Next month, Pia Kjærsgaard will stand down as leader of the anti-immigration Dansk Folkeparti (DF) that she has led since 1995. While the national media debated her impact on Denmark and politicians set aside their differences to praise her sheer determination, her departure also made waves abroad.
“Through Pia’s leadership and influence on Danish politics, Denmark has become a proud and self-assured country that has fought for the ideals of freedom against Islamisation and decrees from Brussels,” Dutch politician Geert Wilders told Ritzau. “Pia Kjærsgaard has been an inspiration for many of her political friends in other countries.”
Wilders is the leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV), an openly anti-Islamic party that has called for a complete end to immigration from non-Western countries. His open criticism of Islam and multiculturalism has made him an unpopular figure in the Netherlands and he now requires 24-hour police protection due to the number of threats against his life.
PVV has proven popular with many Dutch voters, however, managing to become the Netherlands’ third largest party at the 2010 general elections, in which it secured 24 seats.
Until it pulled its support and caused the collapse of the Dutch government in April this year, it supported the minority government in much the same way DF did between 2001 and 2011. According to Sarah de Lange, an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, this is no coincidence as the PVV emulated many of DF’s strategies to achieve political power.
“Geert Wilders admired DF’s ideology and organisation and he’s always made that clear,” De Lange told The Copenhagen Post. “The ideology of welfare chauvinism [excluding immigrants from welfare benefits] was not originally one of their policies and only arrived later on as the party programme developed. Then you started to see them defend the elderly and healthcare while also speaking up for the rights of natives over immigrants. These policies weren’t there in the beginning.”
De Lange argues that the PVV and DF have a fundamentally different approach to traditional right-wing parties that used to pursue corporatist and neoliberal agendas. In the move towards the left, the parties captured voters who were scared by how immigration could threaten the welfare state.
“The combination of welfare chauvinism and anti-immigration appeals to less-educated voters. But it’s also an economic programme that better fits nationalism because neo-liberalism is about openness and free trade, whereas DF and the PVV are more inward-looking,” De Lange said.
Assistant professor Susi Meret from Aalborg University, an expert in far-right groups, also agrees that DF was one of the first right-wing parties to link xenophobic social policies, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and promises of generous public spending. While this approach proved popular with voters, Meret also argues that the centralised control over the party message also contributed to DF’s success.
“DF have always been careful to show that they have no contact with extreme movements,” Meret told The Copenhagen Post. “It was a strategy they implemented before joining the government because they had to have a profile in parliament that could be relied upon. Many people belonging to extreme movements were thrown out when their right-wing connections were made known.”
Wilders also recognised the need to keep a single strong message, according to De Lang.
“He saw it was important to have a tightly organised party, and if there were controversial members, they needed to be gotten rid of. Perhaps he even went further than DF because his party started out with only one member,” she said.
Not all DF-inspired parties have managed the same level of political success as DF and the PVV, however. The Swedish party Sverigedemokraterna shares some policies – anti-immigration, Euro-scepticism and the support of traditional family values – with DF, but has been less successful than its Danish counterparts in national elections.
In Sweden’s 2010 general election it captured 5.7 percent of the vote. While that almost doubled the party’s previous result, it is still far less than DF’s 12.3 percent from the 2011 election and not nearly enough to make any meaningful impact on Swedish national policy.
One of the problems may be that the party has an image problem resulting from its roots in the 1980s Swedish fascism movement. Anti-fascist organisation Expo revealed that 45 of Sverigedemokraterna’s candidates standing in the 2010 local elections had connections to far-right and white power movements.
While this may harm its image, the party has still made considerable headway since 1998 when it secured only 0.4 percent of the national vote. A boycott on printing advertisements for the Sverigedemokraterna was also lifted by two out of three major media publications in 2006.
Speaking to TV2 News after the announcement that Kjærsgaard would step aside at DF, Sverigedemokraterna leader Jimmie Åkesson explained how DF had operated as his party’s role model.
“Our respective parties have similar positions on many issues, and DF has often acted as a source of inspiration, not least because they are always a step ahead of the curve,” Åkesson told TV2 News. “We have often thought: ‘If DF can do it, we can do it.’”
Pia Kjærsgaard through the years
23 Feb 1947: Pia Merete Kjærsgaard is born in Copenhagen.
1963: Finishes Gentofte Skole.
1967: Marries Henrik Thorup.
1978: Becomes a homecare worker and joins Fremskridtspartiet (Z).
1984: Becomes an MP after replacing Z’s party leader at the time, Mogens Glistrup, who received a three-year prison sentence due to tax evasion.
1989: With Kjærsgaard as deputy chairman, Fremskridtspartiet begins moving away from a libertarian policy and towards opposing bureaucracy, income taxes and lax immigration protocol. Kjærsgaard is named politician of the year by landsforeningen for erhvervsinteresser.
1990: Kjærsgaard says that 90 percent of the refugees who come to Denmark are refugees of convenience who only want social benefits.
1995: Co-founds Dansk Folkeparti (DF) with Kristian Thulesen Dahl, Poul Nødgaard and Ole Donner.
1998: Dansk Folkeparti gets more than 250,000 votes and wins 13 mandates in parliament, their first big victory.
2001: Following 9/11, DF is more popular then ever. They win a massive 413,987 votes that November and rise from 13 to 22 mandates in parliament.
2002: Kjærsgaard wins new friends when she stops the government’s proposed cutting of 650 million kroner for education. DF also begins to step up its strict immigration rules and Kjærsgaard is knighted as a ‘Ridder af Dannebrog’.
2012: Kjærsgaard announces that she intends to step down as head of Dansk Folkeparti after 17 years at its helm. She will assume the role of ‘values spokesperson’ and be replaced as leader by Kristian Thulesen Dahl, her hand-picked successor.
Outspoken: Pia Kjærsgaard’s memorable quotes
“It was been said that September 11 was the beginning of a struggle between civilizations. I disagree, because a struggle between civilizations would imply that there are two civilizations, and this is not the case. There is only one civilization, and it’s ours.”
- Parliament debate, 2001
“It irritated me endlessly that immigrants joined [public broadcaster] DR who couldn’t speak Danish properly. It’s because I’m Danish and I like Denmark.”
- From her book ‘Magten og Æren’ (The Power and the Glory)
“Is it populism to help ensure pensioners no longer have to put up with toothache, bad vision and sore feet? If that is the case, then yes, I don’t mind being called a populist.”
- Weekly newsletter, 2003
“I believe that Islam is a political movement. If you align yourself with Islam then you align yourself with law that is different to Danish law. That’s just the way it is. Otherwise you are a heretic in Mohammed’s eyes.”
- Jyllands-Posten interview, 2010
“I think it may be surprising to many that some of my close friends are homosexual and that I’m a big fan of garlic and Asian food. It doesn’t quite fit the stereotypes about DFers.”
- Information interview, 2010