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22 May, 2024
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Freedom and democracy under fire

Contrasting successes and challenges in Denmark, Sweden, and Greece



By Xenophon Hasapis 

During the past decade, while Greece and Cyprus faced economic collapse, many of us looked towards the countries of Northern Europe, admiring their achievements, especially in terms of the welfare state they had created for the benefit of all citizens. Quite a few of our well-educated young people sought employment in these countries. Recent events involving the burning of copies of the Quran compel us to once again focus our attention on Denmark and Sweden. Why are countries that were once seen as examples being tarnished by the actions of some of their citizens? How is it that governments and institutions remain passive while watching? Are these instances of freedom of expression or something else?

We grew up learning the values of Democracy and Freedom as the cornerstones of our society and culture. A fundamental rule of these values is that one's freedom ends where another's freedom begins. I do not allow myself to engage in an action that would offend the values of a fellow citizen. Thinking in reverse, I do not permit myself to do something that I would not want others to do to me. Can you imagine the feelings of disgust we would experience at the sight of a public burning of the Bible by extremists of another religion?

In a well-ordered state, various recognized religions are accepted and respected. Europe today, as a result of decades of policies, is multicultural. To address problems stemming from underpopulation, it turned to attracting labor from other continents. Yes, those who are now causing annoyance with waves of illegal immigration are just another facet of the same coin. You realize this, dear reader, when you look into the kitchens of restaurants, at the caregivers for the vulnerable, at the skilled workers in various technical fields, at the little vehicles delivering food to your doorstep. They are doing jobs that we "genuine" Europeans are either insufficient for or unwilling to do. Was it possible for these souls to come to our countries, leaving behind their religion?

Recent events leave states exposed. With inadequate mechanisms for integrating migrants into societies, members become estranged. There are many examples, with the most recent being the popular anger in France following the killing of a young man by police gunfire in Nantes at the end of June.

However, in Sweden and Denmark, it seems that the unmasking of hypocrisy surpasses all previous limits. After the regimes themselves fell victim to their own machinations, there was a lapse in solidifying the concepts of Democracy and Freedom within state institutions. The welfare state is good, and the policies that led to the integration of immigrants, including Kurds who were persecuted by state oppression in Turkey, are substantial achievements. But extreme freedom is licentiousness. By what logic was the power to prohibit public demonstrations taken away from authorities, especially when these demonstrations foreshadow racist violence and desecration of religious symbols? In other words, those who found themselves exposed in these two countries are not just the few who engaged in Quran burnings. They are the many who were caught sleeping. They are those who perceive freedom of expression as a license for insults.

One might think that governments are trapped in a balancing act between political parties, including xenophobic ones. They prioritize their own political survival, neglecting universal values. Greece knows well how labyrinthine the process of combating extremism can be, having managed to label Golden Dawn as illegal, only to see it resurface, assume a different form, and enter the parliament in the June 25 elections.

What does this all mean? It signifies that the struggle is far from easy. However, solutions do exist; states must reevaluate articles of their constitutions and interpret them in light of today's reality. Above all, urgent action is needed to integrate and utilize citizens from diverse cultural backgrounds, for the betterment of society as a whole.

Mr. Xenophon Hasapis is a consultant and trainer for business and youth executives.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  extremism  |  opinion  |  Europe

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