Q&A: Christina Markus Lassen Danish Ambassador to Syria

Denmark’s representative in Damascus comments on improving relations between the two countries.

Christina Markus Lassen Danish Ambassador to Syria / photo by Carole Farah

Could you give us a background on Syrian-Danish ties?
Denmark and Syria have had diplomatic relations since 1950. We have a strong bilateral relationship based on frequent political contacts and good people-to-people links. With the establishment of The Danish Institute in Damascus in 2000, another component was added to our relationship, giving us an excellent launch pad for Danish-Syrian cooperation and enabling even more Danes to come to Syria and get to know the country. 

How have ties changed following the cartoon crisis?
I think that we all learned valuable lessons during the crisis. We learned that knowledge, dialogue and respect between people is the only way to counter misunderstandings and misconceptions.

In Denmark the crisis made people much more interested in understanding and exploring the Middle East, learning the language and meeting the people. Now we see a growing number of Danish tourists coming to Syria, wanting to experience this beautiful country. People always leave Syria with big smiles on their faces and I believe that the personal encounter is the best and most efficient way of moving our two countries closer.

How many Syrians live in Denmark?
There are all together about 4,000 people of Syrian origin living in Denmark. Approximately 4 percent of the Danish population today is Muslim, who obviously enjoy the same civil and political rights in the Danish democracy as other citizens in Denmark.

Denmark has just released a new immigration law. Is it making it more difficult for Syrians to travel to Denmark?
Denmark is always in need of skilled people and globalisation means that people will be less bound by national frontiers. The new legislation will make it easier for well-educated foreigners to come and work in Denmark and it does not change the rules for leisure and business travel. That being said, Denmark has its rules when it comes to immigration as does any other country in the world and, being a member of the EU, there are also common European rules and regulations that Denmark needs to follow.

What are the fields of collaboration between Syria and Denmark?
I would like to mention the cooperation between Syria and Denmark in the field of cultural heritage and museums. We recently had a delegation from the Danish National Museum visit Syria. Also last year, an agreement on economic cooperation was signed between our two countries. We soon plan to also sign an agreement on educational exchange between Syria and Denmark.

How will Denmark sustain good relations with Syria?
Denmark wishes to have good relations with all countries in the Middle East. We have a mutual interest in present and future cooperation between our two countries and consider Syria a very important partner in this region. Regionally, we support a negotiated solution to the Middle East Peace Process, and there can be no peace in the Middle East without Syria.

This interview was published in Syria Today magazine.

Q&A: Andreas Kamm, Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council

Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council comments on the integration of Muslims in Denmark.

 
 

Andreas Kamm

 

Do you think it is harder for practicing Muslims to integrate into Danish society?

I am sad to say yes. Statistics, however, show that the number of Muslims who feel discriminated against is going down. Still, some Muslims say they feel that others have problems with them because of their religious beliefs and because they signal that they are Muslims.

How can Denmark change that?

I think that Danish politicians have a great responsibility. We need to work against creating a picture of the Muslim world as an enemy. Maybe 15 to 20 percent of the Danish people tend to say yes, [the Muslim World] is dangerous. So leadership from the politicians would be much welcome from our side.

What do you think of the right-wing Dansk Folkspartei’s call for a ban on the niqab face veil and all Arab satellite channels in Denmark which they claimed keeps Muslims’ focus on their own affairs and prevents them from integrating into Danish society?

It is counterproductive. You can not force people to change their minds from one day to the next. Why should they? It is a private matter if you have one or another religion. If you have this kind of clothes or another kind of clothes. Who cares?  I would say 75 percent of the Danes don not care.

Denmark has recently introduced a new immigration law with stricter requirements for would-be immigrants. What do you think of the changes?

Actually we do not like it because it is so restrictive trying to keep people out of Denmark. I think that there is a very negative rhetoric performed by some politicians in Denmark. Dansk Folkspartei, for example, has a very negative influence on the immigration process in Denmark. And the reason why the party is so negative is purely political. We are moving towards an election so they [the politicians] cook up a lot of strange things to prepare for the election.