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The widening gap between Sweden and Denmark

Published onsdag 16 mars 2011 kl 12.00
Is Denmark Sweden's future?
(5:52 min)

The neighbouring country of Denmark may have a lot in common with Sweden, but developments over there are causing some dismay here in Sweden.

Last week the immigration minister, Erik Ullenhag, said that, as regards racism "Sweden must not become like Denmark."

Following the entry of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrat party into the Swedish parliament in 2010 the 'Danish way' is more and more being held up by some politicians as an image of what they do not want to see happen here in Sweden.

In January Maria Wwetterstrand of the Greens also chose Denmark as her cautionary example, of a country that had, according to her, become closed and intolerant because of political changes.

New laws in Denmark include ones making it harder for spouses to immigrate to Denmark to join their husband or wife, and new directions to the state TV and radio to specifically promote christian Danish culture.

In Denmark the right-wing coalition of conservatives and liberals remains in power due to tacit support from the anti-immigration Danish People's Party, which gets quite a lot more support than their equivalents - the Sweden Democrats. Almost 14 per cent for the Danish party, as opposed to less than 6 per cent for the Sweden Democrats.

In Sweden all the mainstream parties are careful to avoid looking like they are working with the Sweden Democrats.

Danish writer Mikael Jalving, who has written a critical book on Sweden - Absolut Sverige - says that over here a culture of silence and self-censorship prevails, whereas in Denmark debate is more open and robust.

Author Lena Sundström wrote a Swedish book critical of Denmark ('The happiest people in the world'), looking at the growth of xenophobia there. She says that Danes, when talking about Sweden, often have a bit of animosity, that there is a big/little brother complex at work.

Danish writer Mikael Jalving works at the Jyllands Posten, the Danish paper that was the target of protests and attacks after it featured a series of cartoons on the theme of 'Muhammad', some showing the muslim prophet as a terrorist.

Mikael Jalving says that this really caused a 'revolution' in the debate on free speech - that it made many realise that some rights had to be vigorously defended.

"If we start to listen to mobs in Cairo, in Lebanon or Saudi Arabia, this is when our country is no longer free."

As regards the right-wing extremism, Mikael Jalving says this has to be met with dialogue and open debate. "The Sweden democrats are growing every day. And why? Because they are demonised."

But for Swedish author Lena Sundström, the difference between Sweden and denmark are not in their cultures, but more about specific political events.

Lena Sundström says that the Danish People's Party became influential when the Danish liberal and conservative parties needed a partner to help form a government - after previously trying and failing to quarantine the party.

So for Lena Sundström, the main difference on issues of immigration and multiculturalism is not between Sweden today and Denmark today, but between Denmark before this specific political change, and Denmark nowadays.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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