Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Danish, Dutch Populist Parties Want Referendums On Minaret Ban

It's been criticized as an expression of prejudice at odds with European values of tolerance. But in a referendum on November 29, Swiss voters approved a ban on the building of minarets.

And now populist parties in Denmark and the Netherlands say they want referendums, too.

The calls came from two parties known for their tough stances on immigration.

Geert Wilders, head of the Dutch Freedom Party, told the Dutch daily "Volkskrant" that his party "will call upon the government to make a similar referendum possible in the Netherlands."

And in Denmark, Danish People's Party head Pia Kjaersgaard welcomed the Swiss ban and said her party would also seek a similar vote.

Martin Henriksen, a deputy for the Danish People's Party, acknowledged that Denmark currently had no mosques with minarets. But he told RFE/RL that Muslim immigrants have to adapt to Danish society, not the other way around.

"There are plans in Copenhagen and other Danish cities to build grand mosques, and we oppose it in every way possible. And this could be another way to oppose it," Henriksen says.

"The reason why is because immigration that has taken place in Denmark up to 2001 when the Danish People's Party gained influence in the parliament has shown a lot of problems. We have seen in schools, public institutions and workplaces there are certain rules and standards forced in by some Muslims in Denmark. That is why we have to set our foot down."

The moves by the Dutch and Danish parties come amid a flurry of condemnation of Switzerland's ban from around Europe and far beyond.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union Presidency, called it a sign of prejudice and possibly fear.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was shocked and hoped the Swiss would reverse the decision.

The UN's expert on religious freedom, Asma Jahangir, said the ban amounted to an "undue restriction" on religious freedom and "clear discrimination" against Switzerland's Muslims.

The Vatican weighed in, too, saying it heightens the problems of cohabitation between religions

And the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Islamic grouping, said it was an example of growing anti-Islamic incitement in Europe.

However eye-catching today's calls for copycat referendums are, though, it's not clear they would have much chance of success.

Switzerland's system of direct democracy allows for a referendum to be called if a proposal gets 100,000 signatures.

In Denmark, 60 votes are needed in the 179-seat parliament to call a referendum. The Danish People's Party only has 25.

In the Netherlands, the Freedom Party, with nine deputies, would appear to have an even slimmer chance of getting its way.

The Netherlands has held only one national referendum in the past 200 years -- the 2005 vote on the EU's proposed constitution.

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