Denmark makes the news… in the not-so-cool way

Everyone is freaking out about the new Danish law—passed yesterday—allowing police to seize asylum seekers’ valuables, because it’s so in-your-face disgusting. As former Minister of the Exterior Per Stig Møller from the Conservative Party said a couple of days ago: “Throughout their whole journey they will have encountered human traffickers and thieves and have been robbed, and then they’ll come to the Danish border—and have the rest confiscated”. Nasty images, indeed.

It has been pointed out that this isn’t about actual financial gain (how could it be?), but about sheer humiliation. This is what finally got me to understand the Danish word “svinehund”, after all these years. That sadistic streak that will just rile itself up at the opportunity to kick someone who is already lying down. That part that’s going, “You call yourself a refugee, but you have an iPhone? How dare you. How fucking dare you. Give me that!”, and then proceed to rant about refugees with suitcases full of diamonds.

However, let’s not forget about the other elements of the law that was passed. One of the really grim ones is the fact that refugees will have to wait three years for their right to family reunification. This is from when they are legally recognised as refugees, ie. have been granted asylum, so in reality, the total length of time would be longer than that. But there’s more: Protection will only be granted on a one-year basis. So in reality, people may never reach the magic number three which would allow them to maybe be reunited with their spouse or parent or child in safety, provided they survive that long. There are some disturbing provisions for indefinite detention too.

“You just want the whole world to live in Denmark”, I hear the chorus of cries already. Honey, I don’t even want to live in Denmark. I could and I have, but it’s not currently at the top of my choices. Relax. I think you’ll find that more of the world wants to live in London, which is why our rent is so mental, but that’s another story. (And let’s not even talk about how both the previous Prime Ministers of Denmark have gone on to pursue careers outside of the country—Anders Fogh Rasmussen even while he was still supposed to be in office—practically treating the highest office in your country as just another step on their career ladder.)

My point is, you’re freaking out about made up boogeymen instead of real, actual problems—while being robbed blind elsewhere. You really should watch out for your own money and what the politicians are doing with it instead of getting stiffies over refugees’ jewllery.

Here are a few words from my friend and co-admin in our infamous Facebook group for “pearls” (dear lord, I can’t believe it’s been seven years), the key words being “cuts in social welfare”:

For me it was a bit over two years from the day I set foot on Danish soil until my father did the same. I don’t really want to talk about what that was like. But who knows, maybe the same people currently foaming at the mouth at the thought of refugees’ suitcases full of diamonds would say, “Well, he survived, didn’t he? Probably wasn’t a real refugee anyway.”

P.S. Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Please visit this site and take a moment to commemorate the victims of genocide.

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Oink, oink

As tens of thousands of people join in on this year’s Veganuary—choosing a diet that doesn’t harm any other living creature and is easier on the environment—a group of politicians from the xenophobic Danish People’s Party is flipping progress the bird and fighting for compulsory pork in kindergartens and other publicly run institutions in the municipality of Randers. They’re not trying to force feed anyone (yet), but they want to make it compulsory to serve. Which to me sounds awfully wasteful. What are they trying to say here? “You may not want to eat it, but by my word, you will look at it!”

Anyway, they are supported by the “liberal” party Venstre, the one currently governing the country, possibly because as a minority government, they are dependant on the Danish People’s Party on national level. But who knows. Venstre haven’t exactly been liberal for many years now.

Just a few weeks ago, the current Minister of Integration Inger Støjberg made a speech at an open event by her party in which she told a tale about some friends of hers who were moving to Aalborg and were looking for a kindergarten for their little daughter Sofia. They wanted a “diverse” kindergarten, and it was “OK if there were many immigrant children, because Sofia would benefit from seeing that too” (how utterly grand of them). They found one and went to be shown around and everything looked great.

BUT! Just as the couple were about to leave, the manager had one more piece of info to impart: pork wasn’t allowed in the kindergarten. Not only did it not get served in this kindergarten, the Minister said, but children couldn’t even bring it in their own lunch boxes. And little Sofia really likes her pork, so her well-off parents placed her in a private kindergarten instead, and all those children of poor parents in that diverse kindergarten were bereft of her privileged acquaintance.

Unfortunately for the Minister, a local politician from Aalborg was at the event. She asked for the name of this kindergarten, because no kindergarten in her municipality had such a rule, and if it did, it needed to be investigated. The Minister said she would get back to her. But she never did. She had to retract her (very elaborate) story after it made the media. Whoops. (Those of you who speak Danish can hear the audio from the event here.)

And now we have these right-wingers & friends in Randers trying to legislate compulsory pork. Because Danish values are threatened by people who don’t eat pork, or something. Happy Veganuary, and also, Jews, you know we don’t mean you, right? You get that we’re only after the Muzlimz, yeah? We cool? Cool.

As an aside, I know many wonderful activists in Randers, and there doesn’t seem to be any support for this proposal among the town’s actual inhabitants. The local TV station was completely unable to find any, at least.

This isn’t the first time that politicians are trying this stunt. Back in 2009, when I still lived in Denmark, a sole representative of the Danish People’s Party in the local council of Hvidovre near Copenhagen tried to introduce compulsory pork in state-run institutions like hospitals (here’s my old post about it in Danish). He was shut down immediately.

I remember bringing that up to another member of the DPP as he was handing out leaflets outside my train stop. Even he was uncomfortable talking about it and mumbled something about animal welfare. Which… what? I thought he was hinting at halal slaughter but then when I said that as a vegetarian, I was against all slaughter, he promptly lost all power of speech.

That was then. Today, even the Minister of Integration (!) has pork on her brain (which has resulted in this mashup, dear lord). The town council of Randers is in meeting as I write this and we’re awaiting results. From what I gather, they very likely have majority to push this through, because when representatives of Venstre get whipped, they get whipped by another party… to varying degrees of enjoyment.

As for me, I’ve gone all the way vegan. And not just for Veganuary either. I wonder if my passport’s in danger now.

Update: The proposal went through with the votes from Danish People’s Party and Venstre. It was 16 for, 15 against.

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I’ve been reading some trash

I’ve been reading some trashy novels again. They’re easy entertainment and they’re harmless in the sense that they won’t give me nightmares if I read them just before bedtime. They’re not called trashy for nothing though; so many of them are so incredibly bad that I’ve lost count of how many I’ve ditched already in the first chapter.

However, I’ve noticed some recurring themes in the ones I have endured (for science!). I’ll call them the three fantasies.

Fantasy 1: Some variation of tall, dark and handsome

It’s ridiculous how many of these are billionaires. Apparently, there’s a whole subgenre of historic trashy novels about dukes (useful knowledge I have from a podcast on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), and I imagine these billionaires are the contemporary version of that. Anyway, they’re often very unbelievable as humans, but I’m sure that’s just me failing to take it for what it is: a fantasy. They’re not supposed to be realistic.

The problem with these dudes is that a lot of times they’re very creepy and send up all manner of red flags because the writers too often fail to incorporate consent. I don’t know if they think you can’t have forcefulness with consent or something (and you’ve gotta have the forcefulness!), but without consent that’s just harassment and/or abuse. Very, very off-putting.

Fantasy 2: Instant happiness in a week or less

A lot of the trashy novels I’ve come across happen over just a few days, even some that try for a lot of ‘forcefulness’, which makes the lack of consent even more problematic. Who in their right mind wouldn’t run away screaming from some stranger trying to steamroll them? Seriously, all you need is a couple of lines to establish consent, how hard can it be?

Anyway, the point of the fantasy is that no matter what your situation, you’re always just a week away from being happily matched for life! Even in societies with a divorce rate of up to 50%. Bless.

Fantasy 3: We are nothing like our mothers

This is the most interesting one, even though it took me a while to spot. No matter what kind of terrible mother the heroine grew up with, the experience hasn’t really damaged her, she’s just acting out of fear that it has. Once she frees herself from that (completely unfounded!) fear, she emerges as a healthy, well-adjusted, untroubled adult and can skip off over the horizon.

Doesn’t even matter if she grew up witnessing her mother prostituting herself for drugs. In fact, if she did, she’ll probably still be a virgin at 24 (until she meets the billionaire hero).

Because the fantasy is that nothing outside ourselves can shape our lives, there are no social obstacles or childhood trauma that really leave any lasting scars on us. We are the masters of our own destiny, the makes of our own fate, etc. If we want to be the exact opposite of our mothers, no matter what that is, then by Jove, we can do that just by deciding on it. Isn’t that cute?

***

I realise I’m not reading these books the ‘correct’ way, because I’m dissecting and thinking about the recurring themes instead of accepting them for what they are: fantasies. But that’s exactly what makes that third one so interesting. It’s not all just ‘tall, dark and handsome’. It’s also ‘I am not my mother’.

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I do not have an iPhone

So I could qualify as a real refugee if war happened to me again, no? I mean, I do have an android phone, and yeah, if I had to flee again, I would most likely bring it with me because it’s a lifeline to everyone I know as well as to essential emergency services, plus it weighs practically nothing, but it’s not an iPhone, so I could pass for a real refugee, right? Or maybe it would be better to hide it anyway and remember to wear my worst clothes ever rather than the ones that would keep me warm and dry at night, because you better fucking look the part if you find yourself on the wrong side of a humanitarian crisis. You better look like you’re visiting from the Dark Ages if you want to satisfy the privileged gaze.

People who bring their phones to the loo with them now scoff at others who are uprooting their entire lives for bringing theirs. Are you kidding me?

Do iPhones in the refugees’ hands bring it too close to home that they are just like you and me? Is it because people wanted to see Middle Easternes as backwards and awfully primitive and generally beneath the mighty capitalist Westerner or something? Pls explain.

By the way, I once met a vendor of the Big Issue who had an iPhone so he could accept electronic payments from people who don’t have cash on them. I don’t know how it works, exactly, since I don’t have one myself, so obviously, the correct conclusion here is that I am actually way worse off than him, the scrounging bastard.

What say you to that, people suddenly interested in the plight of the homeless for the first time in your lives? Where is your god now?

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Welcome to Europe

…where we like to set fascists to guard our borders.

I can’t help but wonder if the reason why Europe is now acting this way toward refugees is because they think they’re somehow different than them. Honey, you’re not. Underneath it all, you’re as much animal as the rest of us—and judging by the sort of guards you’ve put on the Hungarian-Serbian border, perhaps even more.

Have a look at Jim Marshall’s album from the last day before Hungary sealed its border with Serbia. He’s headed back tomorrow, so make sure to follow his public posts.

If you have any relevant language skills, check out this page by the Central European University.

I know we can do better. We have done better.

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Walking

An unexpected bonus of “collecting” the good stories concerning refugees and sharing them is that people quickly start showering you with them. I get tagged on Facebook stories several times a day and friends from around Europe send me links so touching they occasionally make me cry.

Obviously, I’m aware of the nasty crap, too. I just thought we all needed some encouragement here and there so as not to entirely drown in it. But this hasn’t suddenly turned into a cheerleading blog.

Some of the current wave of refugees has now reached Denmark and it hurts to see these groups of people making their way towards Sweden on foot. I never thought I had any feelings of ownership toward Denmark, but the photos of refugees walking really freaking hurt. There are people on the ground helping, both Red Cross and private citizens, but none of it changes the fact that Denmark right this minute apparently is a country you do not want to seek shelter in. And OW.

Denmark makes the headlines. :-/

Denmark makes the headlines. :-/

I can’t imagine what it must be like to stand there and watch this happen right outside of your town. Because my immediate association is to that time in the early 90s when we from our living room window watched a convoy in the distance heading toward Banja Luka. They did not stop in our town, and if you hadn’t known you were in deep shit before, you certainly knew it by then.

These are the stories people will be telling years from now, to their children, to their countrymen, new or otherwise—’in 2015, we crossed a good part of Denmark, one of the richest countries, on foot’. On foot, and I will never get over this.

Update: 2:45 pm GMT. Danish Rail are now letting the refugees travel for free, and Swedish Rail aren’t checking tickets either, I am told.

 

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The Future

***Note for my email subscribers: It seems that WordPress doesn’t handle embedded links and media correctly when it generates emails from my posts, so make sure you visit the blog itself to see all of them. Thanks.***

I’ve collected some more encouraging links since last weekend’s ‘Some faith in humanity restored‘ post. The latest one just this morning, when I saw a Facebook friend had shared this link, which itself is a compilation of stories about the solidarity between people, with the simple caption: ‘The future’.

‘Ordinary citizens across Europe are stepping in to help refugees where their governments have failed’, the article headline reads, and boy, have they failed. Except maybe the German one, who is currently accepting Syrian refugees without forcing them out via the Dublin Regulation. All the others seem eons behind. Some still hope they will eventually catch up though:

Here’s a photo posted by a friend from the BH Protest Files, taken in Toronto:

Next Saturday (12th September), solidarity demos are announced in London, Dover (which is where refugees from Calais touch ground) and Sarajevo, the last one by another friend from the Protest Files.

Speaking of Calais, that Facebook group I mentioned last time now has more than 21,000 members and is a complete flurry of activity. London24 and the Guardian have published guides and tips on how you can help, and then there’s this sweet video about people from Portsmouth taking direct action. :)

 

CalAid volunteers collected tents and sleeping bags after Redding Festival to take to Calais:

 

And here’s another lovely video from Germany: citizens welcoming refugees in Munich.

 

From Denmark, there are a few stories to share. About five minutes after I had published my last post, a friend wrote on Facebook how she had been moved to tears at a collection point for aid to the Greek island of Lesbos. There had been collection points all over the country, and the turn-out had been overwhelming. Apart from diapers, clothes and sleeping bags, around 200,000 DKK (nearly £18,000 / $30,000 / €27,000) were collected, in just two days, from what I can tell. They’re still sorting and packing some of the donations.

After a refugee centre in Denmark was vandalised last week—a mini van set on fire and a swastika and the words ‘first warning’ and ‘DNSB’ (acronym for a nazi movement) painted on the walls—a couple of thousand citizens showed up at a solidarity demo. Among them a number of vicars in clerical clothing, as they didn’t just want to attend as individuals, but also give the church a voice in the matter.

There’s a short video clip of the event here (Danish website). Around the 1:00 minute mark, my friend Bodil Hindsholm Hansen (herself a vicar) says: ‘It’s overwhelming. So many people. (…) To express solidarity with the refugees that a minority is against. And those people are cowards, they come in the middle of the night, while we come in broad daylight to show that we want to welcome refugees.’ Earlier in the video (0:29), 7-year old Eddy Buck explains that ‘we are here to celebrate that they’ve come’. More photos here.

Another way of handling xenophobic hate was this action by Signe Vedel Pedersen and my co-admin of the (now defunct) Facebook group for Pearls, Marianne Paçarada (oh, the fun we had). A mother and son in Marianne’s town had received nasty hate mail including two rotten bananas (???) saying ‘I f*cking hate muslims. F*ck the both of you. Go home.’ As a response, people came together to send the small family a card with the opposite message. Marianne then handwrote over 1,000 names in the card that read ‘…we are happy that you are here and we want to protect you’.

Marianne wrote that the mother had been extremely moved by the gesture and was going to save the card to always be able to take it out and take comfort in it should anything similar happen to her and her son again.

The same group (including some new people) also sent a similar card to the asylum centre that had been vandalised.

So, yeah. The future is to self-organise. Whether the dinosaurs in our parliaments catch up or not.

I hope that cheers up your weekend a bit. I will now be off to my local shops to ask for cardboard to make a sign for next week’s demo. And this is what I’ll be putting on it.

i was a refugee

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