The history of the State of Denmark takes its beginning about 800 a.c.. The end of the history of the state of Denmark as an independent state can be pointed out more precisely to the 2nd. of october 1972.
A few remains of symbolic importance are left over from the early period. Danevirke in Schleswig (now Germany) from the 7th century, an earthwork build as a defense system against invading Franks, is one of the remains. It was maintained as a defense system until the 19th century and the earthwork is still maintained for memorial reasons and has its own museum.
The runic stones
Probably the most important artifacts from the early period are the two runic stones in Jelling, (a small town situated in the southern part of Jutland near the city of Vejle). The stones were raised in the 10th century.
The oldest of the two stones was raised by King Gorm the Old in memory of his wife Thyra, the other was raised by their son, Harald Bluetooth, in memory of his parents.
King Gorm was the first king of all of Denmark and the first in a continuous line of monarchs that can be followed all the way to the current monarch, Queen Margrethe II. That makes Denmark the second oldest continuously ruled kingdom in the world.
The stone raised by Harald Bluetooth has been translated from the ancient viking runes to English as: “King Harald raises these sepulchral monuments after Gorm, his father and Thyra, his mother. That Harald who won the whole of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christians”. It was the first time that the name of Denmark is known to be used on danish ground even if it was already in use in other parts of Europe.
Until the 11th century danes, together with norwegians and swedes known as vikings, were colonising, raiding and trading in all parts of Europe. The vikings even reached North America on their journeys who brought them from Scandinavia to Iceland, then further to Greenland and then finally America where at least remains from one settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows at New Foundland have been found.
At various times kings and warlords from Denmark has ruled areas of nowaday England and Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, northern Germany and the Baltic countries.
The legend about Dannebrog
According to the legend the Danish flag ‘Dannebrog’ fell from the sky during the Battle of Lyndanisse, also known as the Battle of Valdemar at a place near the modern city of Tallinn, Estonia, on 15 June 1219, resulting in a Danish victory. As stated a legend which lack any kind of proving, but a very popular one among the danes.
The diminishing state
Once Denmark was a big country occupying much of the surrounding territories. Nevertheless, throughout history the different danish Kings and warlords had bad luck with their warfare and Denmark gradually became smaller, while the neighboring countries were growing bigger.
Some of the last losses were Scania, Blekinge and Halland – nowadays the southern part of Sweden – which where lost to that same country after a war in 1658. The peace treaty was slightly revised two years later when the borders between the three nordic countries were finally established as they are known today.
A union with Norway was dissolved in 1814, when Norway was forced to enter a union with Sweden and after the Second War of Schleswig in 1864 Denmark was forced to cede Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia.
The Second Schleswig War in 1864 ended in a total defeat and a loss of 25% of the territory. The loss was even more severe as the lost territoty was the most developed part of the country, counting 40% of the population.
The defeat left deep marks in the then emerging Danish national identity. Thereafter a policy of neutrality was adapted.
Denmark stayed neutral in World War I. One of the benefits from the neutrality policy was the ability to export agricultural product at good prices during the war.
After the World War I the northern part of Schleswig-Holstein was reunited with Denmark through a referendum.
Nazi occupation during World War II
A few steps away from one of the great turist attractions in the danish capitol Copenhagen – The little mermaid you will find Frihedsmuseet – The Museum of Danish Resistance. This tiny museum is the main Danish museum on the period of the Nazi occupation of Denmark in the Second World War. It focuses on the Danish resistance movement during that period.
Compared to what happened in other european countries the occupation of Denmark was rather peacefully.
Being convinced that the Germans would win the war the danish government agreed to accept the occupation and cooperated with the occupation forces. So they hoped to make the unpleasant situation as convenient as possible for the danes.
- Memorial for Communists in the Resistance Movement during Second World War. During the occupation the official danish government stamped the resistance fighters as terrorists, after the Nazi defeat they were celebrated as heroes and freedomfighters. The text tells that the memorial was set up by the Danish State in 1996, and praises the Communists fight for peace and freedom
Certainly not all danes agreed in that cooperation policy and during the occupation the resistance against the Nazi occupation grew stronger and stronger. In the beginning only small groups first and foremost organised by the Danish Communist Party were active in the resistance movement. Afterwards little by little the resistance gained a broader sympathy and support. Especially after the battle by Stalingrad in the Soviet Union made it clear that the German Nazis could be defeated the resistance was growing.
The occupation started on the 9th of april 1940 and were brougth to an end on the 5th of may 1945.
The end: joining the European Union
- Advertisement from the EEC campaign 1972: Should this factory continue here? …It depends on your vote. The factory in question dominate a hole area in Denmark.
Denmark remained an independent state until 1972. Then the Danish farmers found out that they would get better paid for their products in the European common market EEC, and succeeded in convincing the Danes to join that market.
EEC has become the European Union, EU, and today Denmark is a small part of that union.
- Advertisement from the EEC campaign 1972: Do you dare to vote no? The voters are “informed” that a no vote will result in unemployment, higher prices and taxes.
The membership of EEC in 1973 came after a referendum was held on october the second 1972. To convince the danish voters to vote yes a mix of economic promises, lies and threats were used. Even then one third of the intimidated voters ended up saying no to the membership. The referendum in 1972 has been symptomatic for the debate about the European Union ever since then, especially when the Danish voters from time to time have been asked to participate in new referendas on the issue.
Of the different referendas on the EU issue the most ‘famous’ is probably the referendum on the Maastrich treaty the second of june 1992 were a very small majority of the voters – 50,7% – voted no.
To solve the “problem” a few exceptions were made for the Danes and a new referendum was held the year after ending in a yes.
The two advertisement examples from the 1972 campaign was found in “Det ny Notat: 64 sider af Danmarkshistorien, september 1977” where more of the same kind can be found.
References: Krigen 1864 (2. Slesvigske Krig) – og Freden i Wien
Tom Buk-Swienty: Dommedag Als, 2010