ACCEPT Pluralism Workshop in Stokholm, Sweden

Boundaries of Tolerance in Denmark and Sweden

 Can the brother people learn anything from each other?

Monday 18th February 2013

Stockholm University, Sweden

This stakeholder conference was held on the 18th of February 2013 at Stockholm University, organized jointly by the Swedish and Danish ACCEPT PLURALISM-research teams at Stockholm and Aarhus Universities, with the participation of Forum för Levende Historia and the ACCEPT PLURALISM NGO-partner Banlieues d’Europe.

The purpose of the conference was to engage in a debate about the past and possible future – converging or splendidly isolated from their respective main ‘Other’ – of two Scandinavian models regarding minority integration and conceptions of tolerance. The Deputy Vice Chancellor from Stockholm University who opened the conferencehence noted how it was fortunately the case that ‘we have a majority defending pluralism, but there are still conflicts. Comparisons between Denmark and Sweden can be very useful and we can learn many things from each other.

When it comes to immigration and integration policies, Denmark and Sweden are very often compared. Although electorates in both countries score relatively high, in a European perspective, on various measures of social tolerance, some remarkable differences exist in the content and flavor of public and political discourse. Professor Hans-Ingvar Roth in a general introduction outlined some of the key similarities and differences between the countries, arguing for instance that some of the differences regarding immigration issues could rise from the fact that Denmark historically is an agricultural society while Sweden is dominated by industrial corporatism.

Then, professor Per Mouritsen, head of the Danish ACCEPT PLURALISM-team, presented a conceptual framework regarding tolerance, placing an emphasis on the degree to which the very value of tolerance is often misunderstood – particularly in Denmark – as denoting some form of value relativism or ‘do good’ism’, whereas it really means not attempting to prevent practices that we do not like, or even consider morally wrong.

After these introductions, the conference addressed the theme of “Tolerance in Danish and Swedish Schools, enhancing equality and citizenship – accommodating diversity. A liberal education paradox?” Associate professor Fredrik Hertzberg of the Swedish team presented his report about Islamic schools in Sweden and the public discourse surrounding them. Associate professor Tore Vincents Olsen then presented two case studies emerging from ACCEPT Pluralism fieldwork on free private schools and public schools in Denmark, raising the question whether an increase in free private schools could reduce the amount of tolerance within society.


The second theme was “Tolerance in Danish and Swedish political life – representing minorities – contesting democratic maturity”. At this point, associate professor Lasse Lindekilde from Aarhus University presented results of his study of two Danish public debates, where the limits of toleration in political life and democratic participation were negotiated. He concluded that the most prominent pro-toleration arguments in Denmark have been what he termed “toleration-as-a-must” and “toleration-but-protest”. Hereafter the Danish Social Democrat City councilor from Copenhagen, Lars Aslan Rasmussen stressed the importance for Muslims in Denmark to be politically active and participate in debates regarding Islam.

The third theme concerned the recognition of the indigenous Swedish minority – the Sámi people. Andreas Gottardis, member of the Swedish research team and the author and commentator Viktoria Harnesk discussed whether or not the Sámi right to self-determination was widely accepted within the Swedish society. They also problematized the consequences that might stem from intolerance of the Sámi people.

The first panel discussion concerned the issue of whether there is such a thing as Danish and Swedish national models in discourse and their impact on policy legislation. Here doctoral candidate Kristian Jensen from Aarhus University, and member of the Danish team started by asking: “A claim that is often heard in public debates is that a strong right-wing party is the reason why Denmark has a harsher immigration policy than Sweden. There is a difference between the countries regarding policy, but why is it really?” According to Jensen one of the answers to this question can be found in the fact that Danish immigration policy is dominated by a ‘deterministic’ national identity logic, whereas the Swedish is dominated by constructivistic one, where national identity is malleable and forward-looking, and individuals are seen as capable of changing their identity. After him Associate professor Gunnar Myrberg of Upssala University presented a comparative case study on housing policy for refugees in Malmö and Aarhus and doctoral candidate Emily Cochran Bech related some results from her on-going research on political identification practices among immigration minorities in Denmark and Sweden. She concluded that more immigrants in Sweden agree that they are seen as an equal part of society as compared to Denmark.




The conference ended with a ‘friendly national’ between the Danish author and commentator, Dr.Mikael Jalving and former MP and spokesman of Positive Sweden Dr. Phil. Birgitta Wistrand. The focus for the debate was Jalving’sbook Absolutely Sweden [Absolutely Sweden], recently published in both Denmark and Sweden, in which he criticises the Swedish immigration policy for being “too politically correct” and not taking the interest of the average Swede into consideration. Wistrand very much disagreed with Jalving and argued that the Swedish immigration policy was based on UN’s Human Rights on refugees and that Denmark could learn a lot from the Swedish model.

For the program of the event click here.

For more on the event please see the full report.