Freedom of the Press

These two videos really sum it up for me. In the UK, politicians are just as fucking incompetent, mendacious and power mad as the ones in Denmark. The difference is, the media try to hold them to account. Heads roll occasionally, which keeps the rest on their toes.

First video: The Government of the UK has made several unpopular decisions, only to make U-turns (which makes them look incompetent). The man in charge of the money, George Osborne, sent a junior minister to be interviewed and the journalist rips her to shreds. She is gracious and calm under extreme questioning. And why? Because the Government are SCARED of the Press and the Press have freedom.
I must admit I cringe at how Paxman talks to Smith but if the fear of this sort of roasting keeps my government honest, then long may it continue.

Second video: It’s an oldie. Sorry it’s in Danish and I cannot be bothered to make subtitles. The tone of voice and body language is very instructive.
Basically, what you are watching is what happens after a journalist asked essentially the same question about the details of a plan involving private hospitals. The minister does not know the answers. He is keen to go home because it is Christmas and he loses his patience.

He swears at the journalist, he makes threats (‘don’t think you will get to interview ME again’ style), he throws insults, he shouts and the main thrust of his “argument” is that the journalist should have checked the questions with the spin doctor so he would have had more time to prepare. The journalist looks worried and tries to calm the politician down.

Nothing happened to the politician, there were a few Hitler Downfall memes and a couple of remixes of his rant but he did not have to step down and indeed a lot of people supported his unprofessional outburst.

Moral Cowardice

The one thing I was not prepared for when I moved here was the lack of arsey-ness from ordinary people. Back home, I was used to discussions ranging from social policy to tax collection and the conclusion would almost always be that the people in charge had no idea how to run the country, the other lot would be no better and what were you going to do?

Radiohead put it this way “pragmatism, not idealism. concerned. but powerless… like a pig in a cage. on antibiotics”. People in Britain do not like the way their country is being run, they know they have little chance of influencing it but it does not stop them complaining. Sometimes, for a few shining moments, people living in Britain get so pissed off that things DO change. These moments are few and far between but they are important. All that bitching and whining in the pub is for a purpose. It’s like that bit for a steam train while it huffs and puffs and then it’s ready and it moves along the track.

How could I have been prepared for what Denmark would be like? People here do bitch about things but the conclusion is never that their politicians are a bunch of corrupt assholes who have sold them out. It is never that “Guy Fawkes had the right idea”. If you get close to expressing the opinion, someone will say “well. we voted them in. we have to trust them.”

Where’s that written?

“Well, those are our laws. We have to obey them. There can be no exceptions.”

Uhh. What? No, that’s not what laws are. Laws are the rights you have agreed to compromise for the greater good and it is a fluid arrangement. Constant re-negotiation required, actually.

The thing is, in my country, we are basically lazy sods who cannot be bothered to run our affairs better. It would be complicated and boring. So, we let other people do it. When they get it badly wrong, we get annoyed and we let them know. Our laws and our politicians are there *for* us and it only gets really shit in my country when we forget that.

For instance, the politicians back home OBEYED the rules about how much money they could be paid by the State for various things. When you look at the receipts, they were not breaking laws, they were following the rules. But it was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. So, they are going to pay it back. Ha.
For instance, a very unfair tax was brought in a few years back and people did riots (imagine that) and the tax was taken away. People did not pay the tax, grumble and hope it went away after a sustained letter writing campaign to the newspapers. People certainly did not trust the authorities to do the right thing.

Anyway. Denmark has a long and dirty history of deporting women who were brought here by abusive Danes and eventually ask for help. It does not matter if they are good people, if they have learned the language, if they have kids here or if they are just asking to be here long enough to complete the court case against the Dane… they are deported. Out of “fairness”.

And instead of people saying things like “that’s a fucking disgrace!” all you hear is “we voted for them, we have to trust them” or “those are our rules, they must apply to everyone.”

This is my message to all those ligegladers out there.

“Denmark. You do not have to trust the people you voted for. In fact, democracy functions a lot better if you oversee what they are doing and keep them accountable. You do not have to have rules which are unkind, compassion-less or evil. You can work out exceptions to them which mean the rules are still humane and therefore just.
“You do not need to accept cruel laws applied without moderation for the sake of “fairness”. Sure, you will not be able to change everything you do not like about your country but it is important that when things are seriously bad, you try.”

And the answer to “if you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?” this week is

“Think of me as a missionary, you need my help to show you how to act like human beings. As soon as my work is done, I’ll move on.”

But it will go back to “because I just bought a shit load of furniture from Ikea and cannot bear to part with it until I have forgotten how much it cost to have it delivered.” next week I promise.

Multiculturalism and Integration

My country has its flaws.

Anyway. The thing about multiculturalism (where new people integrate) as opposed to monoculturalism (where new people assimilate) is that it is better in every way.

When new people arrive in my country, they are not thought of as guests. Even the Poles. Some immigrant groups are rich and some immigrant groups are poor. In line with our general snobbishness, we “like” the rich groups and we “don’t like” the poor ones. But after a couple of generations when the poor ones have become rich, we cannot remember what it was we did not like about them in the first place.

The benefits of having immigrant groups that retain their culture are great. There are the obvious culinary benefits. Then there are the times you can have interesting discussions about “what makes a good person good?”. You can learn new swearwords. You can celebrate new festivals.

The drawbacks are when people get jealous, insular or resentful. From the very recently arrived, through to the “family in Britain for three generations” all the way to “can trace heritage to Doomsday book”.

Most “immigrant groups” adopt British culture but they are able to pick and choose the aspects they like. Often they leave out the stuff that British people do not even like about themselves (the self destructive drinking, the Tall Poppy Syndrome, the teenage pregnancies) and keep the good stuff.

The thing about “British values” is that they are

  • Get a job
  • Pay tax
  • Be polite and helpful
  • Set the world to rights

And therefore not particularly “British” as such and most cultures that come to Britain, they were doing that back home anyway. Plus other good things like being good to old people and having strong family ties.

I do not have any haughtiness about my culture. Take it or leave it. If you want to live in the UK and do things like in Poland, that is no business of mine. If my culture is attractive enough then it will get adopted but I do not need to take it personally if it is rejected. Face it, there is plenty about my culture that I do not like and reject myself.
Why get upset about someone with a different hat on doing the same thing as me? Guest, my arse.

(When was the last time you had a house guest, by the way, and you told them they had to do everything exactly like you or get a hotel?)

All this talk of integration in Denmark makes me feel really queasy. When people tell me to integrate, it is usually in the form of pressure to ride my bike, eat pig and cream, drink booze and speak fluent Danish. If I decide that some of that is not for me (or will take a little time to get used to), then I am chided.
I get it easy because most stranger-danes think I am Swedish so I get away with murder.

At no point does the discussion on the news or in the staffrooms extend to questioning whether I would even *want* the alternative. I mean, my journey (such as it is) has always been to explore how the education system varies in other countries. At no point did I even consider I would “convert” to Danishness.

I think the whole expectation that someone would do that quite silly. If being Danish was obviously a more attractive prospect than any of the alternatives, there would be no need for an integration ministry. And while the government has recognised that people need assistance, still all of the responsibility is pushed onto the newcomer. They are told over and over “you are guests!” and no concession is made to the idea that outsiders may have better ways of doing things or at least interesting viewpoints. They are told to shut up or get out.

If I think of the times I have been told to “learn Danish faster” without any promise of help or support, it makes me a bit tearful.

And that is why immigrants do not last very long in Denmark unless they marry in.

The Maladapted Immigrant

I did some field research and asked some real life Danes what they thought the politicians meant by “cannot or will not integrate”. The three main planks we decided were

  • Has learned to speak the language within seven years
  • Has got a job
  • Can answer questions on the citizenship test

Which I think is pretty close to what the politicians are proposing. If you do not meet these criteria, I do not think there will be a lot of choice in whether you can stay if you are from certain parts of the world. There will be choice to start with, to sweeten the moderates and the expats who are safe from these proposals. If you ask someone to do you a small favour, they are more likely to agree to an outrageous one later.

My point was that a lot of Danes do not speak their language properly. Cannot spell, cannot use reflexive and non-reflexive pronouns, do not use the ‘correct’ grammar… A lot of Danes do not have a job and have never paid into the system. A lot of Danes would fail the citizenship test because the questions are not general knowledge.

So, if we are saying that someone who does not meet those criteria are only maladapted or un-integrated because they have a family origin outside of this country… then what is that? Pretty offensive.

Especially since they are proposing that they will apply this system to people who were born here and know no other culture. Not just immigrants but their children. They did not “come” here, they were born here! To somehow say that these people must be better than other people that were also born here or face the consequences… Doesn’t that split people up into arbitrary groups based on where their parents are from? Isn’t that called racism? Or xenophobia at the least?

I am all for learning the language. I think we can agree I love languages. I am all for getting a job. I am all for learning about a country’s history and heritage. (within reason though! I am not learning what year the political parties formed!)

The point is that the system is proposing that we treat people differently according to where their parents are from. That certain people should act differently from others. That certain people have permission to behave badly. And all based on something as crude as when their families got here.

Children constantly grow up, look around and start changing things. They see what they do not like about their culture and they act on it. To say that only some of those children are allowed to be part of that process, that the others are being ungrateful or un-integrated when they do the same thing as their counterparts… that is horrifying.

The money is a trick. It is not to trick the undesirables into leaving but rather to trick the desirables to not kick up a stink. My country offers money to *illegal* immigrants who would like to return home but there is no booby-trap subtext of “because you hate it here don’t you, why don’t you just fuck off you ungrateful BASTARD” which is not aimed at the immigrants but rather to solidify in the mind of the privileged majority that immigrants are ungrateful and a threat.

We need to have our wits about us when we consume the media. None of this is about Maladapted Immigrants or aimed at “them” either but rather a very intolerant and nasty political party making inroads on people who would oppose their plans on moral and ethical grounds.