Pia Kjærsgaard led the anti-immigration Dansk Folkeparti (DF) until September 12 last year when she left the party in the hands of her protégé, Kristian Thulesen Dahl. Formed as a protest party in 1995, DF quickly gained strength and in 2001 started a decade of influence in parliament, supporting the former Venstre and Konservative government in exchange for tougher immigration policies.
Despite handing over the reins, Kjærsgaard retains influence as the party’s values spokesperson, a role that allows her to continue as the party’s ideological leader. An outspoken, passionate and gifted orator, she is both fanatically loved and hated for her views on Denmark and the threats it faces – mostly from outside its borders.
The Copenhagen Post sat down with Kjærsgaard to understand the world as Dansk Folkeparti sees it.
CPH POST: Dansk Folkeparti is often viewed as a xenophobic, racist party. Is that fair?
Pia Kjærsgaard: It’s an unfortunate prejudice that has been kept alive for far too long. I think it is a very unnuanced view and it is wrong because we have always said that people who come to Denmark and contribute positively should be welcome. But we have to admit that Denmark faces a lot of problems with people who don’t want to join the Danish society and who make demands to have rights that affect us, and we are against that. We don’t have any problem with people who have different skin, hair or eye colours. That is out of the question.
But we are called Dansk Folkeparti for a reason. We believe that it is important to maintain Danish sovereignty, and that one should be Danish minded. We have a small country but a very good small country which we would like to maintain with the traditions we have. The press is very welcome to focus on our immigration policies, but in the right way. We are not hostile towards immigrants or xenophobic.
CP: What other areas of DF policy would you prefer the press focussed on?
PK: Our EU policy. We don’t want to leave the EU but we don’t want to be absorbed and become part of a European state.
We are not just a far right-wing party. The political lines in Denmark have blurred and you can no longer pigeonhole the parties. When it comes to social and health politics, we want increased spending and to remain a welfare society. We are against tax cuts for the wealthiest. We want the least well off to get more welfare. We feel like we are being forgotten in this area. We are not just the “foreigner-hating party” – that image offends me.
CP: What makes Denmark a special place? What are Danish values?
PK: We can’t patent tolerance, freedom of speech and gender equality – fortunately those are all Western values.
But when I say “Danish values”, I firstly think of the special family relations we have in Denmark. We don’t bring home fast food and take-away. We cook at home as a family and I believe that is worth maintaining. We are against full-day schools because we want children to have distinctions between their free time, school time and family time. We also have an exceptional tolerance for homosexuals but I have to admit that I am against church marriages for them. I think registered partnerships and a church blessing are sufficient and should be available for everyone. But the wedding ceremony is different because it is written for a man and a woman.
CP: Immigrants are often referred to in Denmark by how many generations their families have been in the country. How many generations does it take for an immigrant to be characterised simply as Danish?
PK: They are Danish if they behave and are regarded as Danish and that is why I am opposed to the word nydansker [new Dane]. I think that is a ridiculous word. You are Danish when you have a Danish citizenship and the rights and duties it entails. But you must live up to it. It is unfortunately a fact that second generation immigrants are far too highly represented in the criminal statistics.
What else do you want to call them? They are people with a different ethnic heritage and you don’t want to call them Danes. They are people from a different culture and understanding, or a lack thereof. I think that people who come to Denmark need to make an effort to integrate and contribute to Danish society. Doing so is harder than if they had been born in Denmark, but that is how it should be when you move to another country. The same applies to Danes moving abroad.
CP: Do you think that the cultural differences affect the criminal statistics?
PK: Yes. They have a different approach to life. We also have a different legal system in Denmark than that of their or their parents’ birth country and they are therefore a bit more nonchalant regarding what they do.
CP: Foreigners can earn the right to vote in local elections but DF does not agree that they should be able to. Do you not agree that foreigners should have a say in what their tax money is spent on?
PK: I still think that you need to be a Danish citizen to vote whether it’s for the local or parliamentary elections.
I know that there are people in council committees who do not even speak Danish. One of our colleagues, who is on the Vallensbæk Council’s committee, has a colleague who is a Kurd. He can not understand a word of what [the Kurdish man] says. He just quickly became a representative for Kurds and not a representative of the Danish society. I think representatives should have a broader appeal.
I don’t think we can take a look at people and say, “Well, you have lived here for 19 years, so I don’t doubt that you are in a position to have a point of view” and then say to the veiled womam who is being ordered to the polling booth by her husband, who almost accompanies her all the way and helps her tick off the right box, that she can’t vote. You need rules and that is Danish citizenship.
CP: You are against dual citizenship but do you think it is fair to ask people to renounce their citizenship, and thereby their identity, in order to become Danish?
PK: I think that you should only be a citizen of one country. Citizenship means a lot to me and I think dual citizenship creates a rift. But I don’t think that people have to give up their identity. I think it’s absolutely possible for people, regardless of where they come from, to come to Denmark and become a Danish citizen while maintaining their own customs.
CP: Would you be able to renounce your Danish citizenship if you had married a foreigner and moved abroad?
PK: I would have been extremely upset, but you have to make choices in this life and if I had married an American and it was best for us to live in the US, then I would have become an American citizen.
CP: You often talk of the importance of integration, but aren’t some of your policies counterproductive? For example, the creation of the welfare benefit starthjælp that was given to immigrants under the former government and which was of lesser value than the unemployment benefit kontanthjælp? (Editor’s note: starthjælp was scrapped by the current government).
PK: No, it is an incentive to integrate into Danish society. You shouldn’t be covered by Danish welfare benefits immediately upon arrival. I think that when you arrive in a foreign country it requires that you make an extra effort. It’s harder to move to a country and become a part of it than it is to be born and grow up in the same country. That’s natural and the way it should be.
CP: DF published an advert in several newspapers naming 685 coming Danish citizens while stating that one was a potential terrorist. Do you not think this was an unwelcoming gesture?
PK: [Danish domestic intelligence agency] PET has a strong suspicion that there are terror concerns with one of them and I think it is absurd that it is not possible to find out who it is and disregard him from the law proposal so we can welcome the remaining 684 to Denmark. I would understand the problem if all the information was confidential but those names are all listed on a public law proposal. The people mentioned in the ad can turn their anger at the government. There is someone on that list who should not be there.
Editor’s note: Sixteen individuals named in DF’s advert have threatened to sue the party if they do not receive a personal written apology. Party spokesperson Søren Espersen said that DF has no intentions to apologise.
BIO | Pia Kjærsgaard
• Born 23 February 1947 in Copenhagen
• Has been with her husband Henrik Thorup since the age of 13; they married in 1967
• She has two children, a daughter named Nan and a son named Troels
• Nan has refused to take a photo with her mother, asked the magazine Femina not to mention who her mother is and said to Berlingske: “I have always felt that the more damage my mother does, the more good I have to do. So when she takes a step in one direction, I take a step in the other direction”.
• Kjærsgaard worked as a homecare worker before getting involved in politics
• She joined Fremskridspatiet in 1978 and became the party’s leader in 1984 after Mogens Glistrup was sent to prison for tax evasion
• Co-founded Dansk Folkeparti in 1995
• Was attacked in Nørrebro in March 1998, and in a November 2002 incident, Kjærsgaard felt threatened by a woman and pulled out a can of pepper spray. Kjærsgaard received a 3,000kr fine for illegal weapon possession
• Kjærsgaard has bodyguards from the domestic intelligence agency PET with her at all times in public
• Kjærsgaard has charged three individuals with libel; she lost two of the cases