an intolerant lot obsessed with ethnic purity. Though by then, they will presumably have stopped caring what foreigners think and will have retreated completely into a cave of narcissistic racism.
It will of course be interesting to see how officials continue to handle the issue of immigration over the next few weeks, with all its economic implications, and I have the highest hopes for Denmark, as it is one of the countries I most admire in the world. But the recent popularity of the DPP gives me a chill and causes me to wonder what the Danish people really want. There's a joke about a mother whose son has an upcoming boxing match, so she asks her priest to pray for the boy. The priest replies, "I'd be happy to pray for your son, but it'd sure help if he could box."
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