Holdninger til de fremmede - forestillingen om bosniske flygtninge i den danske offentlighed

  • John Aggergaard Larsen


The image of Bosnian war refugees in the Danish public This article discusses sociological inve¬stigations of attitudes towards immi¬grants and refugees in Denmark. In¬stead of viewing attitudes as an attribu¬te of individual psychology or as deter¬mined by social class, the article sug¬gests examining the context of varying understandings and imaginations which set the frame for the meaningful presentation of a concrete event. This approach is exemplified by a study of the reception of refugees from the former Yugoslavia in Denmark ba¬sed on articles from the Danish press from May 1992 to January 1995. These articles indicate that different attitudes towards refugees can be connected to representations based on different nar¬rative imaginations and collective me¬mories as well as other themes of cur¬rent interest in the public. These con¬texts have set different meaningful fra¬mes for understanding refugees and thereby influenced attitudes towards this group in the Danish public. In summer 1992, before the arrival of larger groups of refugees, there was a positive attitude towards them in the press. There was general indignation to¬wards the war in Europe and a wide¬spread willingness to help the people suffering from ethnic persecution and cleansing. There were explicit referen¬ces to World War II which were unambi¬guously supportive of a positive attitu¬de toward these refugees. By the autumn of the same year the¬re was a drift towards a more negative attitude. Episodes of thefts in the regi¬ons where refugee centres were located resulted in demands that criminal refu¬gees from the former Eastern Europe (the Baltic and exYugoslavia) be expel¬led. There were also reports from Ger¬many that neoNazis set fire to refugee camps, and this produced concern that the many foreigners in Denmark would provoke „German conditions“ with eth¬nic and racist problems. Many Danish neighbours to these refugee centres we¬re surprised to see refugees from war torn Yugoslavia arriving wellfed and in new clothing. These refugees didn’t fit the image of suffering which had been the basis for the unambiguous support the preceding summer. These people didn’t appear to be „real“ refugees. The many media reports about the war in Bosnia helped create an understanding that refugees have a reason for being Denmark and that Denmark has an obligation to help. The referen¬ces to ethnic persecution during World War II have been superseded by an un¬der¬standing that the new refugees have es¬caped from a life that was similar to the Danish. „They are like us“ is a sen¬tence that becomes more common in the media, and an understanding that the Bos¬nian war refugees have been forced to leave a life style similar to the Danish one emerge „it could have been us“. This is the basis for development of a public understanding of the Bosnian re¬fugees as a new type of „real“ refugees. The positive attitudes that have de¬veloped towards the predominantly Muslim refugees from Bosnia point to the possibility that the widespread anta¬gonism in the Danish public towards immigrants with a Muslim background is not due to the religion itself, but rather the traditionalistic and nonmodern way of life that this religious affiliation symbolizes for many Danes.