Irishman hailed a true legend of Denmark after his handshake refusal costs him certain citizenship

Respected figure of the international community tells mayor that requirement is “unDanish, undemocratic and in conflict with the constitution”

Billy during his moment of triumph (photo Billy O’Shea Facebook page)
March 1st, 2022 2:10 pm| by Ben Hamilton

The Bosnian-born Danish author Dino Copelj knows better than most how much effort can go into obtaining citizenship of this country.

In the early 1990s, he spent three years in Danish asylum camps waiting for his application to be approved.

So it is with good authority that he has proclaimed Irish national Billy O’Shea as a “new Danish legend”.

“Billy has just gotten a special place in my heart and has become an honorary citizen in my Denmark,” wrote Copelj on Facebook on Saturday. 

Matter of principle
Billy, 64, is an ‘honorary citizen’ in Copelj’s opinion because he chose to turn down the chance of becoming a Danish citizen – a process that tends to take around two years – on a matter of principle.

He firmly believes the mandatory requirement for all new citizens to shake hands with the mayor – introduced by the previous right-wing government to inconvenience applicants uncomfortable with shaking hands with a woman – is a violation of human rights.

“So that was it. I was denied Danish citizenship today because I would not be forced to shake hands with the mayor,” he himself wrote on Facebook.

“I had shaken hands with her just before the ceremony, but of course that doesn’t count. I did lift my hat to her, in the traditional Danish sign of respect. But that was voluntary, so again, that doesn’t count.”

Nothing to do with the mayor’s party
The official whose hand Billy refused to shake was Cecilia Lonning-Skovgaard, the Copenhagen mayor of employment and integration – fittingly a member of Venstre, the party that led the last government.

According to DR, Billy told Lonning-Skovgaard: “Mayor, I would very much like to give you a hand, but I do not do it under duress. In my opinion, the greeting is unDanish, undemocratic and in conflict with the constitution.”

Billy, who works as a translator and author, later revealed he once shook the hand of the initiator of the Handshake Law, the former Venstre immigration minister Inger Støjberg – proof he will shake hands with anyone!

The difference, on that occasion, was that he gave his hand voluntarily. 

Pressure mounting on government
Clearly, pressure is mounting on the current Socialdemokratiet government, which came to power in 2019 on the back of some hardline anti-immigration laws of its own, to repeal the Handshake Law.

In fact, at the beginning of this year the law was tightened further by the provision that new citizens have to shake the hand of a mayor. Previously, it only needed to be a representative from the municipality.

Billy’s actions have succeeded in putting the law under the spotlight again. “People must be allowed to set boundaries for their physical contact with other people, and I think that is completely fundamental in a democracy. That must be respected,” he reasoned to DR.

On Facebook, he later mused: “Of course I knew this would happen: an action like this can easily be misunderstood. I hope it will eventually be seen for what it is: a declaration of concern about developments in the country where I have spent most of my life, and which I have loved ever since I first came here in 1980. In short, this is not about me.”

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