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Becoming a Dane – Can Danish-ness be tested?

Introduction:

In May 2007 Denmark implemented a new test as part of the requirements for obtaining Danish citizenship.  The new requirement for citizenship currently affects 9,000 applicants who have applied for citizenship since December 12, 2005. This type of test is not new, and is already in place in other countries such as the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, Canada and USA.

In order to become a Danish citizen you have to fulfil certain requirements: 

•Taking a loyalty oath

•Denouncing former citizenship

•Have been a resident in Denmark for at least 9 years

•Have not committed serious crimes

•No debt to the state

•Be self-supporting in 4 of the last 5 years

•Pass the test on Danish society  

It is important to distinguish between permanent residency and citizenship.  The citizenship test has no connection with the requirements of achieving permanent residency and does not affect a foreigners’ right to be in Denmark.

The test requirement is a sign of proof that the test taker has cultural competence and knowledge, for example, language skills and knowledge of society.  Furthermore, the test is a juridical requirement to get access to the rights that come with gaining the status of citizen, at which point one will receive the rights to vote for parliament elections, to run as a candidate for parliament and the possibility of obtaining a Danish passport.

The test itself contains 40 questions with multiple choice answers about Danish society. To pass candidate must answer correctly at least 28 questions in one hour. When taking the test no aids are allowed, but 35 of the 40 questions are taken from a pool of 200 possible questions which have been made publicly available.  The remaining five questions are about current affairs in Denmark.

Critical analysis of test questions:

We have analyzed the test questions in order to reveal what kind of knowledge is tested.  According to the Danish ministry of Integration the possible test questions cover the following areas:

A. Royal family, flag, the Kingdom of Denmark and Iceland (7 questions)

B. Rights and duties (16 questions)

C. Justice and court of law (6 questions)

D. Culture and traditions (23 questions)

E. Danish geography and population (17 questions)

F. Danish history and culture (48 questions)

G. Constitution, government and parliament (38 questions)

H. Municipalities, regions and distribution of authority (13 questions)

I. Denmark and the surrounding world (17 questions)

J. Danish economy and the Danish welfare system (10 questions)

K. Faith and Church (5 questions) 

We wish to demonstrate that many of the questions do not test cultural competence or knowledge that is actually necessary to be able to function as fellow citizen in Danish society.  The questions mainly test the candidate in factual knowledge such as “In which year did Iceland secede from Denmark?” or “When did the Danish national women’s handball team win the world championship?”

But in what way would a person who did not know the answers to these questions be able to function as a fellow citizen in Danish society?  We believe that many Danes would not know the answers to many of the questions without preparing.  According to a survey conducted by the public opinion poll firm Userneeds, among 7,096 ethnic Danes over 18 years of age, seven percent of them did not pass the test (meaning they answered more than 12 questions wrong out of 40).  According to general opinion these test takers would not have integration problems in Danish society.  The question is what sort of relationship there is between the country you live in and what you as a citizen need to know – also called ‘cultural literacy’.  Is it really necessary to know that Eric Balling directed the Olsen gang movies in the seventies and that Denmark won the European Championship in football in 1992?

So what does the test show?

Because of the simplicity in the test-answers, the test does not show whether or not one has knowledge about Danish culture and history– only that one is able to memorize the possible questions and answers. So really the test asks not for cultural competence, but rather whether the potential citizen has made an effort to memorise the answers.  It is particularly this effort and willingness to integrate that is being measured through these questions.

Although you memorize something, it does not mean that you actually comprehend the meaning of it.  You can memorize the answer to a question like: “Does Danish law protect against discrimination because of race or ethnic origin?”  But that does not show that the test taker knows what discrimination implies.  There is a divide between understanding something, and  comprehending, conceding and accepting something.  Forty short answers cannot prove that the potential citizen has adapted or will adapt to “fundamental Danish values and norms and show respect for differing points of view.” 

The questions give information on what is allowed and accepted in Denmark, we have included several here for further discussion. 

Homosexuals in Denmark can: 

A: live together, but not get an official paper on their relationship

B: enter into a registered partnership [Correct Answer]

C: get married in a Danish state church in the same way as heterosexuals”   

The above question conveys the information that homosexuality is socially acceptable in Danish society.  

Another question illustrates how factual the questions can be:

What other Nordic country has Denmark been at war with many times, especially during the 17th century? 

A: Norway 

B: Sweden [Correct answer]

C: Finland 

The test is a way of implementing a competence based immigration policy and therefore also a competence based policy of exclusion.

The Argument of the Danish Government:

According to the Danish Minister of Integration, Rikke Hvilshøj, the test is not a test on Danish-ness or for controlling attitudes.  The minister has said that compared to other countries the Danish test questions are not marked with attitudes, and the questions are not formed in a way where you have to express an opinion.  “It is about objective things,” she says. “It has been an important principle for me to stress that I do not wish to test people on their attitudes, nor try to create a specific picture of what Danish-ness is.”  (Minister of Integration, Rikke Hvilshøj)   

Is the test just another barrier to limit immigration and to make it more difficult to achieve Danish citizenship and to scare immigrants away? Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark said:

“The clear signal we are sending is that a Danish citizenship is not just something which is sent by mail.  It implies that you ask for it – with the special rights that come with it – and that you make an effort to understand the kind of society you are seeking admission in.” 

The Immigrant Point of View:

We surveyed immigrants with different backgrounds, looking for answers by talking to people and through internet forums where the citizenship test has been discussed.  We wanted to interview common immigrants and not so called experts.  We hoped to uncover the feelings of the people whom the law actually affects.  

The most prevalent opinion was that the test was about testing the influence of Danish society and culture on people who have spent more than a decade in Denmark. A number of the immigrants we talked to said that in reality the test was only one more requirement for making it harder to obtain Danish citizenship.

In spite of these opinions, the same cohort of interviewees said that Danish society is not set against new immigrants, or against them obtaining Danish citizenship.  Some of the interviewees claim that the test is only a political concession that reflects the Government’s dependence on support from the far right wing Danish People’s Party.   The implementation of the test is, according to the immigrants we interviewed, a bad compromise in trying to satisfy the government coalition and its supporting party.

From the immigrants we talked to, the main sentiment was that having general knowledge about Danish society is important.  But when questioned whether the test itself shows that you possess adequate knowledge about Danish society, most said no.  They also stressed that Denmark is always trying to approach immigration in unique ways.  In their view, immigration policies are more liberal in the neighbouring Scandinavian countries, and in the other EU countries.

One immigrant, who wished to remain anonymous, when questioned about how he passed the test, and how he prepared for it, answered: The best way is to follow the daily Danish media.  For a large portion of the questions, I knew the answers from reading the newspapers.  But I have to admit that even through I completed my last three years of elementary school, high school and received a university degree all here in Denmark, I simply didn’t know the exact answers – better to say the precise answers for some of the questions…you know, actually it’s really hard to memorize all those numbers, dates and years, not to mention that some are only statistics.

Out of 771 people who have already taken the test, 751 passed, corresponding to 97.4 percent.  In many cases, the candidates finished the test long before the time was up.  The minister of integration and supporters of the current test version see this as a success that immigrants show a willingness to learn about Danish society.  Our analysis and interviews with the test-takers shows that many of the answers had to be memorized - which is not a sign of a better understanding of Danish society.

We conducted an interview with an Iranian barber named Samer, in Valby, Copenhagen about Integration and Danish citizenship.  He expressed that he still does not feel secure about the permanency of his stay here in Denmark:

I’ve been here for almost 16 years. I do not have Danish citizenship.  I applied for it and I am now awaiting the further procedure.  I have to have a test and I hope I pass it.  I attended school here in Denmark, the truth is I haven’t been a good student.  But I think the test is general knowledge and I therefore do not expect big problems with it.  The thing that makes me worry the most is the fact that after getting Danish citizenship I will still be afraid that for my staying here in Denmark.  Here you never know when the law is going to change and they would be able to kick me out.  At the moment the Danish People’s Party is not that powerful. But what if there is a recession here in Denmark, you see jobs are easily moved to China.  So what will people do here in Denmark?  It is normal that in conditions of recession that national passions become stronger and then nationalists take the leadership of the state – then they can easily decide to kick us out. I would open a bigger and better barbershop but how can I know until they let me stay here.  If I knew that they would allow me to stay forever I would immediately begin to expand my business.  But at the moment I just work and collect as much money as I can in case that they kick me out.

Later during the day we interviewed two Iraqi women who were a bit in a rush because they were afraid of being late for work.  They said that it is impolite be late for work, and did not want the employer to think that they were not taking their jobs seriously.  We asked them what they thought about the citizenship test. They shortly answered “stupid” and “rubbish, and that, “The test is only there to make it harder.”  We were curious and asked them what they think about their status as women here in Denmark.

Excellent - we have protection from the state, we have become financially independent, and society accepts us as equal to men.  The truth is we are a bit in between our native traditions and Danish traditions, but we think that we should combine and harmonise the two traditions – that is possible.  You choose to keep the good sides of your native traditions such as the powerful and close-knit family, but at the same time you accept the good things about the new society like more individualism, financial independency, equality and respect for women and many other good things.

We asked them how they will manage this balance, because in one sentence they expressed two different things: on the one hand, the powerful and strong family relationships, and on the other hand, more individualism.  One of them said: “Eh, my friends, this is integration – everything else is assimilation.”

A positive example of integration came to light through a former Bosnian refugee named Emir Bejtovic who became a Danish citizen before the test requirement was implemented.  He said that when he received his Danish citizenship, the colleagues from his workplace held a party in honour of him. Mr. Bejtovic told us, “In that moment I felt proud of Danes, at the same time, the proud Bosnian in me was happy to be among Danes… fellow citizens.”  Mr. Bejtovic mentioned many such positive examples during the interview, one other amusing example is, that Danes sometimes have a really strange understanding of the behaviour of some of their new fellow citizens. Even after 15 years in Denmark the same people from his workplace ask him the same question again and again: “When are you going to eat dark bread, you know that white one you eat it not healthy…?” Mr. Bejtovic replies: “The white bread I’m eating is Danish produced bread; I didn’t bring it from Bosnia. Why shouldn’t I eat white bread if I prefer it more?”

Conclusions:

Most of the people we interviewed thought that the current citizenship test is not justifiable, and is only another barrier. The test is not too hard and many questions are not relevant to integration into Danish society.  Most of the immigrants we interviewed are relatively satisfied with daily life in Denmark and have found a home here, but at the same time, some fear that certain political forces in Denmark could erode their security.  In spite of this fear, they feel relatively safe, expecially financially, where they are quite secure.  This is one of the main reasons of their stay here in Denmark.  However, as the saying goes “the grass is always greener on the other side” – and immigrants are often in between.  

The test might not be the best way of acquiring knowledge about Danish values, but a common foundation is necessary for all citizens of a country to have in order to maintain social cohesion.

The following is an example of some alternative questions for a Danish cultural knowledge test made by an ‘ethnic’ Dane. The questions are meant to be funny, but at the same time they illustrate the intangibility of cultural knowledge.

1. Name five sunny, holiday destinations abroad served by discount airlines flying out of Kastrup Lufthavn (Copenhagen airport)?

2. Name three Danish websites where you can book last minutes package holidays to these sunny southern vacation spots?

3. Describe how to make a proper 'Danish smørrebrod' of your own with any three or four ingredients.

4. Is the number '13' an unlucky number in Denmark, or does it mean something else to many people - for example, students?

5. Name three Danish beers that can be bought at the supermarket for under 3 kroner per bottle?

6. Name two different supermarket chains that sell these cheap beers?

7. If you are having a loud and late party in your apartment and the police show up at your door at four AM, what can they do about it?

8. It's threeAM in the morning. Where can you buy a pølser (hot dog)?

9. It's fiveAM in the morning. Where can you buy a pølser (hot dog)?

10. It's eight AM in the morning. Where can you buy a pølser (hot dog)?

11. Can you ever NOT buy a pølser (hot dog) in Denmark? (Yes/No)

12. If it wasn't for the fruit and veg shop around the corner, it would be impossible to get fruit and vegetables after ___PM on weekdays, and ___PM on Saturday.

13. The guy who runs the fruit and vegetable shop around the corner is not from Denmark, he is from __________.

14. If you are white and/or from a 'western' country and you already meet the other criteria for being awarded Danish citizenship, will anybody actually bother to grade your Danish Cultural Test? (Yes/No)”

References

 

Articles: 

Kristeligt Dagblad | 15.06.2007  | Side 2 (Danmark) | 337 ord | artikel-id: e0a3a291

”Ringe tiltro til effekt af indvandrerprøve”

Politiken | 01.03.2007 | Indland | Side 5 | 579 ord | artikel-id: e08cedd0

”Indfødsret: Testbølge over Vesten” af  Tanja Parker Astrup og Christine Cordsen

Internet:

http://nyidanmark.dk: A website funded by the Danish Ministry of Integration to provide newcomers with information about Danish society.

http://thecopenhagenreport.blogspot.com A website of an English language newspaper about Copenhagen issues

 

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Denmark Denmark 2007

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