Denmark has lost its innocence


by Sven Tarp, International Secretary, Communist Party of Denmark ML

, Shakespeare wrote in his famous Hamlet some four centuries ago. The events that have taken place during the last weeks and months show that Shakespeare's words have gained new actuality. We who live in Denmark can confirm that everything is not as it ought to be.

According to the modern myth already created, it all started in my home town, the city of Aarhus, on September 30 last year when the national newspaper with a regional name, Jyllands Posten (The Jutland Post), published twelve cartoons that presented an offensive and unilateral image of Mohamed.

The official reason for printing the cartoons was, according to the editor-in-chief, to challenge the way freedom of speech is practised in Denmark as it is allegedly being restricted due to a growing Moslem influence. Before publishing the cartoons, they were shown to a series of experts who explained that they most certainly would provoke anger among the Moslems who would feel offended by the way their prophet was portrayed. So, the printing of the cartoons was from the very beginning planned as a malicious provocation.

Official and real motives

It is always difficult to guess the personal motives of those who take unhappy decisions. And these motives are, indeed, of little interest. What is important is the historical context in which the decisions are taken and the role generally played by the decision-makers. From that point of view it is easy to conclude that the publication of the cartoons is part of a national agenda promoted by the Danish ruling circles with a double purpose:

* to divide the Danish working class into nationals and foreigners, Christians and Moslems, in order to weaken its resistance to the brutal imposition of neoliberal policies at a very specific moment where the Danish economy is momentarily one of the most thriving within the general framework of a crisis-hidden capitalist world economy;

* to weaken, by creating an artificial enemy image of the Moslem world, the growing demand among the Danish people that the Danish troops should be withdrawn from Iraq where they are taking part in the illegal occupation headed by US imperialism.

From the very beginning, the whole issue has been treated with a mixture of arrogance and stupidity, both by the editors of Jyllands Posten and by the Danish government. It soon became clear that the Moslem people did feel offended. The Moslem society in Denmark, as soon as early October, organised demonstrations and called upon the newspaper to apologize for the publication. This was refused with the false pretext of defending freedom of speech.

On October 19, the ambassadors from eleven Moslem countries requested a meeting with the Danish government in order to discuss the cartoons. In a very arrogant way, the rightist government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen refused to meet the ambassadors for a discussion that might have prevented subsequent events.

In an action unheard of in the history of Danish diplomacy, 22 former Danish ambassadors publicly criticised the Prime Minister's refusal to meet with the representatives of the Moslem countries. They were backed up by the former Danish Foreign Minister, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, a cold warrior and rightist politician who, however, is sensible to this kind of cultural problems. But the government stuck to its own decision. It was apparently not unhappy with the fact that the cartoons caused disunity and distracted the popular attention from the social consequences of its planned >welfare reforms< that were announced last autumn.

It was only when the national agenda turned into an international crisis of unprecedented dimensions that the government and the newspaper decided to take action. But even then, their arrogance prevented them from saving what could be saved. The editor of Jyllands Posten, for example, apologized to the Moslems because they felt offended, but he did not apologize for publishing the offensive cartoons, because such an apology, according to him, would be a violation of his freedom of speech! In this way, the apology was not enough to end the protests and neither was the appearance of the Danish Prime Minister on Arab and Moslem television channels where he didn't deliver the message expected from him.

A reactionary newspaper

Jyllands Posten is one of Denmark's largest newspapers with a long tradition of rightist policy. In the 1930's, it was ill-famous for defending pro-Nazi positions. After the Second World War, it turned completely pro-NATO. During the war in Vietnam, it was a loyal ally of US imperialism. Today, its is an arduous defender of the Zionist state of Israel and the imperialist occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the growing pressure on Iran, Syria and other independent countries.

Jyllands Posten is considered the unofficial organ of expression of the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. As such, it is not an innocent player in the present crisis. Its defence of freedom of speech is nothing but hypocritical.

During the last years, Jyllands Posten has transformed itself into a national platform of the most rabid attacks against communists and other progressive people. Even the most stupid anti-communist professor has free access to its columns. The freedom of speech practised by the newspaper is used to distort, silence and criminalise communist and progressive ideas. The way the former socialist countries in Europe and the Danish communists that were active during the Cold War are portrayed is just as insulting as the twelve cartoons.

According to the legend, the Danish national flag, Dannebrog, fell ready-made down from the sky in the year of 1219 during the battle of Lyndanisse where the Danish crusaders fought to Christianize the pagan Estonians. Eight hundred years later, Jyllands Posten and the ruling Danish bourgeoisie is presenting freedom of speech as a sacred, absolutist principle that, in a similar way, fell ready-made down from the sky in its present narrow-minded and intolerant Danish version.

For the Danish communists, freedom of speech is a beautiful principle that takes its concrete form according to the concrete historical context and the social class that practises it. It is a necessity for the free development of the individual human beings and their participation in the democratic processes of modern society. But it cannot be accepted as an unlimited right of the ruling class to insult other people and cause tension, violence, war and destruction. Freedom of speech should always be subordinated to ethics and the rules of civilized behaviour among peoples and nations.

A reactionary government

The extent of the anti-Danish protests that have swept all over the Moslem world during the last weeks has taken the Danish public by surprise. Very few expected that something like this could ever happen. For years the Danish people have been indoctrinated with the belief that they lived in the best of all worlds; that they themselves were so very tolerant and everybody else, especially the Moslem peoples, intolerant; that their country was well-respected and their government well-intentioned and generous; that the Danish troops in Afghanistan and Iraq did a fine and humanitarian job and were well-received by the local people, etc.

This lie has survived and taken roots because the Danish press, in spite of its own claim to be liberal and broad-minded, has turned into one of the most controlled and regimented in Europe. This control also explains why the Danish people haven't seen what has been in the pipeline for several years.

Denmark, that twenty years ago was known for its Social Democratic welfare system, its humanitarian assistance to the third world and its footnote policy that offered certain resistance to the most aggressive plans of NATO and US imperialism, has little by little been transformed into a very reactionary country. At an international level this has expressed itself in Denmark's subordination to US imperialism and its participation in the aggressive wars against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. At the same time, Danish foreign is being still more conditioned by the acceptance of neo-liberal and pro-imperialist positions.

And at a national level, the so-called legislation, the attempts to criminalize the communists and the still more intolerant tone in the debate on immigration are just some of the expressions of a reactionary state that several times has been censured by the UN, the Council of Europe and Amnesty International for its violation of human rights.

Now the Danish people are paying the price for the stupid actions of its arrogant and reactionary ruling class. Even the journalists who have being telling lies for years have, like Hitler in 1941, been caught in their own lies. They apparently believed what they wrote and said and are now just as surprised as the majority of the people. But instead of being self-critical of themselves and their role, they are now looking for scapegoats. And they have found these among some local Moslem imams who, admittedly, have engaged in contradictions and manipulations in order to promote their own agenda.

In this situation, the arrogant answer of the government is to make a distinction between and Moslems and to promote a national organisation of the while at the same ignoring or slandering the . This may solve a concrete problem in the concrete situation where the government is desperately trying to get some allies among Moslems, but in the long run it most certainly will add fuel to the fire.

It started more than hundred years ago

The present crisis cannot be explained only with the cartoons and the arrogance of the Danish ruling circles, although they certainly contributed a lot. The really explication should be found in the repeated humiliations that the Moslem people have suffered for more that hundred years, first under the rule European colonialism and now in the form of joint US and European imperialist domination with constant aggressions, occupations and impositions of Western imperialist interests in their countries. The Moslem reaction has been on its way for a long time. In this light, it is completely fortuitous that it was exactly Denmark and the cartoons that started the present revolt among the Moslem peoples. It would have come sooner or later.

On the surface, the present revolt is taking the form of a clash between civilisations, a kind of religious war, with all the irrational fanaticism, different agendas, dangers and unclear dividing lines this brings about. But in its essence, it is an important anti-imperialist movement directed against world imperialism headed by the United States of America and with Denmark as an active and arrogant little brother. As Danish communists we greet this movement and hope that it will find still clearer and more consequent expressions.

However, the fact that it has taken a religious form mixed with fanaticism and different local and regional agendas also creates confusion and secondary contradictions and makes it more complex to forge an international anti-imperialist front. The burning of Danish flags and national symbols, for example, however justified it may be, insults the national feelings of a considerable part of the Danish population and contribute in this way to the strengthening of the rightist and extremist parties. According to the latest opinion polls, the support for the extremist Danish Peoples Party has grown considerably during the last weeks and it is now almost catching up with the Social Democratic Party and thus becoming the second biggest Party in Denmark.

However, the national situation is very contradictory. Opinion polls also show that while almost 80 per cent of the population supports Jyllands Posten when it refuses to make a real apology, there is, at the same time, a growing number of people, who now constitute a little more that half the population, that understand why the Moslems feel insulted by the cartoons. Spontaneous manifestations and demonstrations for tolerance and solidarity are emerging everywhere. Another positive result of the revolt in the Moslem countries is that a third of the Danish soldiers who were expected to be send to Iraq in the near future now refuse to go. Hence, an important battle of ideas is taking place within the Danish society.

The position of the Danish communists

The Communist Party of Denmark ML, which together with other communist forces are preparing the founding of a New Communist Party at a Unification Congress in November, is taking active part in the present class struggle and battle of ideas. Our main line of activity is the struggle for the unity of the working class and the mobilisation of the local and national trade union movement against the dividing policy of the ruling bourgeoisie. At the same time, we demand that the editors of Jyllands Posten should make a clear-cut apology for printing the cartoons and that the government should follow up in such a way that it becomes absolutely clear that it repudiates the provocation.

Our Party is also active in the preparation for the big anti-war demonstrations on March 18, which will take place under the broad banner of withdrawing the troops from Iraq. At the same time, we are stepping up our solidarity with the Iraqi resistance movement and the Palestinian people while we are condemning the imperialist pressure and threats against Iran, Syria and other independent countries. We believe that the present crisis should be used to strengthen the anti-imperialist movement of solidarity with the oppressed peoples all over the world.

Finally, we wish to say to our Moslem brothers that in the end of day we have the same enemies, world imperialism headed by the actual Bush administration, and that we should unite in a broad international front in order to fight this enemy number one of humanity.