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Rotten In Denmark? Europe's Happy Bellwether Turns Dark

Crackdowns on immigration are one more sign that the small but influential northern European nation is now on the front edge of more sinister trends.

Refugees walking along a Danish road in 2015
Refugees walking along a Danish road in 2015
Ansgar Graw

BERLIN — Petite Denmark has often played the eminent role of a political trendsetter, particularly with regards to Germany, its much larger neighbor. Take for example the events of December 1849, when all "irreproachable men over 30 years of age" elected the first representatives to the newly established Folketing, the Danish Parliament. It wasn't until 1867 that Germans were allowed to do the same.

A century later, in 1967, Denmark became the world's first country to lift the ban on written pornography. Two years after that it allowed "erotic illustrations and objects." At the time, young people from other European countries and the U.S. would pilgrimage to the liberal monarchy, where people addressed each other in familiar terms, and women would go to the beach topless.

But all of that is in the past. For some time now, a country that was once Europe's progressive pacesetter has been developing into a pioneer of restrictions on foreigners and asylum policy. The latest example came on Tuesday, June 5, when Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen announced a plan to place rejected asylum seekers in a "not particularly attractive" location outside Denmark. In other words, to set up an extraterritorial asylum center.

Perhaps Denmark is again leading the way, only this time in a different political direction.

The discussions with other EU countries are already at an "advanced" stage, said Rasmussen, chairman of the center-right Venstre party.

It fits the political landscape. Since taking office three years ago, the Rasmussen government has passed at least 68 changes to the legislation on asylum and immigration. Only last week, a burqa ban was implemented in the form of a ban on covering one's face in public. The burqa is also banned in France, Austria and Belgium in a limited form. Denmark's opposition, the Social Democrats, voted in favor of the law and are willing to go even further, in that they want to effectively abolish the right of asylum.

Is Denmark losing its liberal soul? Quite possibly. But the perception of most Danes is different. They fear losing their culture, their country and their security if they do not stop the current influx of refugees.

From a progressive point of view, this may be perceived as wrong, regrettable and blameworthy. But the Danes are close to the positions not only of the Poles and Hungarians, but also of the Austrians and French. Perhaps Denmark is again leading the way, only this time in a different political direction, one that Germany is still trying to resist.

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Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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