Love Thy Neighbor: Danish Society, Individual Responsibility, and the Presence of Neo-Nazism

 

As we drove down Hundige Strandvej, 20 minutes southwest of downtown Copenhagen, we mentally prepared ourselves to meet one of the more infamous figures of contemporary Danish history. We had heard stories about his unorthodox political viewpoints, his police conviction and jail time, the numerous protests staged outside his house, and even his German Shepard guard dog. As we got out of the car, we patiently rang the doorbell while waiting outside a compound of barbed wire and radio antennas. After a few moments and several barks from the German Shepard, a man appeared with slick-backed hair and a plaid shirt. He instructed his dog to remain quiet, and he led us into a closet-sized room in the front part of his house. Safely in the confines of the room, he heartily claimed, “You are now standing in the most controversial radio station in all of Europe. It has even been discussed on the floor of the UN.” The room was filled with posters of swastikas, copies of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf,’ and makeshift radio equipment. 

Our host was Jonni Hansen—the leader of the Danish Neo-Nazi Party, also known as the DNSB . From his small house on Hundige Strandvej, he holds various DNSB meetings, distributes political propaganda material, and runs a highly disputed radio station. The station, called ‘Radio Oasen,’ currently runs 60 hours of Neo-Nazi programming each week, and Hansen plans on switching to a 120 hours within the coming months. 

Yet, several Danish organizations as well as many individuals have protested the existence of this particular radio station and the hatred perpetuated by the DNSB. These protesters claim the Neo-Nazis are in violation of the long-existing race paragraph  in Danish legal code. In recent years, however, the right to freedom of speech has rivaled the race paragraph in establishing legal precedent in Danish culture and in the decisions of the European Human Rights Court. This debate has led to two central paradoxical questions: Is there space in Danish democracy for anti-democratic groups? Furthermore, can intolerance and hate speech survive in a tolerant society and government? It is possible to analyze these age-old dilemmas in three contexts: the philosophical world, Danish government, and finally everyday society. Since the perfect ideals of democracy can never be realized in a real-world society, the philosophical context soon loses steam; thus, we must ground our discussion in reality. In the context of the Danish government, the debate has reached a stalemate between advocates of freedom of speech and defenders of the race paragraph. When government-decision-making encounters deadlock, the debate quickly becomes a responsibility of Danish society. Ultimately, individual and societal action must tackle the question of intolerance in a tolerant state and the existence of Neo-Nazis.

Standing Out in Denmark: A look at DNSB history and ‘Radio Oasen’

According to their website, the DNSB claims to be “an organization of Danish men and women who, believing their existence is at stake, are promoting the National Socialist world view.”  The group attempts to achieve and perpetuate the ideals set forth by Adolf Hitler and his German National Socialist movement. According to Hansen: “Obviously, we are not disapproving of Hitler. He is one of our idols, not least because he succeeded, but he also got the power.” Although rooted in the past, the organization’s goal is “to secure the future,” and this future is based on the white race embracing National Socialism. In our interview, Hansen admitted, “We say things that are politically incorrect. We are anti-democrats, we’re against the multiethnic society. Those two things together constitute an opposition to the current regime.” The DNSB, Scandinavia’s oldest and most progressive National Socialist movement, explains their plan by stating, “Only through a complete rejection of the ruling norms of greed, selfishness, and materialism can a new world order develop.” The DNSB does not want to “patch-up” the existing system, instead, these individuals wish to reform society based on the principle of “common good goes before individual good.” The core ideology of the DNSB is summed up in their 12 ‘Guidelines,’ such as their Article 1: “We see it as our first and most important task to preserve and strengthen the biological and mental well being of the Danish folk.” The group expresses an anti-Semitic sentiment and is critical of Jews, Muslims, and the state of Israel; Hansen stated, “We regard the Jews as foreigners, like the ‘Muhamedanians’ [Muslims] are.” 

The roots of the DNSB go back to its founding in the seaport of Esbjerg, West Denmark in 1983. The group underwent reorganization in 1991 and founded a 24-hour information hotline, the ‘The Danish Voice,’ in 1992. The hotline features weekly news with Neo-Nazi comments on current events. By 1994, the DNSB founded its national headquarters in East Denmark, and on November 18, 1997, the Neo-Nazis ran in governmental elections at the local municipal level. The party ran unsuccessfully for election again in 2001 with Jonni Hansen as their candidate, and the party received 0.5% of the overall vote. In our interview, Hansen represented his party’s beliefs by stating, “Basically, we think that Denmark should be kept Danish, and the only way to do that is by securing the biological significances and characteristics of the population. That means that people living in Denmark have to belong to the white race, the same people as the Danes. That is important for our future existence, welfare, and so forth.” The DNSB meets every year to celebrate the summer and winter solstice, and according to Hansen, this year’s summer solstice meeting attracted around 75 members. Although the exact membership total is not publicly known, there are unofficial estimates of 150 members in the DNSB.

One of the controversial aspects of the DNSB is the existence of their radio station, which is housed in the closet-sized room on Jonni Hansen’s property. Because of his amateur interest in broadcasting and radio technology, Hansen founded the station in February 1996. Originally denied a license by local authorities, the DNSB eventually received a license from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. In order to maintain the license, the DNSB had to broadcast a show by February 28, 1996. Met with protests from various politicians, Jonni Hansen produced the first show on the 28th of February by using frequency 101.2 MHz and equipment with potential to reach 100,000 Danes. 

Six months later, ‘Radio Oasen’ featured the reading of Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf,’ including portions that contained anti-Semitic comments. According to local officials, these comments were in violation of the Danish race paragraph. Although the DNSB agreed they violated the Danish race paragraph, they stated that many other public forums, including Danish state radio, had also quoted from the book. Hansen and the DNSB argued that they had the right to freedom of speech to read from ‘Mein Kampf’ on their radio station. The special juristic committee of the Ministry of Culture ruled that the DNSB did indeed have the right to broadcast such statements, even though the race paragraph was violated. 

In 1998, ‘Radio Oasen’ received special governmental funding from the Ministry of Culture. Under this fund, non-commercial radio/TV-stations sought money to support their broadcasting. The Ministry of Culture at first granted 31,200 DKr, which comprised 50% of the radio station’s funds. Yet, the government revoked continual funding in February of 2004. The Minister of Culture originally expressed his own desire to change governmental law in order to deny state-sponsored funding only to the DNSB; however, this claim was widely controversial, because it appeared as a direct attack on one specific group in Danish society. Instead, the ministry would have to seek other legal means in order to change the status quo in funding. Thus, the Minister suggested a new law  that would only provide funds to radio and TV stations which maintained broad contact with local society and contributed to the fulfilment of the local political media goals of that particular broadcasting region. Since the DNSB did not meet these qualifications, the Ministry was able to successfully deny funding to the Neo-Nazis. The government argued that it was not state policy to automatically fund media channels on a liberal basis. Along with ‘Radio Oasen,’ four other radio stations, including ‘Indiavision’ and ‘Frederiksberg Night Radio,’ lost their funding. This incident again sparked the larger debate on tolerance and freedom of speech in Denmark. Since losing state funding, Jonni Hansen claims that the DNSB has actually doubled the radio station’s budget via private donations. This increase in private funding will allow the station to actually raise the number of hours of on-air radio time. Thus, if Hansen’s claims are true, it appears ironic that when the government attempted to curtail the Neo-Nazis’ radio operation, they actually thrived and responded to the challenge.

Humanity in Action: Individual responsibility in handling the DNSB and Neo-Nazism

Known throughout Europe and the world as one of the more tolerant democracies, Denmark has recently taken center stage in the freedom of speech debate. The actions of the Ministry of Culture helped facilitate this re-emerging discussion. With the rise of anti-democratic groups, such as the DNSB, concerned citizens and civil organizations have questioned the true importance of the race paragraph in Danish society. Although only utilised on a handful of occasions, the race paragraph had stood as a pillar of respect and civility in Denmark; however, especially in the early 1990s, the right to freedom of speech started to challenge the race paragraph’s role in legal cases. How could a democratic society be considered democratic if it did not allow for the possible formation of anti-democratic groups? The DNSB established a new era of freedom of speech in Denmark with the Ministry of Culture’s 1996 ruling in the ‘Radio Oasen’ and ‘Mein Kampf’ case; according to the Ministry, the Neo-Nazis’ right to freedom of speech superseded the race paragraph in Danish legal law. Additionally, with the downfall of communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, several Eastern European judges on the European Human Rights Court ruled that the race paragraph in Danish law violated the right to freedom of speech. These Eastern European judges wished to champion the freedom of speech as one of the most sacred human liberties. Thus, they defended this right, even in the case of racist statements made by anti-democratic groups. Still, Jonni Hansen does not believe Denmark has embraced freedom of speech: “Tolerance has to apply for everyone, even the opposition, that’s what democracy is said to be. However, it is acting quite hypocritical from time to time, stating in the constitution that you have the freedom of speech and the freedom to think, talk, and distribute your opinions. Those are the paragraphs that we’re exploiting. It’s hypocritical to call Denmark a free country, where you can say what you want, because you can’t. You can only say what you want if you dare.”

In the philosophical world, one can easily justify the existence of anti-democratic groups in a democratic society. After all, a society would not be truly democratic if it did not allow for the formation of these groups. We, however, do not live in a philosophical world. We, indeed, live in an imperfect world, where the true idealism of democracy will never be realized. Accordingly, we must ground this ‘freedom of speech-race paragraph’ debate in reality. Currently, this debate has reached quite a stalemate in Danish government. Although the Ministry of Culture celebrated the importance of freedom of speech in the DNSB case in 1996 and the European Human Rights Court has underscored the validity of this said freedom in European society, the race paragraph still remains in Danish legal code and the new administration in the Ministry of Culture has attempted to back-pedal its department’s rulings of the mid-1990s. Indeed, the Ministry successfully blocked ‘Radio Oasen’ from obtaining any more funds by crafting new laws. Thus, it is apparent that the relative importance of freedom of speech to the race paragraph varies depending on the current Danish administration in power, and, often, government reaches a deadlock on which side should win in this ongoing debate.

In our opinion, when government appears ineffective in solving such issues, it then becomes the responsibility of society to take firm action in combating such problems. Although a valid and extremely important topic, the true issue at hand is not the ‘freedom of speech-race paragraph’ debate; we must not allow the DNSB to hide behind this debate, because we, therefore, lose sight of more important issues at hand: Why does the DNSB even exist? Is their existence somehow a flaw in society? In order for society to respond to this call, we must first analyze the true nature of the DNSB. In reality, unofficial estimates of DNSB membership appear near 150; yet, Jacques Blum, a cultural sociologist and the spokesman of the Danish Jewish Community, contests there are only 20-30 core members led by Hansen, while another 100-120 people form a more peripheral and loose group of support. In fact, it is the media that tends to sensationalize and exaggerate the influence and power of the DNSB. If unofficial estimates as well as Blum’s are correct, then the Danish Neo-Nazis receive media attention out of proportion to their actual size. According to Blum, the actions of the DNSB within the past five years and their unofficial membership size should not even warrant much attention in Danish society. Perhaps, since the DNSB keeps their actual membership numbers secret, this instigates the media to further explore the unknown realms of Neo-Nazism. Overblown media attention is not the key to solving the presence of the DNSB in Denmark. Whilst in other countries, such as the Netherlands, the media has contracted not to cover anti-Semitic groups in the news, we believe Denmark should not follow a similar course. We cannot fight fire with fire in regards to the DNSB question. The Neo-Nazis thrive on reciprocated hatred and alienation, and ignoring the DNSB will not make the problem disappear. We will not be able to tackle the central question: Why do these Neo-Nazis even exist in our society? Additionally, the media must inform the public that these types of groups exist. What must be avoided at all costs, however, is sensationalized coverage of the DNSB that fosters hate in society for this group. 

Thus, the existence of Neo-Nazism becomes a responsibility of Danish society. Jakob Holdt, the creator of the famed ‘American Pictures,’ believes that Neo-Nazis are a by-product of society and its problems. To him, Jonni Hansen and others in his group are social outcasts that have not been loved by anyone. These individuals seek each other out and elevate themselves psychologically through hatred towards other social groups. According to Holdt, we need an alternative approach than fighting Neo-Nazis with hate and judgement. We believe that we cannot expect society to act as a whole in order to combat the catalysts that foster Neo-Nazism. Doing so might perpetuate indoctrination and imposing moral good-versus-evil principles on all of society; it would simply be undemocratic. Instead, we suggest individual action as a possible solution in this case. Jakob Holdt is an example of individual action in order to change present mindsets. He marched with the Danish Neo-Nazis in their annual rally and attempted to talk with various members in order to demonstrate compassion and to lead them away from the Nazi ideology. While talking to one particular young man, a group of protesters attacked the Neo-Nazis with rocks. Holdt dove for the bushes and lost contact with the young man. The DNSB thrives on this societal hatred, and according to Holdt, this hatred prevented him from establishing contact with the group and from making a difference. 

The existence of the DNSB may not be solved in the courtroom or through governmental legislation. Instead, the fight can be contested through a different mentality—a mentality based on the attempt to recognize and treat the Neo-Nazis as human beings, not monsters. We can only assume what the latent psychological causes of Neo-Nazism are in Denmark; however, if we do not attempt to deal with members of the DNSB through understanding, then the fight against Neo-Nazism has already been lost. Even if DNSB members do not respond to the calls of individuals in society, we still must demonstrate compassion; otherwise the essence of our motivations appears contradictory and false. Individual actions should be genuine and truth-seeking. We must underscore the fact that we still should speak against the Neo-Nazi ideology. It is possible to recognize the Neo-Nazis as humans but still reject their belief system. Additionally, if Danish Neo-Nazis ever cross the line of breaking laws, they must be punished accordingly. Our efforts of compassion should not compromise legal code. There is a line that cannot be crossed, and we must be vigilant in maintaining law and order. We understand that neither one of us have faced the wrath of Neo-Nazi hate as we are both white individuals living in a white-dominated world. However, we believe we still can have a voice in this dialogue as moral witnesses. We wish to sympathize with victims, recognize Neo-Nazis as human beings, and encourage individuals, not least those who are not victims, to engage in this dialogue. The existence of the DNSB is a very difficult issue, and as hard as it is to accept in this age of quick answers and government intervention, this viable solution is a moral one.

 

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