By the Blouin News World staff

Danish town’s new meat law ignites controversy

by in Europe.

Town Hall Square in Randers, Denmark. Source:  Peter Hansen/flickr

Town Hall Square in Randers, Denmark. Source: Peter Hansen/flickr

A new law in an ancient Danish town may be the latest yank on the welcome mat beneath the masses of migrants looking to start anew in a Europe increasingly divided on the issue of immigration.

According to The Washington Post, Randers, whose existence on the Jutland peninsula goes back to Viking days, enacted a law this week dictating that pork be added to all municipal menus, “including [in] schools and daycare centers.”

Supporters on the Town Council defend the move as nothing more than a stab at preserving Denmark’s age-old food traditions. As The Post notes, the country is among the leading producers of pork products and in 2014 voted “crispy pork with parsley sauce” its official national dish.

Why then, critics wonder, is the new law necessary if not to push back against Muslims, whose dietary laws forbid pork? And why now, barely a week after a national proposal to compel refugees to hand over their valuables upon arrival to help defray the cost of their stay? Germany has instituted such a measure, and the United Nations and other international aid organizations have slammed it as remindful of the Nazis’ seizure of Jewish property during the Holocaust.

Now, just as the furor from that proposal starts to ebb, up springs what The New York Times is calling “the meatball war”:

Denmark, known as a generous welfare state and for [the] freewheeling, marijuana-friendly Christiania neighborhood of Copenhagen, has been cracking down on immigration in recent months, as countries across the Continent grapple with an influx that is pushing many to re-evaluate their approach to asylum seekers.

Randers officials, meanwhile, stress that other foods will remain on the city’s menus. Per The Post:

“Frank Noergaard, a member of the council in Randers that narrowly approved the decision earlier this week, says it was made to ensure that pork remains “a central part of Denmark’s food culture.”

But Noergaard, The Post reports, is a member of the anti-immigration, populist Danish People’s Party (DPP), which proposed the legislation in the first place. And even while insisting that the intent was not to harass Muslims, Noergaard claimed to have fielded complaints that “too many concessions” were being made to Muslims.

The Times adds that DPP spokesman Martin Henriksen was less circumspect, giving vent on his Facebook page to views doubtless shared by fellow party members:

It is unacceptable to ban Danish food culture, including dishes with pork, in Danish child care institutions. What will be next?! The Danish People’s Party is working nationally and locally for Danish culture, including Danish food culture, and that means we are also fighting against Islamic rules and misguided considerations dictating what Danish children should eat.

But while then-Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in 2013 leveled a general criticism of the absence of pork on kindergarten menus, those opposed to the proposal point out that Muslims have never pushed to exclude pork from any public menu in Randers.

And the fact is that Denmark is rather late in coming to this particular table. France, in the aftermath of two recent devastating attacks by Muslim extremists, is also pushing pork as a way to assert national identity. Per The Times:

Several towns run by rightist mayors have tried to remove non-pork options from school cafeterias in a professed effort to preserve French identity, even as members of the Muslim and Jewish populations have protested that such policies risk alienating minorities. In Chalon-sur-Saône, in the French region of Burgundy, elementary school students who do not eat pork have to content themselves with vegetables after the City Council voted in September to stop offering substitutions like fish on their menus on days when pork is served.

Nor is this happening in a political vacuum. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen has called for changes to the post-World War II Geneva Convention accords that safeguard the rights of asylum seekers, the free-travel Schengen zone appears in danger of collapse, and the tightening of border controls, according to The Guardian, has “[turned] back the clock to a pre-Europe age.”

Despite the denials voiced by local and national leaders, the message to Muslim refugees and other migrants seems clear: Your cultural traditions will be little indulged, and the letter of the law will be used to reinforce the dominant culture whenever necessary.

“As a Muslim, you get thick skinned,” Randers Councilwoman Fatma Cetinkaya, a member of Denmark’s Social Democratic Party, told The Times. Still, she finds it worrisome that a small-town law that seems annoyingly amusing on the surface underscores the tensions defining an era and crisscrossing a continent:

Randers has always been at the forefront when it comes to integration. We don’t have problems with crime and a lot of other things, so it’s incomprehensible that pork has been made into a problem. It’s such a shame.