The racist policy of the Social Democrats is worse than any of the right-wing parties in parliament. It is the result of the party’s inability to deliver on any of its promises of bettering the lives of the majority of Danes. However, as the protests last Wednesday hinted at, the government should expect massive opposition from the streets to their reactionary politics.
Denmark often appears in international media alongside the racist policy carried out by various governments. In the past, there have been cases like the “jewellery law”, whereby the Danish state stole personal property from refugees arriving in the country, and the “burka law”, whereby the state decides what kind of clothes you are allowed to wear. In the past, it was the nationalist conservative Danish People’s Party that set the standard for the racist policy adopted by the parliament. But now they have been overtaken by the Social Democracy, led by Mette Frederiksen.
Denmark has once again made headlines in the international media with the decision of the current Social Democratic government to send Syrian refugees back to Syria. But this also provoked a response at the street level. On Wednesday 19 May, people took to the streets in 25 different cities and towns around the country in support of Syrian refugees. The protest in Copenhagen was large, with several thousand participants. It has been quite some time since there have been so many simultaneous protests around the country at once.
The protests were filled with energy. Roughly 10,000 people took to the streets around the country. The anger that the youth and workers have let build up at home in front of their TV screens for more than a year had a chance to be partly expressed, now that it is possible to protest again. Naturally, Revolutionary Socialists (the Danish section of the IMT) participated, printing extra copies of our newspaper, Revolution, which were practically ripped from our hands. Many young people we discussed with were more than ready to get involved in revolutionary politics.
A tiny group of fascist provocateurs had set up on the outskirts and started shouting through a megaphone at the beginning of the protest. But there was no need for a specialised group of anti-fascists to take care of this since it did not take long before roughly 50 people surrounded the fascists and physically pushed them away, forcing them to flee and seek refuge with the police.
The protests were a response to the decision of Mette Frederiksen and the government that about 500 Syrian refugees no longer can receive a residential permit and therefore have to return to imprisonment, torture and death. The government based its decision on a report furnished by the Immigration Administration, which concludes that the conditions in Syria are sufficiently safe. However, after the report was published, 11 of the 12 sources based on the report have condemned its content and conclusions. The only source still supporting the report is the Syrian general of the Assad regime, Naji Numeir, the leader of the Syrian immigration authorities.
Danish politicians always strive to portray themselves as humanists and fighters of democracy, and Denmark as the stronghold of civilisation. But these politicians have no problem whatsoever sending refugees back to a Syria devastated by a civil war that they themselves helped helped fuel as partners to US imperialism. These politicians attempt to appear presentable, in their nice, expensive suits, but the truth is that they are swimming in the blood of innocent people due to their hypocritical policies.
The deportation of the Syrian refugees is simply the latest case of several xenophobic initiatives. It is no accident that the racist policy and announcements are being stepped up now. Prior to the pandemic, Mette Frederiksen had created the expectation that this Social Democratic government would be something entirely different. The virus provided the government with a temporary break from these expectations, but now that the pandemic has receded somewhat, it will be hard to come up with new excuses.
Learning from predecessors
The last time the Social Democracy was in power was in 2011-15, led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt. They carried out the same, if not worse, austerity as the past right-wing governments. This seriously discredited the party, as well as the coalition party Socialist People’s Party (SF), which was tarnished so badly that they had to leave the government.
The two largest left-wing parties had just spent a period of government attacking the working class, the youth and the welfare state, and lost the election in 2015. The reactionary Danish People's Party, on the other hand, advanced massively with over 20 percent of the votes. Why?
The labour parties had lost confidence among many. Unlike the other parties in the parliament, the Danish People's Party acknowledged the fact that: “yes, you are right, there are big problems in society.” The Danish People's Party also had a clear cause and solution to the problems: “these are people with darker skin, and if we have fewer of them, get more thrown out, then things will get better.” It is clear that this was neither a true cause nor a solution, but unlike the other parties, it was at least a concrete (if false and reactionary) proposal.
After their electoral failure, the Danish Social Democrats looked around Europe and determined that, if they tried a similar Helle Thorning-style government again, they could easily end up as their sister parties in France, Greece, the Netherlands and Germany, which have seen their vote shares collapse.
Propped up by COVID
When Mette Frederiksen was elected as the new party chairman of the Social Democrats, she launched a minor upheaval in the party and set a new political direction. First of all, the party could no longer be involved in implementing major cuts in welfare, i.e. education, healthcare, day care, etc. They had to appear as if they not only wanted to preserve but also expand welfare.
Secondly, the Social Democrats should not only copy the Danish People's Party and follow the right wing in their so-called foreign policy, but set the standard for how extreme and racist such policy could become. The reasoning was that the Social Democrats could only win voters by being even tougher than the right wing on the designated scapegoats who are blamed for the problems of the world: immigrants, refugees and Muslims. Part of this new tactic by the Social Democrats was to become more adept than the right wing at whipping up xenophobia and using racism to create fear of “Islam", “hordes of refugees", etc.
The party gained power in the 2019 election and the Social Democrats could not believe their own luck when COVID-19 broke out. The pandemic fit in with their political narrative that society had become “insecure", and that a social-democratic superstate was needed to protect us all. They began to seriously encroach on civil freedoms in ways that, until then, had been unthinkable.
Even before the pandemic, the government shut down a media outlet that they did not like, Radio 24/7. But when the pandemic broke out, the attacks on democratic rights intensified. The government quickly doubled penalties for offences that were characterised as coronavirus-related. These measures were also used to suppress protest and dissent.
Under the pretext of fighting the pandemic, the state limited movement, banned meeting above certain numbers, closed schools, and put restrictions on movement and gatherings.
Is it clear that the government used the coronavirus as an excuse to enhance the coercive and repressive powers of the state. Powers they are not going to surrender if and when the pandemic ends, but will retain in order to deal with social unrest in the future. In an Orwellian manner, the Social Democrat Minister of Justice, Nick Hækkerup, has been arguing for more surveillance cameras saying that, “with surveillance, freedom increases.”
These measures have been a suffocating experience, especially for young people, but these measures were accepted due to the pandemic. There was a broad consensus in the population that stricter political control and limits on personal freedoms were necessary to end the pandemic.
One of the reasons why the pandemic has hit Denmark relatively mildly compared to other countries was no doubt partially because the government shut down the country soon after it broke out, with a subsequent rolling out of mass testing of the population. Mette Frederiksen was riding high on the handling of the pandemic, which gave her greater authority. At the same time, it weakened the right-wing opposition parties, where there was already total chaos, as well as the parties supporting the government, including the left in the form of the Unity List and the Socialist People's Party, which have been as gentle as lambs.
Furthermore, the government has been blessed with low public debt at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. This meant that it could throw around money for wage compensation for companies, pay public employees and prop up small business owners, so that debt in 2020 “only” increased by 13 percentage points to 46.3 percent of GDP.
A combination of fortunate circumstances for the government has been reflected in the opinion polls, where the Social Democrats have been hovering stably over 30 percent of the vote. The last time the party received such a large share of the vote was in the election in 1998. The short-termist Danish political commentators have already stated that we are now at the beginning of a social-democratic millennium and that an election victory in the next parliamentary election is guaranteed.
Pent-up expectations and frustrations
But Mette Frederiksen and her inner circle know very well that a large part of their support is inflated by the coronavirus pandemic. History has shown several times how government leaders have become hugely popular for successfully dealing with societal crises, but that their support subsequently shatters, as they become the personification of these crises and fail to address wider problems.
This government was elected on promises that this time it would be different. That decades of cuts would be replaced by a “classic” Social Democratic government, where welfare would be expanded and the problems that workers and young people face in everyday life would be taken care of. The left cheered the election of the new government and its new manifesto, which they themselves helped to prepare. On paper, there was a very high level of ambition in relation to a green transition. This raised expectations and fostered illusions in the government.
COVID-19 put those expectations on hold. But already, workers and young people can see that the government is not going to deliver. Before the pandemic, the government's famous “Arne pension reform” was implemented, which was to ensure lower pensions for the most overburdened workers, but it is clear that this was just a cover for the government voting to raise the general retirement age for everyone. At present, the Social Democrats are conspicuously silent about what other welfare improvements they will deliver.
In relation to the climate question, the government, which was elected in a parliamentary election dubbed the “greenest election ever", has done nothing but kick the can down the road and bet on new technology being able to deal with climate change at some point in the uncertain future.
The pandemic disappearing and racism intensifying
All these developments and more have created a deep well of resentment and frustration that has been brewing among young people and workers, who have been sitting alone in front of their screens for a year. The government knows this and they are afraid of what it could result in now that the pandemic can no longer be used as a lightning rod.
Mette Frederiksen has therefore gone back to her original game plan. On the one hand, she is willing to stretch the government coffers to the limit to avoid having to make clear direct cuts. On the other hand, the government is completely turning up the racist rhetoric and policies against immigrants, refugees, Muslims and brown people in general, to distract workers and young people from the real problems in society. It is therefore no coincidence that we have seen an escalation in the xenophobic announcements from the government in recent months, after the COVID vaccination programme has begun in earnest.
And the government has not been wasting time. Until a few days ago, the government refused to allow home women and children, who are Danish citizens, from the prison camps in Syria. They would rather let four-year-olds with PTSD rot than relax their “tight immigration policy”. Now the government has chosen to permit a group of them to return home to prosecute the women for supporting Islamic State, while leaving the others alone.
Another issue that the government has prided itself on is bribing poorer countries to receive refugees who arrive at the Danish borders to seek asylum. Several ministers have thus visited Rwanda to discuss with the country's government whether it is possible to set up a reception centre for refugees arriving in Denmark.
Although nothing concrete has yet come out of these discussions, the racist signal from the Social Democrats is crystal clear: brown people, even if they are fleeing for their lives, should not be on Danish soil, even while their cases are being processed. It is also not excluded that it will actually be concretely implemented in the future. Especially because Israel has previously had a similar partnership with Rwanda, where the Israeli state paid Rwanda $ 5,000 per asylum seeker they received. The asylum seekers who did not want to go to Rwanda voluntarily were imprisoned and those who ended up in Rwanda were pressured to leave the country again by the authorities. The cooperation was so suspicious that the Israeli authorities had to stop it again in 2018.
In addition, the government maintains and is considering tightening the so-called ghetto law. Here, racism appears more directly in the text of the law itself. It states that the decisive criteria for whether a public housing area can be included on the list, either as a “ghetto” or as a “hard ghetto", is determined, among other things, by whether more than 50 percent of the residents have a so-called “non-western background”. The consequence will be that the cheap public housing in the big cities will be demolished or sold to private individuals. In other words: if the majority of the residents have darker skin, a large part of them must be forced out of the public housing areas. To avoid getting on the list, housing associations must exclude the unwanted elements - the non-western immigrants - when people apply for housing. This means ethnic sorting: if you are white, then you can get cheap public housing. If you are brown, beat it. It is unnervingly reminiscent of ethnic apartheid.
Struggle returning to the streets
When the Social Democratic government cannot deliver on its promises and develop society, then we can expect nothing but a further escalation of their racism. The xenophobic logic means that the announcements from the government must constantly get crazier in order to have a shock effect that can direct the masses’ focus away from the real problems in society.
It is therefore no coincidence that one of the mad dogs of the Social Democrats, the foreigners and integration spokesman Rasmus Stoklund, recently made a post on Facebook where he indirectly compared foreigners with weeds. A few years ago, it would be a message that one could only expect from the far right. Now it is ordinary Social Democratic rhetoric.
But while racism for a limited period can be extremely effective at distracting the population, the real social and material problems will sooner or later take hold. Danish politicians have pursued a racist immigration policy for 20 years, where all of society’s problems have been attributed to immigrants and Muslims. By their own logic, this foreign policy should have helped solve the problems. But have things gotten better for workers and young people? No, on the contrary, they have only gotten worse.
With the opening up of society, we see how racism from the ruling class and its politicians not only helps to distract from the real problems, but, as the protests Wednesday illustrated, causes thousands, especially of young people, to take to the streets across the country. That could be dangerous for the government. When young people set a precedent that large protests can shift the political agenda, it can be an inspiration to the working class, which can put even more pressure on the government.
There is tremendous anger, especially among young people. These protests were just a taste of what we can expect in the future. If Mette Frederiksen and her ministers believe that racist politics are a guarantee that they can sleep peacefully at night, then they should think again. With the opening up of society, the class struggle in Denmark will sooner or later increase again, and the racist mood that the government is stirring up will evaporate into thin air.