One from the Vaults: Free Speech

(From 8th October 2009)

In the beginning, it was all so simple. Little amoeba in a pond, wiggling around. Skip through history: the dinosaurs, the monkeys. Everything was so simple until human beings got here.

We like to communicate and we realise (but perhaps do not fully understand), that we have a different perception of the universe. We communicate that difference in perspective and we learn something about someone else.

Do this well enough and it means that we can alter who is the dominant monkey in our monkey troop. Some privileged people do not like the idea that they might lose power and status; so they say the others should keep their opinions to themselves. They might enforce the silence of dissent with force. Ridicule. Minimisation. If they are crafty, they might make the others self-censor. Out of fear or simple peer pressure.

And thusly, in the fires of oppression from a privileged minority, the concept of “free speech” was born. The tentative idea that is should be okay to express any opinion or view.

How lovely!

five_boxes_liberty_soap_box1

Then you get into hot water because sometimes people are oppressed because what they say and think is what scientists have termed “arse clenchingly stupid”.

And complications of layers of complications, with our different perspectives and takes on things, no one person is objective enough to decide who the bloody stupid “shut up shut up shut up” people are.

So, we try to move towards a system where you are allowed to express your opinion just as long as you do not threaten someone with violence, encourage someone else to resort to violence… checks and balances. Little kindnesses. Little markers of acceptability.

Occasionally, someone will say something which is perhaps a little mean or upsetting and then you have a discussion about if it is acceptable to say things that might be upsetting.
There are some who say that you should have an absolute right to offend.
There are some who say that you must never offend someone and this should be illegal.
There are some who say that should be allowed to offend as long as you have motives other than causing offence. Which is hell to prove. “I only intended to highlight the hypocrisy of the Church, officer”

Most people want to be respectful. They want to show they care about their fellow man. They do this by bearing in mind that people get upset by a lot of things and perhaps dealing with those hot-button issues sensitively… where possible…is the way forward.

In Denmark, it is often that an outsider is deliberately offended. They might have their religion mocked, they might have their accent mocked, they might have their culture held up for ridicule, the colour of their skin, the things they love and the places they call home.
Yes, I know the people that partake in this stupid-twattery are red necks and not “real people” in any meaningful way.
But, their absolute right to be an arse is defended by a culture that call such knobishness “freedom of expression” when perhaps it would be better described in terms of “freedom of fuckwittery”

The outsider may react in a number of ways.

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Some of them more eloquent and/or respectful than others.

This is where we get into the real complication. Yet another layer of it, like one of those fancy French desserts.

If an outsider dares speak critically in Denmark a number of things can happen.

  • They might find that they have to have an argument with a loved one
  • They might be told they are bad people
  • They might be told they should be grateful
  • They might be told to piss off back home
  • They might be told they are overreacting
  • They might lose their job
  • They might have a file compiled on them at the kommune
  • They might have their activities scrutinised

This might not happen every time. It may never happen to an outsider who speaks critically.  But it happens often enough for the other outsiders to take note and heed.
Without anyone even having to lift a finger to force the populace to act a certain way, the threat is implied. A bully testing the weight of a weapon without needing to lunge to get their victim to flinch.

People who would like to speak critically about Denmark find that they cannot find a balance between saying what they want to say and getting into trouble. Either people are anonymous voices or else they limit their conversations to private mutterings.

And we see the problem.

The free speech, such as it is, exists only for people with privilege. It is only for a certain sect here. It is not FOR the likes of us. This oppression exists for the same reason as any oppression exists, to keep that sect in power. Keeps them with the privileges, the status, the rights.

And I would like to invoke my Free Speech to say that I think that this is disgusting.

Dehumanisation in Danish Marketing

Denmark hides behind two national myths to excuse itself from poor behaviour.

1: We are a homogenous nation without a history of having to get along with others

2: We have a unique sense of humour which magically stops anything from being in poor taste

Denmark is now part of a global community and however homogenous they mistakenly imagine their history, they have to get along with others.

Even though this has been true for a long time, it has not stopped them from being outrageously idiotic on their promotional material. Come with me now through the Hall of Shame:-

Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Let me know in comments what I forgot.

Now I have handled why this shit is wrong before. I’m not going over it again.

I only bring it up because the Swedes complained about the masks in Haribo sweets and so Haribo won’t make them anymore. That means they won’t be available in Denmark.

Sweets stop being available all the time, Haribo don’t owe Denmark crude racial stereotype licquorice. You’d think Haribo not only stopped supplying sweets to Denmark but blocked other brands too, from the over reaction here.

The Metroxpress covered the story with good-natured bafflement about those ‘crazy politically correct Swedes‘ and rabble-rousing pieces about how ‘angry‘ Danes are at the Swedes for ruining their enjoyment of dehumanising sweets.

TV2 interviewed Professor of Philosophy Vincent F. Hendricks, who is half-American half-Danish. I won’t lie, when I saw him, I thought that tv2 had just found a black person to speak for all black people a la The Brass Eye.

The interviewer was bizarre and said that it was a slippery slope, that if you can’t have masks of crude racial stereotypes then you won’t be allowed to have ‘Jødekage’ any more (so-called ‘Jew cakes’ because they were sold in Jewish bakeries in the 1700s not because they are crude racial stereotypes of Jewish faces in biscuit form)

Hendricks was AMAZING. He started out with the homogenous national myth, as a gateway for the heavier criticism that he made. But he made it with love! It was great.

He said that Denmark has been able to get away with being provincial for a long time but now this shit is being noticed and the world will think that Danes are backwards peasants. He also asked why it is just black faces that get this treatment (though south-east Asian faces get it too), and what is it even for? I wish I could find a copy because I’d just put it up on here and not paraphrase wildly.

Anyway. It didn’t work, the Danes are still really into having not to think about de-humanising groups.

That last sentence was a sort of a test. If you were a Dane who got really agitated because I de-humanised you by saying you are all into not having to think about de-humanising groups whilst simultaneously not being all that bothered about the masks, you are a fucking hypocrite.

Homogenous or not, Denmark has to wake up and stop being so childish. This stuff is hurtful. This stuff makes lives harder. Your children don’t come into the world being mouthbreathing peasant scum, YOU make them that way. You do it by having sweets that encourage your children to think that certain groups are only caricatures. You are the reason that when ever I teach Danish kids about Japan or China and I ask what they know already, they reach for their eye corners to stretch them back. You are the reason that white Danish children attack black Danish children with crude racial abuse. You are encouraging it. By saying ‘these groups are not human really’, you are setting your children up to attack them.

And it affects the adults in your country, contributing to micro aggressions (and macro aggressions, face it), which affect the lives of people with facial features being caricatured in these products.

The problem isn’t that crazy Swedes cannot take a joke or Haribo have set themselves up as moral arbiters or black people should realise that intent is magic (“I don’t mean it to be offensive: it isn’t!”) The problem is that Danish people still think that black and Asian people are not all the way human.

So it shows up in Danish culture a lot. It shows up and reinforces the idea over and over. You are all so used to it, you do not see how toxic and off putting it is.

The Swedes want to stop reinforcing it, Haribo don’t want to make a brand of confectionary just for one country especially after conceding it was racist.

Denmark has to evolve or die. It’s not good enough to continue being a hick country with hay in your mouth. It’s not good enough to say you didn’t realise it was racist so it isn’t racist. It’s not good enough to say that since it amuses you, it is acceptable. It’s not good enough to say that since you believe that black people only moved to your country a short time ago, it is not a problem.

You want and need foreigners to do the jobs your own people are incapable of doing. They won’t come here if they think you are racist pieces of shit. They won’t visit you as tourists. They won’t buy your butter cookies at Christmas. YOU will become a joke. Worse than a joke because no one thinks it is exactly funny that you are racist.

Permanent Residency

Safety Announcement
If you are in Denmark on anything but the EU rules, you may experience light rage stroke symptoms.

The EU has an agreement about the free movement of citizens. It mostly ensures that we get the same treatment all over Europe.

In Denmark, you need to apply for a certificate of registration within 3 months and you are required to support yourself either through study or work. If you stop studying or working, you have a few months grace period to find alternatives.
If you have lived in Denmark for five uninterrupted years, you can apply for permanent residency.

There is precious little on that last part on the Danish websites. This is the best overview of the information available. You need to fill in the same form as when you applied for your registration certificate but you tick a different box.

I could not find much about what I needed to bring, so I looked on other EU country’s websites and worked out I needed to prove I have lived in the country for five years. I guessed I would need a passport photo and my passport. Then I managed to find a memo for staff at the Government Administration offices, somehow, which said which sort of things they could ask to see.

In the end, I brought along my employment contracts, rental agreements and five years of tax statements.

My local office is 30 minutes by train and a further 30 minutes by foot away. The office, I am not kidding, is in a residential area. I thought it was another one of those hilarious smart phone map app mix ups. I rocked up, after braving at least half a centimeter of snow and temperatures of about 1˚C.

All the other foreigners have to go to the Foreigner Affairs office, we get to go to the place where people sort out marriage, divorce, custody and adoption. The place was busy but people were constantly being seen. A handful were foreign like me but I am not sure if they were sorting out immigration or something else.

The lady I needed to see was on lunch break, so I had to wait for her to get back. Then when she did, I filled in my form. The only question I found hard was where I lived five years ago. I lived there for three months and I have had 22 addresses. I did my best with my crappy memory and the use of the internet.

She needed a passport photo, my passport and my tax returns. Then she said the office would consider my application and let me know within 2 weeks. How anti-climatic!

Two days later, I got a letter which was postal marked with the date I visited the office. It said I had permanent residency.

From a purely selfish point of view, I am glad it was easy. I am glad the requirements were fair. I am glad it was straightforward to prove them to the state’s satisfaction. I am glad that I have permanent residency.

From an altruistic one, I am very hacked off that others need to jump through ridiculous hoops. I am angry that the government needs to create these hoops so that fewer people can get permanent residency. I am irritated that they feel the need to do this because the people are irrationally afraid of foreigners.

I think my requirements were reasonably fair and not particularly onerous. I think anyone on a work or study visa should be allowed permanent residency after five years of supporting themselves. I think anyone on family reunification should not have to meet any requirements. (If you marry a Dane, you’re in the tribe.) If I recall correctly, refugees get the same requirements as EU citizens.

Politically, the same is happening throughout Europe. They have particularly cracked down on immigration in the UK, resulting in the same crap as in Denmark. They cannot legislate against EU immigrants, so they crack down on work and family visas just to say that they did.

If companies can take money out of countries more or less as they please, why is it an issue when people want to contribute to the tax pot (not to mention the takings of local businesses)?

New Years in Denmark

I was just reading one of those “wacky shit foreigners do” articles about New Years and read that in Denmark, they smash plates outside the houses of people they like.

I am nervous to say this, in case it means no one likes me or my friends, but this has never happened to me or my friends. Nor have I ever seen any broken crockery out and about.

Ever.

What they do is this : a meal, a special cake, crackers, silly hats, jump off a chair at midnight and fireworks.

Apparently, you used to need a licence to set off fireworks at any other time of the year than NYE (this is no longer true, I hear), and so people really take their fireworks seriously.

They are also allowed to buy fireworks that are not available in my country to casual users. In the UK, you can buy some rockets and stuff but they don’t go that high. People go to organised events where pyrotechnicians who have access to the good shit, set them off in time to music.

We had three new years in my house last night. Greek first, then Danish, then British. At the Danish new year’s, we watched the fireworks in the town square in Copenhagen on tv then went outside and climbed a hill so we could see the fireworks around us. It was a clear night so we were able to see Fyn, it was pretty rad. We also saw an accident where the fireworks went sideways and then shot at other fireworks and then there was a fire after they all went off at once. It was really fun and nice.

Then at British New Years, we watched the display at the London Eye. This was viewed with admiration in the first two minutes and then irritation after the third minute. That will have come out of council tax, I explained. (Unless… was there a corporate sponsor?)

An advantage to this system is that the detritus is picked up. Denmark is a mess the next day because of all the cardboard tubes and boxes lying around the street.

So in conclusion. The broken plates thing isn’t a thing and I don’t know why the English-speaking media keep repeating it. Like, can’t they work google translate and check their facts? Where did the story come from? Is it an old thing they don’t do anymore? Is it a *shudder* Sjælland thing?

Happy New Year everyone!