Denmark. Used to make me think of happy blonde people, fairy tales, pig farms, mermaids, and yeah, I'll be honest, nude sunbathing. All in all the picture of a stable, tolerant European country. These days, it must be said, the reality is somewhat different. The first thing that might spring to mind is the Mohammed Cartoons, followed by the (rather inexplicable) ban on Danish exports, which - it must be said - made me a Defender of Denmark back in 2006.
However, the aftermath of the cartoons crisis suggested that the 'freedom of speech' mantle I had picked up wasn't entirely the true story. After all, Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper which ran the infamous cartoons had also commissioned them. It had done so as part of its self-chosen role at the forefront of right wing anti-immigrant media propaganda. It had been accused - prior to the cartoon furore´- of inciting racial hatred. It had promoted a toughening of Denmark's - already quite insane - immigration laws so that they would be in breach of European Human Rights legislation. Danes - perhaps not such innocent symbols of the tolerant European ideal after all.
However I hadn't quite lost all hope in this nation until last night. One of my best pals is Danish and had been contemplating loping back from Brussels to the wilds of Copenhagen of late. Until, that is, the Danish election campaign which she 'experienced' on her recent trip home. I should point out that this is about the blondest blue eyed Dane you could possibly imagine. But so strict is the measure of national conformism in Denmark these days that she was pretty much branded a foreigner: accent didn't sound quite right, lived in foreign parts, had failed to start a family early enough with another Dane...umm....its all a bit too kinder, kuche, kirche for my liking, with more than an inkling of national socialism about it. Imagine, therefore, how difficult life would be if you were called Aicha and weren't blonde... These campaign posters are very telling. The one on the left reads something like 'Immigrants should give, not just take, from Denmark" - a reference to the idea that they are all scroungers really.
Things get worse. The country is in the grip of extreme Euroscepticism and the radicalisation of politics, with a large and growing extreme right which - due to its support for Rasmussen's government over the last seven years - has been increasingly mainstreamed. Non-whites are essentially second class citizens, denied equal access to housing, welfare and job opportunities. The state has put in place rigid policies controlling who you marry, where you are allowed to reside, even your child's citizenship status.
In Denmark, if you are Danish and you marry a foreigner you aren't even allowed to live with your spouse in Denmark if it's possible for you to live in their country. Now I am sure it would be possible for me - in theory - to live all kinds of places from Kabul to Kazakstan. The question is, would i want to? would they be safe places to bring up my kids and raise a happy, secure family in - and this is important - the European culture to which I belong??? (Of course I am not Danish but you know what I mean - for my friend, for anyone, this is a fundamental consideration).
Technically this is against European law but the Danes don't give a monkeys. In fact, they are proud of their motto "We don't want to be a multicultural society".That's why there are villages of Danish exiles and their pariah foreign partners living across the water in Sweden and commuting to work in Copenhagen. It's true, there's something rotten in the state of Denmark and make no mistake
The Danish elections are tomorrow. It's a chance for the Danes to choose in favour of the moderate centre ground, and their representatives in the recently formed 'New Alliance Party'- Let's hope it is they, and not the Right Wing crazies who get to prop up 'liberal' Rasmussen's government next time around. And that the extreme right doesn't gain at the expense of openness, moderation, and fundamental rights.
It is extremely worrying when traditionally liberal countries like Denmark and the Netherlands become bastions of the right. For as we have seen in Belgium with the Vlaams Belang, once the extreme right gains a foothold they are extremely hard to dislodge and encourage the spread of such ideas right across the political spectrum in all EU nations. It is no surprise that Sarkozy toughened his policies to gain the trust of growing numbers of Le Pen supporters in France at the last elections. Let's just hope this tactic does not spread, or it could spread very bad news for all of us who love liberty and diversity.
In the meantime, if the Danes do vote in favour of the extreme right I suggest an extreme solution. Short of suspending EU membership, as we threatened to do with Jorg Hyder in Austria, individuals should act - perhaps, mirroring muslim outrage, a boycott is in order (er....here we go again...dont buy danish bacon!)