• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

'The Danish narrative on Sweden is based on a lie'

The Local · 22 Jul 2014, 13:23

Published: 22 Jul 2014 13:23 GMT+02:00

In Sweden, the public debate is defined by niceties and self-censorship, while in Denmark it is free and without taboos. 
 
That is the story we love to tell each other. So much so that part of the Danish media licence money is currently funding a program on Radio 24syv that is broadcasting ‘free speech’ to the Swedes. Denmark’s Voice (Danmarks Röst) is the name of the program in question and the right-wing commentator Mikael Jalving is the man behind the microphone. 
 
 
The irony is that this popular Danish narrative says more about Denmark than it does about Sweden. That was also pointed out recently by Lars Dencik, a professor at Roskilde University, who said in Information: “It is a defensive position which uses the theory that a good offence is the best defence… In reality, it is an attempt to defend Denmark’s ills.”
 
One example that disproves the myth that Swedes are hampered by taboos while Danes are not is that Sweden has dared to criticise the United States, Nato and other international actors while Denmark just falls in line without debate. That explains why we see Helle Thorning-Schmidt being considered for a top EU post and not, for example, the more outspoken Swede Carl Bildt.
 
You could also add that for the same (centre-left orientated) Thorning-Schmidt, it is a complete no-go to send warm wishes to Denmark’s Muslim residents celebrating Ramadan, while the British (and conservative!) David Cameron did it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. 
 
A few weeks ago, a story circulated in the Danish press about a whole school class in Sweden in which all the girls were of non-Swedish background and had all undergone genital mutilation. This was right up the alley of the columnists who write for Berlingske and other conservative media. Here was yet more proof of the real-life consequences of the Swedes’ oppressed pubic debate. Except, of course, that the story turned out to not be true
 
That they were so wrong and built their conclusions on incorrect information funnily enough did not lead to any debate or self-examination, which is strange given their professed fondness of free speech. 
 
The truth of course is that the debate is extremely small and narrow-minded in Denmark and they only thing we are ‘free’ to do is to criticise others and above all to take aim at one type of minority or another. 
 
The Danish narrative is based upon a lie, which is most clearly seen when it comes to the refugee and immigrant debate. We love to tell each other that we dare to speak freely, while the Swedes stay silent. 
 
We act as if we are discussing difficult topics like women’s rights, distorted gender and beauty ideals, personal freedom and the fight against social control and exclusion, but in reality we expose our glaring ignorance while remaining completely silent on other issues.
 
Okay, you want to talk about social control? In the Danish context that’s synonymous with taking yet another trip on the headscarf and/or honour killing merry-go-round. These are important issues, but why do we never discuss the fatal consequences of distorted gender and beauty ideals amongst the majority population? 
 
That some Muslim women feel obligated to wear a headscarf is a record that is played on repeat in Denmark, but that tens of thousands of Danish girls feel so badly that they contemplate suicide and/or practise deliberate self-harm never leads to a heated debate.
 
But it is a fact: More than one in five young (ethnic Danish) girls struggle with the above-named problems. Every doctor, psychiatrist and psychologist knows that, but because it’s about ‘us’, it is therefore taboo. 
 
“It’s become a part of our culture,” psychiatry professor Bo Møhl told Politken earlier this year. “I call it a new pathology because it isn’t just about individual high school students, but rather a whole graduating class who harm themselves.”
 
Note the term ‘our culture’. It is precisely that which we fail to reflect upon when a large portion of our youth cut or burn themselves. 
 
Story continues below…
This is just one example, but it illustrates a dynamic that exists in many areas in Denmark. We run around in circles having pseudo debates while constantly avoiding difficult self reflection. 
 
When that is not the case in, for example, Sweden, we need an explanation. But we never once seem to consider that maybe they have the answer over there on the other side of the Øresund. 
 
 
Dear Swedes, and the rest of our nearest neighbours, we need you. 
 
There are so many taboos that we should address but we just aren’t able to do it. It is not the Swedes who need Denmark’s (Smug) Voice. We are the ones who need to hear others’ voices, so we can broaden the narrow and predictable Danish debate. 
 
Brian Esbensen is a journalist, debater and political commentator. This op-ed wasoriginally published in Politiken and has been translated and republished with the author's permission.

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Swedish police brace for 'unpredictable' pope
Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Madeleine meeting Pope Francis in the Vatican last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Nobody knows quite what to expect when Pope Francis visits secular Sweden this autumn.

Could this Swedish finding help cure alcoholism?
What causes alcohol dependency? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Scientists hope their findings will end the stigmatization of alcoholism.

Man jailed for six years for asylum home arson
The district court in Västmanland. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A court in western Sweden has sentenced a 28-year-old asylum seeker to six years in jail for starting a fire at the asylum centre where he lived.

Volvo on hunt for 400 new engineers in Sweden
Want to help build one of these? Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Want to work in Sweden?

Swedish hearts fail on Mondays and at Christmas
Tell me why I don't like Mondays. Photo: Marcus Lindblad/SvD/TT

July is Sweden's most heart-warming month.

Woman told she's not Swedish enough for a job
A sun bather wears a Swedish flag hat to celebrate National Day. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Sweden's discrimination watchdog is on the case.

Really hungry elk wreak havoc in Swedish forests
Om-nom-nom. Photo: AP Photo/Becky Bohrer

"It's an emergency situation."

Swedish hotels cash in on business travellers
Visitors are flocking to Malmö. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Business travellers have been flocking to city hotels in Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm this summer.

Opinion
'More men must stand up against abuse in Sweden'
Equality Minister Åsa Regnér. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Sweden's equality minister Åsa Regnér on why the government is introducing a new strategy on male violence against women.

Swedes discover secret 150-metre-long cave
Per Bäckström on his way into the cave. Photo: Alexander Bennerstål/TT

They are believed to be the first people to venture into this hidden cave on the Baltic island of Gotland.

Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
How good is Sweden for expat life?
Sponsored Article
Why you should learn to trade (and just how easy it is)
Gallery
Property of the week: Landskrona, Skåne
Gallery
People-watching: August 26th-28th
Blog updates

23 August

A Summer in Sweden (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"For our first year here in Sweden we decided to have all our holidays in Sweden.…" READ »

 

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
What are Sherpas doing on Sweden's highest mountain?
Sponsored Article
Malmö to host global skateboard championship
Gallery
People-watching: August 24th
The Local Voices
'I want to be a businesswoman but I don’t care about money'
National
Experts: Gothenburg grenade blast is 'part of a cycle of violence'
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Gallery
Property of the week: Karlsborg
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
National
Why Sweden could change its criticised detention laws
National
Watch this dog's reaction when she tries Swedish fermented herring
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Gallery
People-watching: August 19th-21st
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
National
How to find student housing in Sweden
National
VIDEO: Swede films first Northern Lights of the season
Sponsored Article
The mystique of Asia - in the middle of Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching: August 17th
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Society
Swedish population nears ten million
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
The Local Voices
This Syrian artist found love in a Swedish library
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Sex pigs halt traffic after laser attack on Pokémon teens. Only in Sweden.
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Gallery
Property of the week: Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm
Society
Drunk knight detained in Stockholm
National
Can you solve this Swede's strange Star Wars mystery?
Gallery
People-watching: August 12th-14th
National
Swedes cheer first snow of the season
Gallery
People-watching: August 10th
The Local Voices
Gabriel mastered Swedish and got accepted onto a medicine degree in just 7 months
3,376
jobs available