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Rotten news from the kingdom of Denmark

7. March 2006

While the Danish government is defending a fake freedom of speech, it is violating and restricting the real one
by Sven Tarp, International Secretary, Communist Party of Denmark ML

On February 24th, the Danish Police Intelligence Service (PET) contacted the internet supplier of the daily newspaper Arbejderen (the Worker), which is published by the Communist Party of Denmark ML in both a printed and a electronic version. The internet supplier was forced to remove an Appeal, issued by the Danish cross-party association Rebellion, from the newspaper’s website, under the threat that otherwise he would be prosecuted according to the “anti-terror” legislation.

Violation of Danish law

This action of the police is a flagrant violation of existing Danish law. The same day as the action taken against Arbejderen, the police tried to remove Rebellion’s Appeal from several other websites, two of which were totally or partially closed down, i.e. the site of the Danish Red Youth and another one belonging to the parliamentarian group of the Red-Green Alliance. All these actions represent a violation of the freedom of speech that has been so hypocritically praised by the reactionary ruling circles during the so-called cartoon crisis.

However, the police’s censorship against Arbejderen’s website is even more serious and of special gravity. Thus, according to the Danish Constitution, it is explicitly forbidden to reimpose censorship in Denmark. And according to the Media Responsibility Act, it is the editor-in-chief who is the sole responsible for what is published in the newspaper, and if the police suspect that any material published may constitute a criminal offence, it is not allowed to take independent action but has to charge the editor-in-chief – not the internet supplier – and bring the case to a judge before acting.

As can be seen, the law is very clear on this point, but on February 24th the police acted on its own without a warrant and without informing the owners and editors of the newspaper. Leading and renowned legal experts have confirmed that the police’s censorship against Arbejderen is a clear-cut violation of Danish law. Even the Association of Danish Daily Newspapers, of which Arbejderen is a member, has confirmed the illegality of the police’s action.
The Communist Party of Denmark ML, through the editor-in-chief of its newspaper, has sent a letter of protest to the police who, until now, have decided to remain mute.

Another letter has been sent to the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen who is also the minister of the press. However, the Prime Minister who, in the name of freedom of speech, has been very actively defending Jyllands-Posten’s alleged right to offend the Muslims during the cartoon crisis, has very arrogantly declared that he will first give his answer in a month from now.

The “anti-terror” legislation

The Communist Party of Denmark ML considers the censorship of its newspaper to be just one more expression of the totalitarian transformation that the Danish state has been undergoing for the last two decades. This process has accelerated during the last years, especially since September 9th 2001 with the subsequent adoption of the so-called “anti-terror laws” which are more or less a common phenomenon in the Western “democracies”.

It is well-known that these laws are not only directed against the real or alleged terrorists, but also against the Communists and other progressive forces that in one or the other way challenge the existing order. They represent, as such, a general restriction of civic rights and basic freedoms. It is not by change that the first organisation to be convicted according to the Danish version of the “anti-terror” legislation is Greenpeace for placing a banner on a building in Copenhagen!

The “anti-terror” legislation is being extended to still more spheres of the people’s daily life. As late as last week, the rightist Danish government, through its Minister of Justice Lene Jespersen, announced a long series of new laws that, among other thing, will give the Police and Military Intelligence Services free access – without a warrant – to all public registers containing personal data of all sorts, from tax paying to health. As Denmark is one of the countries with most registers in the world, this will give the State almost complete information of every individual in the country. The Minister of Justice has declared that more laws of this sort can be expected in the future.
Last week also saw another expression of the totalitarian development of the Danish State. During a meeting – in Cape Town, South Africa – of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which is an “anti-terror” group established by the G-8, the Danish government, together with 33 other OECD countries, committed itself to watch over “voluntary associations and the members of their boards in order to prevent that the associations are abused by terrorist to transfer money”. Thus, this new “anti-terror” measure has been decided by an international organisation and accepted by the Danish government without any discussion in the Danish Parliament. The traditional democratic procedures are, apparently, no longer convenient for the very “democratic” Danish and other OECD states.

The opposition to the “anti-terror” legislation

It is quite understandable that the totalitarian “anti-terror” legislation is arousing a growing opposition. One expression of this is the Danish cross-party association Rebellion that was founded in 2004 in order to challenge the “anti-terror” laws that, among many other things, criminalise the solidarity with revolutionary and national liberation movements which are arbitrarily put on the US and EU “anti-terror” lists.

Because of their history and their secular, democratic and humanist goals, Rebellion decided to concentrate on two such organisations, the Colombian FARC and the Palestinian PFLP, and support them morally and financially. Some months later, Rebellion publicly, and in direct conflict with Danish “anti-terror” legislation, transferred substantial funds to these two organisations.

In the summer of 2005, Rebellion issued an International Appeal to democratic organisations all over Europe calling upon them to join the association “in a continuing challenge to European anti-terrorist legislation and the ‘terrorist list’ of the European Union”. Shortly after, one of the spokesmen of the association, Patrick Mac Manus, was arrested on a charge of supporting organisations on the EU “terrorist lists”, a charge that refers to the “anti-terror” section of the Danish Criminal Code which can give him up to ten years in jail. At the same time, the police removed – this time with a warrant – the Appeal from Rebellion’s website when the association had first refused to do it itself.

As a reaction, Arbejderen, together with a number of leftist and democratic parties and organisations, decided to place the Appeal on its own website. Three months later, the editor-in-chief received a letter from the Copenhagen Police that requested the newspaper to remove the Appeal. On December 13th, Arbejderen and eleven other organisations that hosted the Appeal on their website met and decided to refuse the police’s request.

Eight days later, Arbejderen decided to apply for “political asylum” for the Appeal which was placed in three languages on a total of 25 websites all over Europe, plus a number of other websites belonging to Communist and progressive organisations. Arbejderen’s editor-in-chief, Birthe Sorensen, declared at that occasion:
“We take this step in order to emphasize that we think that the question of freedom of speech should be taken very serious. Everybody is now so busy discussing Jyllands-Posten’s right to insult the Muslims while the Danish government, at the same time, is imposing censorship.”

From that moment and until February 24th, when the police intervened and illegally removed the Appeal from Arbejderen’s website, no communication took place between the newspaper and the police. But four days earlier, seven activists – among them a militant of the Communist Party of Denmark ML – were arrested on a charge of selling T-shirts in support of FARC and PFLP. They are now released, but like Rebellion’s spokesman Mac Manus they risk up to 10 years of imprisonment.

Contradictions within the Danish ruling circles

The repression of the freedom to express solidarity with national and revolutionary liberation movements is taking place at a very peculiar moment in recent Danish history. The cartoon crisis, which on one hand is a consequence of decades of humiliation of the Muslim peoples and, on the other hand, the result of the stupidity and arrogance of the present rightist government and the editors of Jyllands-Posten, has provoked an internal row within the ruling circles in Denmark.

The revolt in the Muslim countries has already led to serious economic losses for a number of big Danish corporations that are now turning their frustrations against the government. Both the Confederation of Danish Industries and the Danish Agricultural Council have publicly criticised the government for its handling of the crisis. The managing director of Grundfos, the manufacturer of more than half of the water pumps in world, has declared that his company considers moving the whole production abroad if the government doesn’t change its arrogant line.

On the other hand, both within the government, especially in the Conservative Party, and among the other parliamentarian parties, with the exception of the extremist Danish People’s Party, there is a growing frustration and criticism of the government’s rigid position in the cartoon crisis. Also a long number of renowned intellectuals and even the editors of some of the mainstream mass media have now joined the chorus of criticism.

In response, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and other ministers and leaders of his Liberal Party have – in an action unheard of in recent Danish political history – launched a very sharp counterattack accusing the business world, by name, of having a shady moral and only thinking in money, and the mass media and the intellectuals of having double standards and not defending the freedom of speech from which they themselves benefit in order to work and live. In this way, we are witnessing one of those rare moments where a political party is publicly clashing with the social class that supports it.

However, until now the government’s survival is not jeopardized. And one of the reasons for this is exactly that the government on other fronts, such as the cuts in social budgets, the privatisations and the repression of progressive ideas, is doing what Big Capital expects from it. Thus, in spite of the deep contradictions, the political situation is still relatively stable although it cannot be ruled out that the future will bring some reorganisation of the government and the parliamentarian scene.

Freedom of speech is a class concept

It is not possible to watch the television, listen to the radio or reading a newspaper without perceiving the big debate that is taking place within the Danish society as a consequence of the cartoon crisis. In its essence, this debate is healthy, but it should be pointed out that it also involves big dangers. The reason for this is the way the Danish mass media practice freedom of speech.

On the one hand, they don’t miss any opportunity to praise the concept of freedom of speech as it is practiced in Denmark, especially during the present crisis. On the other hand, the debate is extremely controlled and very much is done in order to avoid that certain progressive or even Communist ideas get access to the big private and public mass media. Next to nothing is said about the real threats against freedom of speech. In this way, the concept of repressive tolerance, formulated by an American philosopher some forty years ago, is getting a new significance and actuality under the present conditions.

A few days ago, the director of Le Monde Diplomatique, Ignacio Ramonet, wrote a comment about the cartoon crisis and the freedom of speech in which he stated: “In today’s Europe, freedom of speech – the fundamental pillar of democracy – is not threatened by Islam. As it is known, this freedom is in danger due to other causes: the concentration of the media, the power of money and the ideological consensus”.

Ignacio Ramonet is right in terms of freedom of speech for the “lower classes”, but it is at the same time a fact that freedom of speech for the “upper classes” is being strengthened by the on-going concentration of the ownership in the hands of these classes. Freedom of speech is one of those polemic and polysemous terms – like democracy – which represent two different concepts. Although they share a common origin and up to a certain degree a common ground, it should never be forgotten that one of the concepts belongs to the working class and the Communists while the other belongs to the bourgeoisie and its ideologists.

Some years ago, the Danish ruling class was content with the fact that the media concentration strengthened its control over the media and marginalised the progressive and revolutionary press like Arbejderen. Later on, it prohibited the use of the language of truth, i.e. the precise words to characterise the present social phenomena, e.g. calling a racist party racist. And now the State is intervening in order to remove inconvenient documents in the name of the so-called war against terrorism.

Somebody may claim that the removal of one document from Arbejderen’s – and other organisations’ -websites is not that serious and not worth making such a fuss about. But it is, in fact, a matter of principle. If the police is allowed to create a precedent today to practice arbitrary censorship, then we would have lost another battle in the century-long class struggle between labour and capital, which the State may use tomorrow in order to take further reactionary steps against the progressive and revolutionary press.

International solidarity

The Communist Party of Denmark ML considers that the police action against its daily newspaper – and the other progressive organisations in Denmark – is part and parcel of the general criminalisation of the Communist and progressive forces in Europe, from the threats to ban the Czech Communist Youth Union (KSM), over the persecution and illegalisation of the Baltic Communists to the anti-Communist motion that was partially approved by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe last January. It is part and parcel of a general offensive against the working class and the peoples of Europe.

All this is an expression of the fact that the most far-seeing sections of the European bourgeoisie understand that modern capitalism, in spite of its relatively stable surface, is characterised by a structural crisis that will eventually lead to a sharpening of the class contradictions and that they are already preparing themselves for the inevitable class battles to come. In this situation, international solidarity among the Communist Parties and the progressive movements is getting extremely important and is bound to find new forms of expression.