Ethnic Engineering: Denmark’s Ghetto Policy

Ethnic Engineering: Denmark’s Ghetto PolicyBy Dr. Binoy Kampmark.- 25. April 2021

The very word is chilling, but has become normalised political currency in Denmark.  Since 2010, the Danish government has resorted to generating “ghetto lists” marking out areas as socially problematic for the state. In 2018, the country’s parliament passed “ghetto” laws to further regulate the lives of individuals inhabiting various city areas focusing on their racial and ethnic origins.  The legislation constitutes the spear tip of the “One Denmark without Parallel Societies – No Ghettos in 2030” initiative; its target: “non-Western” residents who overbalance the social ledger by concentrating in various city environs.

The “ghetto package”, comprising over 20 different statutes, grants the government power to designate various neighbourhoods as “ghettos” or “tough ghettos”.  That nasty formulation is intended to have consequences for urban planning, taking into account the percentage of immigrants and descendants present in that area of “non-Western background”.  One Danish media outlet, assiduously avoiding the creepier elements of the policy, saw it as the “greatest social experiment of the century.”

Bureaucrats consider the following: the number of residents (greater than 1,000); a cap of 50% of “non-Westerners”; and whether the neighbourhood meets any two of four criteria, namely employment, education, income and criminality.  Doing so enables the authorities to evict residents, demolish buildings and alter the character of the neighbourhood, a form of cleansing that has shuddering historical resonances.  Central to this is an effort to reduce the stock of “common family housing” – 40% in tough ghettos by 2030 – supposedly available to all based on principles of affordability, democracy and egalitarianism.

The problematic designation of people of “non-Western background” is also a bit of brutal public policy.  It is a discriminatory measure that has concerned the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ACFC).  In its concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Denmark from 2019, the CESCR urged the country’s adoption of “a rights-based approach to its efforts to address residential segregation and enhance social cohesion.”  This would involve the scrapping of such terms as “ghetto” and “non-Western” and the repeal of provisions with direct or indirect discriminatory effects “on refugees, migrants and residents of the ‘ghettos’.”

The use of “descendants” also suggests the importance of bloodline that would have seemed entirely logical to the Nazi drafters of the Nuremberg Laws.  The German laws, announced in 1935, made no reference to the criteria of religion in defining a “Jew”, merely the importance of having three or four Jewish grandparents.  Doing so roped those whose grandparents had converted to Christianity and the secular. First came the sentiments; then came the laws.

This irredeemable state of affairs has solid, disturbing implications, though both the CESCR and ACFC tend to be almost mild mannered in pointing it out: You did not belong and you cannot belong.  It is less an integrating measure than an excluding one.  Denmark’s “Ghetto Package”, as the ACFC puts it, “sends a message that may have a counter-effect on their feeling of belonging and forming an integral part of Danish society.”  It also urged that Denmark “reconsider the concepts of ‘immigrants and descendants of immigrants of Western origin’ and ‘immigrants and descendants of immigrants of non-Western origin’.”

For its part, the Ministry of Interior and Housing finds the package all above board, a mere matter of statistical bookkeeping.  Using “non-Western” as a marker adopted to distinguish the EU states, the UK, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland, the Vatican State, Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand.  “All other countries,” the Ministry curtly observed in a statement, “are non-Western countries.”

Last year, Mjølnerparken, a housing project in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro area, became the subject of intense interest in the application of the Ghetto laws. With 98 percent of the 2,500 residents being immigrants or the children of immigrants, a good number hailing from the Middle East and Africa, the “tough ghetto” designation was a formality.  Apartment sales were promised, effectively threatening the eviction of the tenants.

These actions were proposed despite ongoing legal proceedings against the Ministry of Interior and Housing by affected residents.  Declaratory relief is being sought, with the applicants arguing that the measures breach the rights to equality, respect for home, property and the freedom to choose their own residence.

Three rapporteurs from the United Nations also warned that the sale should not go ahead as litigation was taking place.  “It does not matter whether they own or rent all residents should have a degree of security of tenure, which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.”

Such policies tend to consume the reason for their implementation.  Disadvantage and stigmatisation are enforced, not lessened.  Former lawmaker Özlem Cekic suggests as much.  “It is not only created to hit the Muslim groups and immigrant groups but the working class as well.  A lot of people in the ‘ghettoes’, they don’t have economic stability.”

The Ministry has reacted to the protests with proposals that ostensibly reform the legal package.  The word “ghetto”, for instance, will be removed and the share of people of non-Western background in social housing will be reduced to 30% within 10 years.  Those moved out of the areas will be relocated to other parts of the country.  According to Nanna Margrethe Kusaa of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, “the ethnicity criteria has a more sharpened focus on it than before.”  Officials have merely refined the prejudice in one of Europe’s most troubling instances of ethnic engineering.  To this, Cekic has an ominous warning: “How can you expect [immigrants] to be loyal to a country that doesn’t accept them as they are?”

Author:

Dr. Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar with Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures now at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email:

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At the annual party rally held in Nuremberg in 1935, the Nazis announced new laws which institutionalized many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideology. The laws excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of "German or related blood." Ancillary ordinances to the laws disenfranchised Jews and deprived them of most political rights.

The Nuremberg Laws, as they became known, did not define a "Jew" as someone with particular religious beliefs. Instead, anyone who had three or four Jewish grandparents was defined as a Jew, regardless of whether that individual identified himself or herself as a Jew or belonged to the Jewish religious community. Many Germans who had not practiced Judaism for years found themselves caught in the grip of Nazi terror. Even people with Jewish grandparents who had converted to Christianity were defined as Jews.

For a brief period after Nuremberg, in the weeks before and during the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, the Nazi regime actually moderated its anti-Jewish attacks and even removed some of the signs saying "Jews Unwelcome" from public places. Hitler did not want international criticism of his government to result in the transfer of the Games to another country. Such a loss would have been a serious blow to German prestige.

After the Olympic Games (in which the Nazis did not allow German Jewish athletes to participate), the Nazis again stepped up the persecution of German Jews. In 1937 and 1938, the government set out to impoverish Jews by requiring them to register their property and then by "Aryanizing" Jewish businesses. This meant that Jewish workers and managers were dismissed, and the ownership of most Jewish businesses was taken over by non-Jewish Germans who bought them at bargain prices fixed by Nazis. Jewish doctors were forbidden to treat non-Jews, and Jewish lawyers were not permitted to practice law.

Like everyone in Germany, Jews were required to carry identity cards, but the government added special identifying marks to theirs: a red "J" stamped on them and new middle names for all those Jews who did not possess recognizably "Jewish" first names—"Israel" for males, "Sara" for females. Such cards allowed the police to identify Jews easily. 

Key Dates

September 15, 1935
Nuremberg Laws are instituted

At their annual party rally, the Nazis announce new laws that revoke Reich citizenship for Jews and prohibit Jews from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of "German or related blood." "Racial infamy," as this becomes known, is made a criminal offense. The Nuremberg Laws define a "Jew" as someone with three or four Jewish grandparents. Consequently, the Nazis classify as Jews thousands of people who had converted from Judaism to another religion, among them even Roman Catholic priests and nuns and Protestant ministers whose grandparents were Jewish.

October 18, 1935
New marriage requirements instituted

The "Law for the Protection of the Hereditary Health of the German People" requires all prospective marriage partners to obtain from the public health authorities a certificate of fitness to marry. Such certificates are refused to those suffering from "hereditary illnesses" and contagious diseases and those attempting to marry in violation of the Nuremberg Laws.

November 14, 1935
Nuremberg Law extended to other groups

The first supplemental decree of the Nuremberg Laws extends the prohibition on marriage or sexual relations between people who could produce "racially suspect" offspring. A week later, the minister of the interior interprets this to mean relations between "those of German or related blood" and Roma View This Term in the Glossary (Gypsies), Black people, or their offspring.