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Denmark History


Denmark, constitutional monarchy, northwestern Europe, the southernmost of the Scandinavian countries. Officially Kingdom of Denmark (Danish Kongeriget Danmark), it is bounded on the north by the Skagerrak, an arm of the North Sea; on the east by the Kattegatt (an extension of the Skagerrak) and by the Øresund (The Sound), a strait linking the Kattegatt and the Baltic Sea; on the south by the Baltic Sea, a strait called the Fehmarn, and Schleswig-Holstein, Germany; and on the west by the North Sea. Denmark comprises most of the Jutland, or Jylland, peninsula (extending about 338 km [about 210 mi] in a north and south direction), and numerous islands in the Baltic and North seas. The principal islands, lying between the mainland and Sweden, are Fyn, Lolland, Sjaelland (English Zealand), Falster, Langeland, and Møn. About 130 km (about 80 mi) to the east of Sjaelland, in the Baltic, is the Danish island of Bornholm. Far to the northwest of Jutland, in the Atlantic Ocean, between the Shetland Islands and Iceland, lie the Faeroe Islands, a group of 18 islands, part of Denmark since 1948; and near the North American mainland, between the North Atlantic and the Arctic oceans, is the island of Greenland, an integral part, from 1953, of the Danish monarchy. Both the Faeroe Islands and Greenland are internally self-governing. Excluding these islands, Denmark has an area of 43,069 sq km (16,629 sq mi).
Land and Resources
The surface of the Danish mainland is generally low; the average elevation is about 30 m (about 100 ft) above sea level.
Physical Characteristics
A low range of hills in the east central portion of the Danish mainland includes Yding Skovhøj, the highest point in Denmark. The western coast of the mainland is low and rimmed by dunes and sandbars. The east coast, which is slightly higher in elevation, is indented by a series of fjords that penetrate deeply into the interior. The Limfjorden, the most northerly of these indentations, extends in a generally east to west direction across the entire breadth of the peninsula from the Kattegatt to the North Sea.
Denmark has a temperate maritime climate. The mean temperature in summer is about 16° C (about 61° F); in winter, about 0° C (about 32° F). Changes in wind direction cause wide day-to-day temperature fluctuations. Average annual rainfall is about 610 mm (about 24 in).
Natural Resources
Some 60% of the total land area of Denmark is cultivable. Minerals are limited, and comprise, in large part, the clays, peats, and other deposits common to boggy country. The soil of Denmark is almost entirely podzolic in character and gray in color. It abounds in acid solutions that drain its minerals and must be heavily fertilized for intensive cultivation.
Plants and Animals
Relatively little wild vegetation remains in Denmark, because much of the land is under cultivation. In the forests, which cover about 10% of the country, are conifers, beeches, oaks, and ash. Several varieties of ferns and mosses common to middle Europe also are found. Natural animal life is limited to deer and such small mammals as the fox, squirrel, and hare; wildfowl and other birds; and numerous species of freshwater fish.
The Danish people are closely related to those of Norway and Sweden.
Population Characteristics
About 85% of the Danish population lives in urban areas. The population of Denmark proper was 5,135,000 (1989 estimate), giving the country an overall population density of about 119 persons per sq km (about 309 per sq mi). The population of Greenland was 55,400, and that of the Faeroe Islands was 47,800.
Political Divisions and Principal Cities
For administrative purposes, Denmark is divided into the borough of Frederiksberg, the city of Copenhagen (Danish. København), and 14 counties: Århus, Bornholm, Copenhagen (København), Frederiksborg, Fyn, Nordjylland, Ribe, Ringkøbing, Roskilde, Sønderjylland, Storstrøm, Vejle, Vestjaelland, and Viborg.
The capital and largest city is Copenhagen, mostly on the island of Sjaelland, with a population (1988 estimate, greater city) of 1,343,900. Copenhagen celebrated its 800th anniversary in 1967. Other major cities, with their 1988 estimated populations, include the seaport of Århus, 258,000; Odense, 174,000, the capital of Fyn County; and Ålborg, 154,700, an administrative center.
Lutheranism, the established religion of Denmark, is adhered to by almost all Danes; however, complete toleration is extended to all religions.
The Royal Theater in Copenhagen presents drama, opera, and ballet under the auspices of the ministry of cultural affairs. The Royal Theater was founded in 1748, and an annex, the New Stage, was opened in 1931.
Denmark is famous for beautifully designed ceramics, silverware, porcelain, and home furnishings. Copenhagen has a permanent exhibition of arts and crafts where artisans from all over the country may display and sell their work.
All major cities and most provincial towns have public libraries. The Royal Library, in Copenhagen, founded in 1673, serves as the national library of Denmark. It contains some 2.7 million volumes and collections of music, manuscripts, maps, and pictures. Among the collections are 5000 incunabula, books printed in the second half of the 15th century.
Of about 25 major museums, the most important is the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle (in Hillerød), mainly built between 1600 and 1620. It contains some 10,000 exhibits. The Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen, also a 17th-century building, holds a collection of arms, apparel, and furniture, as well as the crown jewels. The Thorvaldsens Museum, also in Copenhagen, contains the works of the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. Also of note are the National Museum, in Copenhagen; the Natural History Museum, in Århus; and the Viking Ship Museum, in Roskilde.
Art and Music
The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, in Copenhagen, houses a collection of paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings by Danish artists, as well as works of 19th- and 20th-century Norwegian and Swedish artists. The capital is the home of the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Royal Orchestra, and the Royal Danish Ballet. The Danish composer Carl August Nielsen was conductor of the Royal Society and the Music Society. He wrote operas, symphonies, and music for piano, violin, and string quartet.
Denmark has traditionally been an agrarian country. Since the end of World War II, however, manufacturing and services have gained in importance. The proportion of the labor force in agriculture declined from an estimated 14% in 1965 to 5% in 1988. Danish ships, which operate in foreign waters, contribute substantially to the economy. The country is also profitably involved in foreign investments, shipbuilding, and foreign construction. The annual national budget in the late 1980s included about $34 billion in revenue and expenditure.
Danish governmental policy favors small landholdings; and the merger of small holdings to form large estates is discouraged by law. About 85% of the farms of Denmark are less than 50 hectares (124 acres) in size.
Of the more than 2.6 million hectares (some 6.5 million acres) under cultivation, about 60% are devoted to cereals, mainly barley, oats, wheat, and rye; the rest are planted with fodder and other crops, including flax, hemp, hops, and tobacco. Agricultural production in the late 1980s included 5,419,000 metric tons of barley, 2,708,000 metric tons of sugar beets, 2,080,000 metric tons of wheat, and 366,000 metric tons of rye. The meat and dairy industries are important.
A notable feature of agriculture in Denmark is the influence of the cooperative movement. Cooperative associations dominate the production of dairy products and bacon. A large percentage of the agricultural produce of the country is sold through marketing cooperatives. Most cooperatives are organized in national associations, which are members of the Agricultural Council, the central agency for the cooperatives in dealings with the government and industry and in foreign trade.
Forestry and Fishing
The forest resources of Denmark are negligible. All forests have been government reserves since 1805. The large Danish fishing fleet (over 3200 motorized vessels) plays a significant role in the economy. The total annual catch in the late 1980s was about 1.7 million metric tons, almost all of which were marine fish. The most important fish caught are herring, salmon, and cod.
All Danish subsurface resources are the property of the nation. Kaolin is found on the island of Bornholm, but the deposits are not of high quality, and it is used chiefly in the manufacture of coarse earthenware and brick. Natural gas and petroleum are recovered from offshore North Sea fields; the output of crude oil was about 36.3 million barrels annually in the late 1980s. Other minerals produced commercially are limonite, lignite, cryolite, limestone, chalk, and marl. Large quantities of salt have been discovered in Jutland.
The principal industrial establishments of Denmark are food-processing plants and factories producing metals, machinery (notably marine and railroad diesel engines), clothing, and textiles. Danish furniture has been in demand throughout the world since the 1920s. Other important industries include iron founding; shipbuilding; brewing; and the manufacture of cement, chemicals, drugs, electronic equipment, earthenware, porcelain, stoves, bicycles, and paper.
Almost all Denmark's electricity is produced in thermal plants using coal or petroleum products. In the late 1980s the country had an installed electricity-generating capacity of about 8.6 million kw, and annual production was approximately 29.4 billion kwh.
Currency and Banking
The Danish currency is the krone, or crown (6.4929 kroner equal U.S.$1; 1990). The National Bank of Denmark (1818) is the bank of issue and is the center of Danish finance, with head offices in Copenhagen. In addition, several large commercial banks have branches throughout the country. The country also has more than 90 savings banks.
Foreign Trade
In the mid-1960s West Germany replaced Great Britain as the major supplier of the Danish market. Today, Germany is still Denmark's leading export and import partner, but Great Britain remains among the largest importers of Danish products.
Until the early 1960s livestock, processed meat (chiefly ham), and dairy products constituted the bulk of exports. Industrial exports have grown steadily and, since 1961, have exceeded agricultural exports. In the early 1990s yearly exports were valued at about $33 billion, and annual imports at about $30 billion. Major Danish imports are machinery, primary metals and metal products, transportation equipment, fuels and lubricants, and various consumer goods.
Because of the discontinuous terrain of Denmark, ferries are important in the transportation system. They link Jutland with the Baltic islands, the Baltic islands with one another, and both Jutland and the Baltic islands with Germany, Sweden, and Norway. Denmark has about 3000 km (about 1865 mi) of operated railroad track, more than 80 percent of which is part of the Danish State Railways system. The main rail route leads south through Jutland to Hamburg, Germany. Motor vehicle traffic runs on about 70,770 km (about 43,975 mi) of roads. Danish Airlines is part of the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS). Danair provides domestic air service. The international airport is at Kastrup, near Copenhagen. In August 1991 Denmark signed an agreement with Sweden for the construction of a rail and road system across the strait between Copenhagen and Malmö. The project was scheduled for completion in 1997.
The government telephone service owns and operates long-distance lines, but most local services in Denmark are operated by private companies. Telephones in use total about 4.4 million. Radio and television programs are produced by the state-owned Radio Denmark; commercials are barred, and set owners pay annual license fees. A commercial television network began broadcasting in 1988. About 1.9 million television receivers and 2.1 million radios were licensed in the late 1980s.
More than half the total Danish population is employed; roughly 20% of the labor force is engaged in manufacturing and handicrafts. Women make up more than 40% of the work force. In the 1960s and '70s the country suffered severe shortages of skilled workers. Most skilled workers, technicians, and handicraft workers are union members. The Danish Federation of Trade Unions had about 1.4 million members in more than 1370 affiliated unions in the late 1980s.
Denmark is a constitutional and hereditary monarchy, governed under a constitution of 1953. Margaret II succeeded to the throne on the death of her father, Frederick IX, in 1972.
National executive power is nominally vested in the Danish sovereign, but the real head of government is the prime minister. The prime minister, appointed by the sovereign, must have the support of a majority of the legislature.
Legislative power in Denmark is vested jointly in the sovereign and in a unicameral legislature, called the Folketing, or diet. The concurrence of sovereign and Folketing is necessary for the enactment of legislation, a declaration of war, and the signing of a peace treaty. The legislative term is four years, but the sovereign may dissolve the Folketing before the end of the term. The 179 members are popularly elected; the Faeroe Islands and Greenland are each represented by two members. Elections are conducted chiefly on the basis of proportional representation. All Danes over 18 years of age who are permanent residents are eligible to vote and to stand for election to the Folketing. Measures passed by the legislature may be submitted to a referendum with the consent of one-third of the members; if at least 30% of the eligible voters disapprove the measure, it is defeated.
Judicial power in Denmark is vested in 82 lower courts presided over by individual judges; two high courts, each with a panel of judges; and a supreme court, which sits in Copenhagen.
Local Government
District councils of between 7 and 31 members, headed by elected mayors, administer the approximately 275 municipalities of Denmark. The district of Copenhagen is administered by a city council and by an executive consisting of the chief burgomaster, five burgomasters, and five aldermen. County councils headed by mayors administer the 14 counties. The ministry of interior supervises the counties and the communes of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg. Local committees supervise the municipalities.
Political Parties
The Social Democratic party, founded in 1871, has long been the largest party of Denmark; it has a membership of about 100,000 persons. Other leading parties include the Conservative People's party, Socialist People's party, and Liberal party.
Health and Welfare
Health insurance, covering more than 95% of the Danish population, provides free medical care and hospitalization, payment for some essential medicines, and some dental care. Most hospitals are municipal. Single persons are entitled to a pension at age 67. Pension rates are adjusted annually in accordance with changes in the cost-of-living index. Other benefits include employment injuries insurance; unemployment insurance; social assistance for the aged, blind, and disabled; and provisions for the care of children, including daytime care for children of couples when both work.
Denmark is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Conscription is universal, and all recruits receive at least nine months of military training. The army maintains a strength of about 17,000 persons. The navy includes a small fleet and a coast-defense force and has about 7,000 members. The Royal Danish Air Force, with approximately 9,000 members, is tactically under NATO command. Each service has a volunteer home guard. The army home guard comprises about 55,000 persons; navy, about 4,000 persons; and air force, about 9,000 persons.
Knowledge of Danish antiquity is derived largely from archaeological research. Some historians believe that Danes inhabiting the southern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula migrated to the Jutland Peninsula and the adjacent islands in the Baltic Sea in the 5th and 6th centuries. Evidence of major public structures—including a canal, a long bridge, and the ramparts across the neck of Jutland now called the Danevirke—in the 8th century attests to the presence of a fairly strong central authority in Jutland on the eve of the Viking age. Within a century of their first raid on the British Isles in the 780s, the Danes were masters of the part of England that became known as the Danelaw. Under King Harold Bluetooth in the 10th century, political consolidation increased, and the Christianization of the Danes was begun. Harold's son, Sweyn I, conquered all of England in 1013-1014. Sweyn's son, Canute II, who ruled England (1016-1035) and Denmark (1018-1035), completed the Christianization of Denmark.
Expansion and Prosperity
In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, the Danes expanded to the east. They conquered the greater part of the southern coastal areas of the Baltic Sea, establishing a powerful and prosperous realm twice the size of modern Denmark. In this era of expansion, feudalism in Denmark attained its zenith. The kingdom became wealthier and more powerful than it had ever been. Most of the country's once-free peasantry saw their rights reduced. Marked economic progress was made in this era, principally in the development of the herring-fishing industry and stock raising. This progress was the basis for the rise of merchants and craftsmen and of a number of guilds.
Growing discord between the Danish crown and the nobility led to a struggle in which the nobility, in 1282, compelled King Eric V to sign a charter, sometimes referred to as the Danish Magna Carta. By the terms of this charter, the Danish crown was made subordinate to law, and the assembly of lords (Danehof) was made an integral part of the administrative institutions.
A temporary decline in Danish power after the death of Christopher II in 1332 was followed, in the reign (1340-1375) of Waldemar IV, by the reestablishment of Denmark as the leading political power on the Baltic Sea. The Hanseatic League, however, controlled trade.
The Kalmar Union and The Reformation
In 1380 Denmark and Norway were joined in a union under one king, Olaf II, a grandson of Waldemar IV, and with Norway came Iceland and the Faeroe Islands. After Olaf's death in 1387, his mother, Margaret I, reigned in his stead. In 1389 she obtained the crown of Sweden and began the struggle, completed successfully in 1397, to form the Union of Kalmar, a political union of the three realms. Denmark was the dominant power, but Swedish aristocrats strove repeatedly—and with some success—for Sweden's autonomy within the union. The Kalmar Union lasted until 1523, when Sweden won its independence in a revolt against the tyrannical Christian II led by Gustav Vasa, who was elected king of Sweden as Gustav I in that year.
Also in 1523 Christian II was driven from the Danish throne. There followed a period of unrest, as Lübeck, the strongest Hanseatic city, interfered in Danish politics. With help from Sweden's king, Lübeck's interference was ended and Christian III consolidated his power as king of Denmark. During his reign (1534-1559) the Reformation triumphed in Denmark, and the Lutheran church was established as the state church. At this time the Danish kings began to treat Norway as a province rather than as a separate kingdom. Commercial and political rivalry with Sweden for domination of the Baltic Sea resulted in the indecisive Nordic Seven Years' War (1563-1570) and the War of Kalmar (1611-1613) between Sweden and Denmark.
The intervention of Christian IV in the religious struggle in Germany on behalf of the Protestant cause in the 1620s led to Danish participation in the Thirty Years' War. Continued rivalry with Sweden for primacy in the north led to the Swedish Wars of 1643-1645 and 1657-1660, in which Denmark was badly defeated and lost several of its Baltic islands and all of its territory on the Scandinavian Peninsula except Norway.
Absolute Monarchy
Economic reverses resulting from these defeats had far-reaching consequences in Denmark. The growing commercial class, hard hit by the loss of foreign markets and trade, joined with the monarchy to curtail the power and privileges of the nobility. In 1660, capitalizing on the nobility's unpopularity after its poor military performance in the Swedish Wars, Frederick III carried out a coup d'état against the aristocratic Council of the Realm. The monarchy, which until then had been largely dependent for its political power on the aristocracy, was made hereditary, and in 1661 it became absolute. The tax-exemption privileges of the nobility were ended, and nobles were replaced by commoners in the nation's administrative apparatus. Important administrative reforms were also introduced.
In the 18th century Denmark began the colonization of Greenland; Danish trade in the Far East expanded; and trading companies were established in the West Indies, where Denmark acquired several islands. In 1788 constraints on the liberties of the peasants were abolished, and in the following decades an agricultural enclosure movement greatly enhanced the production of foodstuffs.
During the Napoleonic Wars, efforts by England to blockade the European continent led to naval clashes with Denmark. Copenhagen was twice bombarded by British fleets, first in 1801 and again in 1807, and the Danish navy was destroyed. As a result, Denmark was largely cut off from Norway, and the Danish monarch reluctantly sided with Napoleon. By the Peace of Kiel (1814) Denmark ceded Helgoland to the British and Norway to Sweden; in return, Denmark was given Swedish Pomerania, which it later exchanged for Lauenburg, previously held by Prussia.
Constitutional Monarchy
A growing demand for constitutional government in Denmark led to the proclamation of the constitution of 1849. Denmark became a constitutional monarchy, civil liberties were guaranteed, and a bicameral legislature, which was to share legislative power with the Crown, was established. German nationalism in Schleswig and Holstein (see SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN), both hereditary duchies held by the kings of Denmark, presented the Danes with serious problems in the wake of the Revolution of 1848. The two duchies had long been objects of dispute between Danish kings and German monarchs. With diplomatic aid from Russia, Denmark had prevailed in a first test of strength in mid-century, but in 1864 Prussia and Austria went to war with the Danes to prevent incorporation of Schleswig into Denmark's territory and constitutional structure. The Danes were defeated and lost possession of the two duchies and of other territory.
In 1866 the Danish constitution was revised, making the upper chamber (Landsting) more powerful than the lower house (Folketing). During the last decades of the 19th century, commerce, industry, and finance flourished; dairy farming and the cooperative movement were much expanded; and the working class grew in numbers. After 1880 the newly organized Social Democratic party played a major role in the Danish labor movement and in the struggle for a democratic constitution. The principle of parliamentary government was recognized in 1901, ending a long political deadlock between the Crown and the Landsting on one side and the Folketing, on the other side.
Modern Denmark
The country was neutral during World War I. In 1917 Denmark sold the Virgin Islands, in the West Indies, to the United States. Constitutional reforms enacted in 1915 established many of the basic features of the present governmental system. Universal suffrage went into effect in 1918. The same year Denmark recognized the independence of Iceland, but continued to exercise pro forma control of the foreign policy of the new state, and the Danish king remained Iceland's head of state. In 1920 North Schleswig was incorporated into Denmark as a result of a plebiscite carried out in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles; the southern part of Schleswig had voted to remain in Germany.
In May 1939 Denmark signed a 10-year nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany. In April 1940 Germany invaded and occupied Denmark, although the Danish government was able to maintain much control over its legal and domestic affairs until 1943. The Danish police helped Denmark's 6000 Jews to escape safely to neutral Sweden on the eve of their arrest and deportation. Great Britain occupied the Faeroes, and in 1941 the United States established a temporary protectorate over Greenland, building various weather stations and air bases in that country. In 1944 Iceland, following a national referendum, severed all ties with Denmark and proclaimed itself a republic.
After World War II Denmark joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949. Subsequently it has become a member of other international organizations including the European Free Trade Association (1959) and the European Economic Community (1972).
In 1953 a revised constitution was adopted, creating a unicameral parliament, permitting female accession to the throne, and including Greenland as an integral part of Denmark. Greenland was granted home rule in 1979.
Four decades of dominance by the Social Democratic party ended with the 1968 elections. Hilmar Baunsgaard, leader of the Radical Liberal party, formed a coalition government that lasted until 1971, when Jens Otto Krag, a former Social Democratic prime minister, was returned to office. King Frederick IX died in 1972 and was succeeded by his daughter, Margaret II. Later that year Krag resigned and was replaced as prime minister and party leader by Anker Jørgensen. The Social Democrats suffered losses in the elections of late 1973, and Poul Hartling, a Liberal, formed a minority cabinet. Following elections in early 1975, however, Jørgensen returned to power, also at the head of a minority government. He retained his leadership until September 1982, when Poul Schlüter, a Conservative, was named to head a right-of-center coalition. Elections in January 1984 increased the plurality of the coalition, which was returned to power in the elections of September 1987, May 1988, and December 1990. In 1985 the Folketing passed legislation against future construction of nuclear power plants in the country, and the government agreed to help establish a Nordic nuclear-free zone. Disputes in the Danish government over NATO-related policies damaged Denmark's relationship with the organization, but good relations were largely restored by 1988. Destruction of lobster colonies in the strait between Denmark and Sweden in 1988 and other ecological disasters resulted in the passage of rigorous environmental protection measures by the Folketing.
In the wake of a scandal concerning immigration visas, Prime Minister Schlüter resigned in January 1993. A new majority coalition government was formed, with Social Democrat Poul Nyrup Rasmussen as prime minister. In 1992 Danish voters narrowly rejected the Maastricht Treaty which provided for increased political and monetary integration within the European Community (now the European Union). After modifications to the pact, the Danes voted their approval in May 1993.