The Danish Political Discourse on Immigration seen in the Context of Right-wing Populism

Mathias Alexander Marcussen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Right-Wing populism and refugee policy debates are becoming predominant in national debates across Europe. An extraordinary increase in refugee flows to Europe and Denmark has provoked a debate about what policies should be implemented. The backlash sparked by significant numbers of non-western migrants has fed anti-immigration and right-wing populist rhetoric that has been recuperated by political parties both mainstream and of the political right. That mainstream parties adopt hereto marginal positions raises many questions and adds confusion to the debate. This thesis is an attempt at sorting through the shift the debate Denmark has witnessed through the two cases of significant refugee arrivals to Denmark. Case one is concerned with the status of Bosnian refugees in the mid-1990s, while the second case is concerned with the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. The following research question has been selected: How has the Danish discourse on refugees changed since the 1990s and do these changes correspond with a Danish political shift towards right-wing populist rhetoric? To answer the research question, the thesis has adopted a constructivist approach to discourse and has used a semi-random collection of texts selected along linguistic, chronologic and political parameters. These are meant to be fairly representative of the discourses of the three main parties who serve as discourse benchmarks: Venstre, Social-Democrats and The Progress Party/ Danish People’s Party. Three hypotheses are outlined at the thesis’ beginning to guide the paper’s research. Hypothesis one is concerned with the idea that the use of right-wing populist rhetoric between the two case periods. Case two and three are concerned with the development in the use of anti-immigration rhetoric, and the identification of what actors employ such rhetoric. By deconstructing political discourse, the paper explores the characteristics of Danish political discourse concerning refugees. This is initially done by defining right-wing populist rhetoric as distinct from anti- immigration rhetoric. Different interpretative lenses allow the thesis to address the research question. The thesis employs a discourse theoretical approach based on Laclau & Mouffe and right-wing populism theory. The research shows that from the 1990s to today, the use of anti-immigration rhetoric has increased within the Danish refugee debate. It also shows that there is not more right-wing populist rhetoric today than there was in the 1990s. This leads to an interesting conclusion, as the framing of the refugee debate in relation to the assumption of increased right wing populism might be wrong. Anti-immigration rhetoric, though historically employed by the political right, is not necessarily right-wing or populist.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages101