Over the last few years, the Danish concept of “hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah), has spread far beyond its Scandinavian roots. This lifestyle trend, which has been mistranslated to mean “cozy,” actually refers to the process of creating intimacy. Yet, this could not be further from the truth as Denmark’s government continues to swing further and further right on immigration policies.
In his last term in power, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has lead a right-wing coalition government responsible for passing explicitly xenophobic legislation. However, as the Danish parliamentary election has been called for June 5, there is an opportunity to remember and hold accountable those in power.
In May of last year, a law was passed that banned women from wearing face veils in public. This legislation targeted women who wear the niqab or burqa in Denmark, of which there are only between 150 and 200. The law is supposed to protect those who are forced to wear face veils said the justice ministry.
In December 2018, funding was approved to utilize a remote island, previously used to study contagious diseases, as a detention center for rejected asylum seekers with a completed jail sentence. While a spokesperson from the right-wing nationalist Danish People’s Party claimed the deportation center would not be a prison, individuals would have to stay in the center at night and the only way to get to the island would be by ferry – with a timetable at the discretion of the government.
Most recently, in January of 2019, a law was passed that requires those who apply for citizenship to mark their new status with a handshake; For those whose religions prohibit physical contact with strangers, such as Muslim women – this new law attacks the very right to express their faith the way they choose.
And yet, as easy as it is to blame the right-wing government for the increasingly hostile legislation, the left is not entirely innocent. The leader of the Social Democrats, Mette Frederiksen, has adopted an increasingly hard stance on immigration. Although the party abstained from both votes for the handshake and Lindholm, they voted in favor of the burqa ban, an example of political compromises that reek of a populist attempt to keep and gain voters from the right.
The Danish People Party, previously known as right-wing xenophobes campaigning for harder border control, have been left in the dust by the new party Hard Line lead by convicted racist Rasmus Paludan.
The party was founded in 2017 but gained traction on YouTube last month showing demonstrations where he ridicules Muslims and provokes by drawing the prophet Muhammad. They run on a platform of mass eviction of Muslims in Denmark and target Muslims from the Arabic, Afghanistan, Pakistani and Somali culture, only recognizing a Dane as someone who has never held any other citizenship besides Danish.
The emergence of Hard Line has highlighted anti-immigration extremism kept hidden until now and dangerously. Many parties, including those on the right, are actively distancing themselves from the group claiming their Islamophobic rhetoric has gone too far. However, the existence of Hard Line dangerously lowers the bar for what is acceptable for the remaining parties, who in contrast look like they are ready to receive immigrants with open arms – which the last year’s xenophobic legislation makes apparent is not the case.
The rise of xenophobia and nationalism in Denmark follows the pattern seen across Europe following the migration crisis, characterized most vividly with Brexit. However, with the Danish parliamentary election approaching voters have an opportunity to put their foot down and take a stance against the hostile rhetoric that has risen under the current right-wing coalition government.
Amidst election campaigns where parties are handing out croissants and empty promises to lure in voters, Danish citizens have the responsibility and opportunity to hold the politicians accountable for their willingness to compromise on the freedom of religion and common decency. Denmark was once a country hygge, a lifestyle that has quickly gained popularity globally, the concept has been completely removed from Danish politics.