Intolerance toward religious and sexual minorities in Copenhagen has been the focus of media attention in recent weeks after reports that Jewish children are bullied at schools in Nørrebro and homosexuals are assaulted at night in the city’s Latin Quarter.
Last month, the city started a new initiative to address and tackle so-called hate crimes by increasing dialogue between representatives of the gay, Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities.
According to the deputy mayor for immigration and employment, Anna Mee Allerslev (Radikale), the initiative is designed to increase awareness about the existence of hate crimes as well as to engage young people in order to hear their ideas for how to reduce acts of hate.
“It makes me really sad when I hear that Danish Jews do not want to wear a yarmulke in public, or that girls wearing head scarves feel victimised, or that two men don't dare to hold hands or kiss in public,” Allerslev told Poltiken newspaper. “This is not the Copenhagen we want.”
But Tommy Pedersen, a spokesperson for the national gay rights group Landsforeningen for Bøsser, Lesbiske, Biseksuelle og Transpersoner, argues that more active measures are needed.
“No matter how many times we meet politicians and explain the need for real initiatives to increase security in the gay nightlife, they always suggest more dialogue meetings,” Pedersen wrote in an opinion piece for Politiken newspaper.
Pedersen suggested increasing the safety in the Copenhagen’s historic Latin Quarter, where there is a high concentration of gay bars in the narrow side streets to the Strøget pedestrian street. LGBT organisations report that there are frequent incidents of verbal and physical assaults on gay people in this area.
Pedersen proposes blocking traffic down the side streets in the evening and improving street lighting. Both initiatives are supported by the inner-city neighbourhood council, Indre By Lokaludvalg, who agree that motorists cruising the inner city were a nuisance.
“There are a lot of cars that circulate in the small inner-city streets at night,” Bent Lohmann, the chairman of Indre By Lokal Udvalg, the neighbourhood committee for the city centre, said. “They often drive aggressively and make people feel insecure at night. The traffic noise is also an unnecessary source of frustration for residents who have to listen to the cars.”
Few concrete initiatives to improve the safety of the Jewish community have so far been suggested, although a public hearing was held Tuesday evening at City Hall in which members of the Jewish community were able to express their experiences.
The focus on anti-Jewish sentiment erupted this autumn when it was revealed that a Jewish group was encouraged not to display the Israeli flag at a multicultural fair being held in Nørrebro.
Since then, further reports emerged that schools in the district, which has a large population of Middle Eastern immigrants and their descendants, were discouraging Jewish parents from enrolling their children in the schools there. This led to political pressure to examine the safety of Jews in Copenhagen.
While testimonies of physical and verbal abuse at Tuesday's hearing supported the anecdotal evidence that Jews, particularly in Nørrebro, risk being the victims of hate crime, there is little statistical evidence about the extent of such incidents in Denmark.
According to the domestic intelligence agency PET, in 2011 there were 23 crimes committed that were motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation and 94 crimes motivated by race or religion. The Jewish faith association, Mosaisk Troessamfund, reported last December that they had received 37 reports of anti-Semitism in the past year.
But these numbers may only scratch the surface. A 2012 report on hate crimes compiled by the anti-discrimination organisation Dokumentations- og rådgivningscentret om racediskrimination (DRC) concluded that it was hard to know exactly how many hate crimes were taking place.
“The number of hate crimes registered with the authorities compared to the number of residents that express being victims of these crimes reveals a high level of under reporting,” the report stated.
Following Tuesday's hearing, Mosaisk Troessamfund chairman Finn Schwartz stressed that the problem that needed to be addressed was not simply the harassment of particular groups, but intolerance generally.
“I hope [we can] tackle the problem of intolerance which does not just affect Jews, but also other groups,” Schwartz told Berlingske newspaper. “I think it’s great to be a Jew in Denmark. We have some problems and these problems have increased over the past decade, which is probably why we are sitting here today. But I think it’s important to stress that we should be looking at a larger problem rather than simply whether Jewish children can attend schools in Nørrebro. The problems are much more complex than that.”
Allerslev took to Facebook following the debate to state that initiatives to target intolerance and racist bullying needed to be focused on schools.
“I call on all politicians to send a clear signal to school leaders and other key individuals that we have their full support to introduce a zero-tolerance policy toward racist bullying in schools,” Allerslev wrote.