19-year-old Jelena Bundalovic questions whether the citizenship test is the best way to determine an individual’s ‘Danishness’
Almost a quarter of a million adults living in Denmark can’t vote in the upcoming election. Jelena Bundalovic is one of them. Born in Hvidovre Hospital, she went to Danish primary school at Ryparken Lilleskole and completed high school at Ørestad Gymnasium last year. Now 19 and living on her own in Nørrebro, this would the first election she could participate in. But she’s Serbian, and after failing the citizenship test last year, she cannot place an X next to her favourite candidate on Thursday.
“I’m a happy person but sometimes it makes me feel sad,” she told the Copenhagen Post on Blågårds Plads in Nørrebro last Sunday.
“Coming up to the election, everyone is talking about who they’re gong to vote for and I would like to be a part of it. I could watch the debates and meet the politicians around the city but I don’t need to because I can’t vote,” she said.
“I should be part of the democracy but I’m an outsider for no reason really.”
Bundalovic got 30 out 40 questions correct on the citizenship test, missing the pass threshold by two questions. It was later discovered that one of the questions was impossible to answer and was excluded, meaning Bundalovic was only one question away from obtaining a Danish passport.
“All my schools were engaged in politics so I’ve learnt about democracy from an early age and I studied social studies at the highest level in high school. So even though I’ve learnt about these things, I’ve not been using it for anything. Right now I can just throw it out the window because I can’t use it.”
Bundalovic’s parents moved to Denmark from Serbia in the 80s to visit her mother’s parents who had moved over already in the 60s as migrant workers. Her father, who gave up a career as a professional footballer, now works as a tradesman north of Copenhagen and her mother is currently studying. Bundalovic visits Serbia for a couple of weeks a year, and while she says she feels as Serbian as she does Danish, she would rather live in Denmark.
“The kids in the Serbian city where my family live have different interests. In Copenhagen I have a job and my own place but over there they stay with their parents until they get married or sometimes for their whole life. So my aunt and cousins can’t really understand that I’m earning my own money – they can’t take me seriously.”
While many of her extended Serbian family have Danish citizenship, she and her father decided she ought to wait until she was eighteen to apply, at which point the citizenship test was introduced.
“Even before I took the test I knew it was difficult and not relevant. Some of the questions are relevant, the ones about politics and democracy, but questions about old Danish movies for example that’s not really relevant,” she said.
Having been born and lived in Denmark her whole life, Bundalovic said she thought it was unfair that she is made to take the test. In her view, you should be granted citizenship if you were born and finished high-school in the Denmark – criteria which are far more difficult to satisfy than simply passing a test. But she’s decided to give it another go in December.
“But I have sort of given up on it because I don’t have the money and I’m not sure that I will pass it. And even after I pass it I have to wait a year to get Danish citizenship, I just get one step closer,” she said.
“All the extra work I have to go through to get a passport is a shame because I’m as Danish as my friends are.”
The system of gaining a passport is slow and expensive. After being granted permanent residency she had to wait one year before being allowed to take the test that costs about 700 kroner. After passing the test, she would have to pay another 1000 kroner to apply for citizenship that may take another year you to be granted.
Ultimately, Bundalovic feels it’s only her who loses out by not having Danish citizenship. She believes that her different upbringing has supplied her with a different world-view, which is important in a small country like Denmark.
“I have a lot to offer Denmark because I have a different perspective and I know how things are in other countries. I’m always comparing and comparing is good – I can see how the politicians are in Serbia and compare to the politicians here,” she argued.
“All of us who have parents from other countries, we’re more open minded,” she said. “I have a bigger view on everything and they should use it instead of pushing us away.”