Denmark’s iconic “Little Mermaid,” the bronze statue on the Copenhagen waterfront beloved by snap-happy tourists (particularly those from mainland China), was scrawled with the message “Free Hong Kong” in red block lettering by unknown vandals yesterday.
The appearance of the message, one of the rallying cries of Hong Kong’s ongoing pro-democracy protest movement, had Danish police looking for clues, reviewing surveillance footage, and interviewing witnesses in an effort to find the perpetrators, Danish news outlet Politiken reported.
“We are using dogs to see whether we can find any articles that have been used to commit this vandalism,” Jesper Frandsen, the superintendent of Copenhagen Police, told another local media outlet, Ekstra Bladet.
The sculpture rests on a rock by the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital and largest city.
The 107-year-old “Little Mermaid,” sculpted by Edvard Eriksen in 1913, is based on the fairy tale of the same name by the 19th-century Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.
It draws more than one million tourists every year, and is a sightseeing hotspot among Chinese tourists in particular. However, the statue is also prone to frequent damage and vandalism.
Most notably, the mermaid has suffered two decapitations, once in the ‘60s at the hands of an artist upset at the state of his love life, and again in the late ‘90s, purportedly at the hands of self-described radical feminists who claimed the act as a political statement. It had its arm sawn off by a couple of drunks in 1984, and was blown from its perch by a bomb in 2003, purportedly by anti-war protesters.
It has since been draped with a burqa, given a dildo, and repeatedly splashed with paint in acts of vandalism championing various other causes.
Over on LIHKG, however, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, no strangers to vandalism, were unenthused about the defacing of the Danish statue. (Some even went so far as to speculate that mainlanders had done it to discredit the movement.)
“If it was indeed done by protesters, I hope there won’t be a next time,” one said.
Meanwhile, in true Hong Kong protester fashion (we were, after all, dubbed the “politest” protesters once upon a time), someone even turned up in person to apologize.
Facebook user Andrew George Chandler, a former academic at the University of Hong Kong now employed at the University of Copenhagen, visited the statue to display a couple of print-outs — in both English and Danish — reading “We did not vandalize the Little Mermaid. But we still apologize for others’ thoughtless actions.”
In a separate statement, also published to Facebook, Chandler said that he and other Hongkongers in Denmark were “disappointed to see this kind of abuse of freedom and are saddened to see this kind of vandalism of such a vital Danish icon.”
“If this was done by someone who truly wants freedom for Hong Kong, we apologize for their behaviour towards the Danish society and for their lack of respect to others’ property,” the statement continues. “If this is done by someone who wants to smear Hong Kong’s fight for freedom, we condemn such an evil framing of the movement.”
NOTE: This story has been updated to the include a statement and photos from a group of Hongkongers in Copenhagen.