Posted on June 10, 2019

The European Left’s Dangerous Anti-Immigrant Turn

Karina Piser, The Nation, June 7, 2019

Denmark’s center-left Social Democrats came in first in the country’s June 5 parliamentary elections—the third Nordic country where voters recently backed a left-leaning party in a Europe otherwise marked by social democracy’s decline.

Wednesday’s outcome broke with the past two decades of Danish politics. Social Democrats leader Mette Frederiksen, 41, became the country’s youngest-ever prime minister and the second woman to hold the job. Her party’s success—91 of the parliament’s 179 seats—upended a political landscape long dominated by the right. And on the heels of the European Parliament elections, in which populist, xenophobic parties saw important gains in France, Hungary, Italy, and Poland, the far-right Danish People’s Party saw its votes cut by more than half, after an unprecedented score in 2015.

But this week’s vote says less about the far right’s demise than about its steady creep into the mainstream. In something of a paradox, the center left returned to the scene only by lurching to the right. The Social Democrats, faced with waning support in the past two decades, have parroted the Danish People’s Party on immigration, backing hard-line policies they characterize as necessary to save the country’s prized welfare state.

Social-democratic parties across Europe have opted for that strategy, but in Denmark the dynamic is particularly pronounced. “While other social-democratic parties have adopted tougher immigration laws in times of ‘crisis’ and used anti-immigration and Islamophobic language, no party has so openly ran on a nativist and welfare-chauvinist agenda as the Danish Social Democrats,” Cas Mudde, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who specializes on populism, said by e-mail.

{snip}

The “ghetto package” is among the slew of policies targeting immigrants—particularly Muslims—that Denmark has embraced in the past few years, often with the Social Democrats’ support. {snip}

“The Social Democrats have made it very clear: They realize they’ve lost elections since the late 1990s by being outflanked by the right on immigration,” Rune Stubager, a political scientist at Aarhus University, told me. “They knew they’d have to change their position on the issue to win.”

The Social Democrats’ rightward shift has earned it the moniker “Danish People’s Party lite” among some Danes, disillusioned with what they see as the party’s betrayal of its progressive ideals. “There’s no question: They saw that, without anti-Islam as a central part of their platform, they have no chance of success,” Naveed Baig, an imam and the vice-chair of the Islamic-Christian Study Center in Copenhagen, told me, noting that Islam and immigration have become synonymous in current political debates. The climate has become so toxic, he said, that some Muslim families have considered leaving Denmark altogether.

{snip}

The Social Democrats say they’ll stick to their new line on immigration, which they describe as critical to maintaining Denmark’s welfare state, one of the most robust in Europe. “We need to have enough money and enough room in our country, to take care of our citizens,” Nanna Grave Poulsen, a party chairwoman, told me. “All of our immigration policies need to be put in the context of the welfare issue.”

{snip}

The mainstreaming of far-right views—and anti-immigrant rhetoric’s ability to capture the national attention—is evident in the emergence of two new parties to the right of the Danish People’s Party: the Hard Line and the New Right, the latter of which managed to enter parliament, just exceeding the 2 percent threshold. In the months leading up to the elections, the media fixated on Hard Line leader Rasmus Paludan, a lawyer who campaigned on a platform to deport all Danish Muslims. Paludan sparked riots in April when he threw the Quran in the air and let it hit the ground during a rally in a multicultural neighborhood in the capital. Since then, the state has spent around $6 million protecting him at his campaign rallies, during which he burns the Quran or stuffs it with bacon.

Although Paludan’s Hard Line didn’t end up entering the parliament, the media’s focus on his provocations propelled him to national significance. Before the April riots, he had garnered only around 5,000 of the 20,000 signatures necessary to present his candidacy; in the days that followed, he managed to multiply his following and enter the race.

{snip}

The Social Democrats, the clear winners of this political climate, now have to determine just how they will govern. {snip}

{snip}

One Social Democrat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the party’s slide had cemented Islamophobia into the center of Danish politics, but that Denmark wasn’t alone in this. “When it comes to our debate on immigration, the far right has won,” she told me. “The left has lost. The center has lost. This is true all over Europe.”