Denmark is caught between a rock and a hard place on refugee crisis
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Recently, there was sudden and unexpected media attention paid to Denmark. Its decisions on refugees, some of it controversial, put the country on the front page of the international press. The at-times venomous anger thrown at Denmark, with all due respect to those who did this out of honest concern for those poor souls on the run, was to a great extent fueled by the paralysis and indecision in Europe as a whole to find a common and comprehensive solution to the crisis. It was also partly out of schadenfreude, the joy of seeing the failure of others, while failing ourselves.


But then Denmark, like a number of other countries in Europe, is caught between a rock and a hard place: Taking in too large a number of true refugees and plain economic migrants can doom society by overwhelming its social and political infrastructure. Not taking them in contradicts the very identity of tolerance and acceptance the country stands for. A balanced approach is of course warranted; a policy that is wary of all the consequences.

Yes, they should have been more circumspect — more attentive to the fallout — but let's put all this all in perspective.

It is nonsense to compare Denmark and its government, as some did, to the Nazis. One should be very careful with throwaway labels. Sure, the controversial decision to seize valuables worth above 10,000 Danish kroner ($1,500) from refugees, as a contribution to their cost of living, should have never been made. But Denmark got more criticism than it deserved. The debate on refugees and migrants in the country is honest and heated, the conscience of society is at work, the public debate is healthy. Many are questioning the government's decisions and only a clear minority demands an even tougher stance. One should not forget Denmark's track record of defending human rights internationally, taking in and integrating earlier flows of refugees, its real-life clash with terrorism, its progress in Muslim women's liberation, its history of saving its Jews in October 1943.

But Danes — politicians and the general public alike — need to realize something that strangely eluded them completely: that they are held to higher standards in the world than the overwhelming majority of other countries, like, say, Hungary (my native country, which has veered off-course as a fully fledged democracy). There is an expectation in the world toward it to show the way. It is seen as one of the true defenders of the liberal and democratic values of society, which includes humanitarian values. Denmark is a nation that is seen as a beacon, a standard-setter for the world for decades; its balanced, humane and tolerant policies the example for others to follow. It has worked hard to obtain this status and should do everything it can to maintain it. Together with the other Nordic countries, they hold the solutions to many of the problems of modern society, a source of inspiration for all of us who believe in freedom and democracy in the midst of the onslaught of Putin-esque illiberal thought.

Denmark's performance in the field of human rights and social policies as a strong transatlanticist has earned the country the ability to punch above its weight in the world. This is important. Denmark has amassed enormous amounts of goodwill in the past. Its fundamental democratic values are strong. It should make every effort to hang on to them. But then, goodwill is like equity. Stocks can skyrocket based on real value added, but also perceptions. However, negative perceptions can be destructive, and a stock that was valuable one day can lose much or all of its value the next. But if the company is basically healthy, and its fundamentals strong, it will get over it.

Given, of course, that leadership is prepared to do the right things to correct mistakes. 

Simonyi is the managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS John Hopkins University. He grew up in Denmark.