'We will live our lives the way we always have'

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'We will live our lives the way we always have'
Denmark's Ambassador to Sweden Kirsten Malling Biering outside the Embassy in Stockholm. Photo: The Local

As Denmark reflects on the two fatal shootings that shook the nation, The Local quizzes the Danish Ambassador to Sweden Kirsten Malling Biering on security at home and abroad and how to stem a rising tide of extremism in Europe.


How worried should Danes be?

It's a very dramatic and very traumatic experience that has taken place in Copenhagen. I have myself, personally, been impressed with the quiet dignity with which Denmark has handled the situation, and also, I think everybody agrees, with the enormous efficiency with which the police and other parts of the services have tackled what was before them.

To worry is perhaps a bit futile. I don't see that as a common reaction among any Danes. Horror, condemnation, perhaps also determination to defend the values on which Denmark is based. That actually spans the width of the Danish population, including a number of Muslim groups which have distanced themselves from what has happened. It's a quiet determination after horror and shock, but not worry.

Is the Embassy doing anything to support Danes in Sweden?

I think that what we are looking at are events which have taken place in Copenhagen. We do not see Danes as such being targeted. So the short answer is no. But we have tried to reach out to everyone in Stockholm and other parts of Sweden by for example creating an online link to where people can place their condolences.

What should Sweden do to ensure the security of Danes in Sweden?

We at the Embassy are as everybody else in Stockholm being very well taken care of by Sweden and I am sure that they are doing exactly what they should be doing. These are events we should not take out of context. We are of course very touched by all the messages of support and commiserations, but we would not wish to transform that into something which it is not.

How should Sweden help protect the Jewish community?

Each country will have their own ways of dealing with this. In places where the Danish authorities deem that there is a specific threat there will be extra protection. I would have no opinions on what the Jewish community in Stockholm or what indeed Swedish authorities should be doing. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Jewish community in Copenhagen, which was also expressed by our Prime Minister on Sunday, and we walk hand in hand with them.

Is there a specific threat against Jews in Denmark?

This, I think is evident. There is a specific threat. There have been other incidents lately, among them against Jewish school Carolineskolen in Denmark, which is completely unacceptable. What we  p { margin-bottom: 0.25cm; line-height: 120%; }a:link { } all underline is that everybody must be able to exercise their belief. This is freedom of religion, freedom of expression – it has been said again and again and we adhere to this system of democratic rights.

Flowers placed at a Copenhagen synagogue. Photo: Rumle Skafte/AP Photo/Polfoto

What can be done to stop young Swedes and Danes from travelling to fight in Syria and Iraq?

Much work is being done, both in Denmark and Sweden in order to find the right way in to stem this kind of radicalization. In Denmark we have set up our own programmes and cooperation between authorities.

In our case we have found that there is a danger of young people being radicalized when serving prison sentences. There have been some good results stopping the route towards radicalization in the Danish context, but there is still much to be done to create as many possibilities as possible for young people to integrate and become members of society.

It's a very, very small group, but detrimental, as we have seen in Copenhagen, to society and in effect to the minorities to which they themselves belong, something which I think these minorities regret. There is very close cooperation between Sweden and Denmark and much willingness to learn from each other. Nobody has the perfect solution but there's a good and fruitful exchange of ideas.

The shooter had just served a short prison sentence p { margin-bottom: 0.25cm; line-height: 120%; }a:link { } did the system fail him?

It's difficult to say. It was noted by certain authorities that some extreme radicalization may have taken place in prison. Of course, radicalization may mean many different things. You may have radical ideas about something but not take that to the level of exercising the kind of horrific deeds that we saw in Copenhagen.

There's a monitoring system in Denmark. Everybody was very well aware of the life of this young person and where he was in life. But as has been said over and over again, if you have a young person who become so convinced that he wants to do what he did, it can be very difficult to prevent.

No, I don't think the system has failed. But I think there will be some sort of evaluation after this weekend, but as far as we can see at each and every turn the authorities have acted in an efficient and laudable manner.

Is there a fear of counter attacks against Muslim communities?

I sincerely hope there won't be. I sincerely hope not. You could fear that some might think that Muslims at large are at fault here. I sincerely hope that we will see nothing of the kind and the large of majority of Danes would never dream of doing anything like that. Of course there might be people who will not reason in a manner that they should, you never know, but I sincerely hope we will see nothing of the kind. We hope for a coherent society in which you get together and argue your case. You certainly don't do that by sowing hatred.

There was an ocean of flowers in front of the synagogue in Copenhagen on Sunday. As one politician put it, he was so moved by a small sign where it was written rather clumsily, "Muslims and Jews must not hate one another", as were other Danes of the Muslim faith who came up and said "this is not us, this is not in our name". But it is a very complex and difficult set of questions we're dealing with and I think there is no good single answer to how to prevent divisions.

Are far-right parties in Sweden and Denmark partly at fault for stirring up tensions?

I have no opinion on the Sweden Democrats, I don't think it is for me to voice any political opinions on Swedish society. When you look at the Danish political spectrum, no, there is something else at play here. You mention the Danish People's Party, but when you look at the overall political position on integration there is a broad consensus that has nothing to do with a single political party. We must continue to say that what we do here is discuss, there is no place for political hatred. I fail to see that there is any direct link and certainly there should not be either.

Is free speech putting people at risk?

That of course is a topic which is being hotly debated, especially what with the Europe that we have before our eyes after the new year. Is there a danger of self-censorship, will people think twice before they say or draw whatever they like? What I see in Denmark right now is a wish to continue to spend our lives the way we've always done, defend the values we've always had. This, of course, does not mean that you shouldn't think, you should have respect for other people, that goes without saying. Perhaps you can choose to express yourself more wisely, but if you are within the framework of Danish legislation you can do what you wish.

There was a TV interview on Sunday with the founder of the Lars Vilks Committee [a group set up to support Swedish artist Lars Vilks and freedom of expression, present at one of the venues attacked on Saturday] and she was asked, "would you do the same again?", and she said "yes, otherwise I would not be the founder of the Lars Vilks Committee". It would be foolhardy if we the day after tomorrow had a Lars Vilks event with only one policeman present. But no, I would do it again and I do not regret it, those were her words.

What does the future hold for Denmark and Sweden?

I agree with my Prime Minister, who said on Sunday that we will have to live our lives the way we always have. Of course you have to exercise normal and ordinary caution, but otherwise no.

We are living in a globalized world and extremism of all colours is everywhere. Let's hope we will have fewer and not more of these events, but what we see now is that one person who succeeds in finding the weapon and succeeds in planning and then strikes, is all it takes. It's impossible to say where the future will take us, but it does seem as if extremism is on the rise, of all varieties.


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