Mysterious vandals tag strange message on Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue
“Racist fish” was spray painted on Denmark’s most famous statue, a bronze tribute to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”—igniting suspicions about the motives and identities of the still at-large culprits.
Denmark’s Black Lives Matter organizers denied responsibility, citing a conspiracy by racists to defame the organization. Others suspect that the vandals were mocking the organization. The enigmatic words “racist fish” were in English, not Danish.
The iconic statue was created by sculptor Edvard Eriksen and unveiled in 1913 as a tribute to the Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen and his classic tale “The Little Mermaid.”
“So, this was the day, when a dark skinned woman with a flowing racial identity, who tears up her patriarchal roots to seek love in a foreign world, but is withheld happiness by suppressing societal structures and dies, turned into a racist fish,” he said.
And prominent Danish psychology professor, TV personality and author Svend Brinkmann addressed the culprits in a Facebook post that received more than 4,000 likes and was commented on more than 200 time.
“She’s not a fish. And she definitely isn’t racist (…) Just read a book – possibly one by H. C. Andersen – instead of messing about with paint,” he said. “You are putting your own stupidity on display, and damaging the important fight against racism. Fools.”
Bwalya Sørensen, the spokeswoman for Black Lives Matter Denmark, told Zenger News the attack that had caused a backlash against the BLM campaign had nothing to do with them.
BLM Denmark has organized five demonstrations around the country that have drawn a considerable amount of people and is happy about the support from the general public, she said.
They have not engaged in any efforts to tear down statues in Denmark.
“The vandalization of the little mermaid was not done by Black Lives Matter or people that sympathize with our cause. It was quite clearly done by racists to provoke and to draw negative attention to us,” she said.
“I can understand if people want to have statues removed. There are statues around Copenhagen where that might make sense because of the country’s colonial past,” she said. “But why on earth the Little Mermaid? Why vandalise that statue? Hans Christian Andersen wasn’t racist, on the contrary. It doesn’t take two brain cells to figure out that it was done to damage our cause. It looks very fake.”
Danish police said the attack took place sometime before 9 a.m. last Friday morning, saying that as of Tuesday they had no leads as to who carried out the attack.
In a written statement, Copenhagen police spokeswoman Sara Schlüter said: “There have been several examples of vandalism against statues in the past few weeks. We are investigating the cases. As of yet, we have not identified any suspects in these cases.”
The incidents are, however, being treated as regular vandalism, not as illegal political activism.
“We are of course aware of the debate surrounding statues in Denmark and abroad, and we are monitoring the situation closely, but for now the individual cases are investigated as acts vandalism,” she said.
The police department also praised the anti-racism activists for BLM’s peaceful demonstrations.
“They have caused no problems whatsoever,” she said.
The attack on the mermaid statue comes amid attacks on other statues that have been vandalized with paint in the past few weeks in Denmark.
A statue of Hans Egede, a Norwegian-Danish missionary who helped colonize Greenland, was painted with the word “Decolonize” in red paint in Copenhagen.
A similar statue in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, which is part of the Danish kingdom but enjoys a large degree of self-rule, was also smeared with red paint. The debate about Greenland’s status and history has flared up since American anti-racism demonstrations spread across the globe.
One of two Greenlandic members of the Danish parliament told Danish press last week that the statue of Hans Egede in Nuuk should be torn down and placed in a museum.
A statue of Christian IV, the Danish king who ruled during the time where Denmark had colonies in Africa and the West Indies, had red paint graffiti on its foundation with the word “Racist.”
And a bust of Knud Rasmussen, the famous Danish Greenland and North Pole explorer was also covered in red paint.
The attack on the Little Mermaid statue was not the only attack, though, that seemed on face value to have little relevance for the BLM movement.
A statue of Mahatma Gandhi, who spent two decades in South Africa and has been criticised for complaining that the South African apartheid regime didn’t distinguish between black citizens and Indians was also daubed with graffiti in Copenhagen.
Ane Grum-Schwensen, curator at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, part of the Odense Bys Museums, and a senior researcher at the Hans Christian Andersen Center said she thought at first the Little Mermaid vandalism was a practical joke.
“It’s very difficult to see a connection between the fairytale and racism. The story is about someone that’s marginalized, about desperately wanting to be an accepted part of humanity. Hans Christian Andersen lived at a time where everybody to some extent was a structural racist, but his work, if anything, was about rebelling against inequality and against class divide,” she said. “The fairytale format was a clever way to make this kind of social criticism acceptable. He wasn’t considered controversial in his time, on the contrary. He was very popular among in the higher echelons of society, although some did criticise his stories for being harmful to children.”
“I think the vandalisation of the little mermaid is more about the national symbol than about Hans Christian Andersen or the fairytale itself. Because of his fame and the fame of the statue, it’s a great way to create attention around a cause. In that sense, I don’t take it too hard. It’s positive that Hans Christian Andersen enjoys such a degree of recognition and fame in Denmark and abroad.”
The iconic Little Mermaid statue unveiled in 1913 was a present from Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of the Carlsberg Brewery—and the one it’s named after.
He took over from his father and put the brewery on the course to become what it is today.
The mermaid was created by Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen and is only one of several made with the original cast model. There are also copies in Canada, California and Iowa.
One is also in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in California where Walt Disney was buried.
The Danish Mermaid has been the target of frequent vandalism attacks over the years.
In 1964 her head was sawed off and stolen. The head was replaced and the original never recovered. In 1984, an arm was sawed off. The culprits turned themselves in a few days later. The arm was reattached and the vandals had to pay a hefty fine.
In 1998 the mermaid’s head was again sawed off, but was found and reattached. A freelance photographer, who was the first one on the spot, and two others were charged but the case was eventually dropped. In 2018, the photographer admitted in a book to having participated in the decapitation to get a scoop that would reinvigorate his business.
And in 2003, the mermaid was removed from her rock, presumably with explosives. She was later recovered from the sea and lifted from the water to be put back in place.
(Edited by Allison Elyse Gualtieri and Richard Miniter.)