The task of keeping Denmark Danish goes on: heavy immigration from the Middle East, Asia and Africa has stirred deep-seated fears about the future of the country’s language and culture, while many newcomers—especially women—seem to shut themelves out of mainstream Danish life. The government’s latest response? Immigrants can’t get welfare unless they learn to speak Danish.
It’s not as harsh as it sounds. The country’s Social Democratic employment minister, Mette Frederiksen, spoke eloquently last week of “incredibly capable women” fleeing non-Western countries and being marginalized once they got to Denmark. She pointed to a recent report showing that such women were over-represented among welfare recipients with scant prospect of work. Karen Hækkerup, the minister of integration, was more blunt: “We have closed our eyes and let them sit at home behind their curtains.”
The government figures more of these women will join the labour force if they learn the language. But there’s no denying the proposal is meant to address the Danes’ ongoing preoccupation with the 8.5 per cent of their population from abroad. Hardline anti-immigrant parties have been gaining strength, and bridging the differences between the old Denmark and the new gets more difficult each year. It might help if everyone were speaking the same language.