Discussing the Danish government’s controversial so-called ‘Jewellery bill’ and the refugee crisis in Europe

We live in one exceptional age when it comes to communication and access to information. Public political discourse has transcended the public halls and libraries in which political figures would engage with a select proportion of the population, namely middle aged politically conscious individuals. Now the rhetoric of politicians has infiltrated and merged seamlessly with our daily socializing via the platform of online social media, mainly the seemingly unstoppable Facebook. As videos of cats falling down stairs can be followed in such causal manner by a xenophobic rant courtesy of everyone’s favourite Trump, it raises the question as to how the politicisation of our social space has impacted our political understanding and perceptions of modern politics.

RUST set out to gain some understanding of how the student community has come to view the Danish political stance during the current refugee that is gripping Europe at this current time. More specifically we shall be querying three lovely students who are or have been students at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense about the controversial ‘jewellery bill’. The bill was passed on Friday 5th February and essentially gives Danish authorities the power to confiscate valuables without sentimental value and money over the value of 10,000 Danish Kroner, an increase from the initially proposed 3,000.

The legislation is supposedly aimed to offset the costs of sheltering and feeding the increased influx of refugees coming to Denmark, but the ruling Venstre party’s integration minister Inger Støjberg has publicly stated that Denmark’s main goal is now to become ‘significantly less attractive to asylum-seekers’.

The sentiment expressed by Støjberg was echoed by two of our kind participants, Nora a graduate from Hungary, agrees with the bill acting as a deterrent to many looking to come to Denmark with the aim of taking advantage of the Danish welfare system, “it is good idea, it may help stop the endless amount of immigrants who are coming here first and foremost to leech on the welfare system, unlike refugees coming here for sanctuary,” she told Rust.

Lars, a Masters student from Denmark, sees the bill as essential within the current political climate in Denmark and is reflective of trends that are occurring across Europe; “This bill is needed right now. It is a result of the ongoing refugee crisis that all of Europe is experiencing. I don’t agree with all of its points, but I think it is necessary at this current time.”

And as a recent report from the Danish National Police has stated, the bill is failing as a method to off-set the costs of accommodating refugees with the Danish authorities failing to confiscate any items or one single “krone”. Exchange student Sophie from France told RUST that the bill is essentially useless as a method of financing, but is moreover simply a malicious attempt to portray the Denmark as an unhospitable country to individuals escaping the atrocities of war.

“I think that the policy won’t be thoroughly applied, they are simply doing it to prevent refugees from coming. In my opinion this bill is awful. These people have risked their lives travelling in boats across the med to get away from places that are in the grips of civil wars and so on… Syrians know that Denmark will take their money, they know that they won’t be welcome. I think, you must be foolish to come here when the government clearly does not want you in the country. What kind of life is that? Knowing from the very beginning that the people in Denmark won’t like you simply being there.”

The legislation is not the first time Denmark has tried to dissuade asylum seekers from making Denmark their final destination point. With the publication of adverts in Lebanese newspapers highlighting changes to Denmark’s support for refugees and the passing of ‘Jewellery bill’, Denmark is seemingly whole-heartedly attempting to make itself as appealing as salty liquorice flavoured condoms. The next extreme measure could well be showing asylum-seekers a five-day weather forecast in Denmark.

Our Danish participant Lars believes the current legislation has communicated Denmark’s anti-refugee stance quite sufficiently, but would not rule out stronger legalisation coming into play in the future due to current socio-political climate across Europe.

“The publication of anti-immigration adverts in the middle east and this current bill will most likely act as a strong deterrent for many looking to Europe. I don’t know exactly how strong this legislation will be as deterrent but I think it will dissuade many from making Denmark their final destination. I would not be surprised if stronger leg will be passed, it seems to be a trend across Europe to pass harsher leg on refugees, whether you like it or not it seems to be legalisation of its time.”

However, Nora suggests that stronger anti-immigration policies should be adopted due to the lack of integration and respect that Muslim communities have displayed before and during the current crisis.

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have stronger legislation because I don’t necessarily think this new bill will stop people coming here. In this country we already have one of the largest Muslim populations of any country in Europe and it’s been a problem for many years as all their families are coming. It keeps happening. I understand that they want their families here, but the problem is they don’t integrate, they don’t learn the language, that is why, for example, in Odense we have Vollsmose, because they don’t want to live among Danes and would rather just have their own little society based on Middle Eastern culture. They don’t respect our culture, they don’t respect our religion, they don’t respect us. So I think they do need to do something more drastic.”

The ‘Jewellery bill’ was one of those rare moments that Denmark became the talk of the town across the world, but this time it wasn’t a new Lego Star Wars figurine and the international press didn’t go easy on the little Scandinavian country. The New York times denounced the bill as, “an appallingly cruel strategy: stealing from people fleeing war”, while the British newspaper the Guardian published a cartoon comparing Danish Prime Minister to Adolf Hitler and his crimes against Jews across Europe. But how does it feel having so much negative international criticism concentrated on the country you call home? Whilst being strongly against the legislation, Sophie believes the critics of the bill have taken it all too far, especially comparing the situation to the holocaust and Nazi Germany:

“I don’t think it is exactly the same thing. The Jews were segregated and put into death camps, and this is not the same thing, but the awful thing is, that even if we are welcoming the refugees, we are still taking their possessions. But still: I think the comparison is a little over the top.”

Nora highlights that the ridiculous nature of the criticism, as Switzerland has had the same policy since the 1990s, but the media has saw an opportunity to stir unnecessary resentment towards countries such as Denmark and Hungary.

“It’s quite funny how the media is trying to make a big deal out of something that has already occurred in another country already. No one is talking about Switzerland, no one! I’ve never heard anyone talk about Switzerland. When Hungarian president built the fence around the Hungarian border, there was a cartoon of him with a wire fence in place of his moustache. It was very similar to the Danish situation. Hungary tried to slow down the flow of immigration and the Hungarian people were accused of being heartless and racist, but then two months later both Austria and Slovenia build a fence.”

Lars, born and raised in the country of Denmark, has felt the bill has been completely taken out of context and feels the press has used the preconceived liberal ideas of Denmark to create attention grabbing headlines that distort the truth of the situation. Furthermore, the behaviour of the international media has been far from constructive when it comes to a reasoned debate on the matter.

“As a Dane I get provoked by being compared to Nazi Germany. I think there has been a general misconception on this bill: it has been framed in the very misleading way that Danish police will be ripping out refugee’s gold teeth and they would not be allowed to have their wedding rings. It’s a good headline at the end of the day and it goes against many international perceptions of Denmark. But if you read the Danish papers it was much more of a sober perspective, even if at times critical.”

Yet as issue of sexual assault that occurred across Germany in the last few months have been one of the factors that have contributed to Nora’s view that the approach Denmark is taking is one of necessity in order to create a sense of security in Denmark for women.

“It’s great (in reference to Danish anti-immigration legislation), I am a girl and I don’t want to be raped walking down the street or something. You can see what they are doing, the so called asylum seekers in cologne Germany, and yet they haven’t found anything because they are poor refugees and they are confused, but really they think that every woman in Europe is a whore because we aren’t wearing a Burqa. I think that is wrong.”

In contrast, Sophie views the legislation as a poor reflection of what she believes makes Denmark and Danish culture great and why she decided to live in the country.

“Well I like the Danish culture, so it’s a shame legislation of this nature has been passed, and I wonder how it has arrived at this point. Denmark is not the first choices country that refugees want to come to. There are many countries with far more refugees than Denmark so I am a bit disappointed in the Danish government.”

While the initial criticisms of the bill have been strong from many and in contrast the support for the bill has been almost as equally ferocious, what direction will Europe sway towards in the future? Is the growing distrust and disillusionment with liberal politics going to fuel the fire that will inevitably burn the Schengen area to the ground and cause the hair line cracks in the EU to become gaping voids of resentment?  

Lars, speaking as a self-declared pessimist on the situation, sees the current crisis as one that is truly testing the viability of the Schengen area and with Europe possibly seeing another wave of refugees this summer it could spell the end of many ideals that the EU holds dear.

“I think that if the EU doesn’t come together as a whole entity then nation states will prioritise their own self-interests to protect themselves. Going south, the borders will begin to close and Schengen will collapse and we will have a huge problem with Italy and Greece as they are the frontier, they cannot close their borders. People will drown and die. I think other nations will adopt similar polices, I wouldn’t be surprised being a pessimist. Right now it is a little more settled due to the bad weather but when the summer comes we could see the situation worsen further. At one point regardless of ideals, some southern countries may be forced to follow the northern countries. If there is no EU solution, this is inevitable. This is the first threat to modern EU but this crisis and the handling is really showing the cultural differences and ideals that exist within the EU right now.”

Nora told RUST that although she supports a strengthening of borders and immigration control, she fears that any further strengthening across Europe could jeopardize Germany’s future with their open door policy possibly leaving it as the only option for many refugees and immigrants.

“If Denmark and the Scandinavian countries passed stronger anti-immigration policies, it would put far too much stress on Germany and lead to an eventual collapse. And with Angela Merkel in office there is no chance that Germany will make a U-turn on its current immigration policies. The issue is that if only the Northern European countries implemented stronger immigration policies it would just put more pressure on Southern European countries.”

Sophie, who has vocalised her objection to the Danish legislation, feels the direction that Denmark and other nations are taking is a dangerous road to go down. In her view further policies such as the Danish ‘jewellery law’ will only make the existence of those coming even more difficult, but they will still come due to the ongoing conflicts around the world, especially Syria.

“These sort of policies does not help at all. Once they are in Europe, they don’t want to go back anyway. Stronger legislation will just lead to a harder existence for people coming to Europe. Things won’t get any better by simply shutting boarders; the situation won’t just go away. There needs to be more constructive policies within Europe.”

At this stage it seems only time will tell as to how this chapter in European history will unfold. Across the political spectrum there seems to be one unifying acceptance, the situation cannot be ignored. While war and political unrest exists within countries, especially those on Europe’s door step, the humanitarian crisis will continue to dominate political discourse in not just Denmark, but the entirety of European politics, dividing families and friends on such matters. A solution may seem like a distant ideal at this current time, but if steps are to be taken it will require a unified response by all European and world leaders. Unfortunately, at this current epoch in our history it would seem archaic notions of nationalism are dictating the current political discourse of many countries, populism has become the stable fodder for many leaders and it will not cease to be so until some form of concerted action is taken to solve the first crisis the first modern European Union has faced.   

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