Power and resistance


A land of peace

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Right up until the 19th century, Danish farmers felt much closer to their community or region than to the nation of Denmark. Craftsmen and merchants were a part of a northern European network. Only the Danish nobility's national sentiment has deep historical roots. For the majority of Danes, national identity wasn't a deep-seated sentiment.

Peaceful communities
Denmark has little in the way of national, ethnic or religious strife. No king has been assassinated since 1286. The last real civil war took place between 1534 and 1536. Here, class struggle between farmers and nobility was woven into the struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism. Protestantism in the form of Lutheranism prevailed.

Once the monarchies of northern Europe had established control of the Protestant churches after the Reformation they controlled the only organisation that had a presence in every village and town. Ministers preached obedience to the state and were intermediaries between the state and communities. In contrast to the farmers in many other countries, Danish farmers saw their tax burden grow in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Religious grassroots
The late 18th century was a period of reform. Adscription still bound farmers to the soil as tenant farmers, but more and more farmers were becoming landowners. Education was made compulsory in 1814, and Scandinavian farmers were among the first in Europe who learned to read and write.

In the 1820s and 1830s a religious grassroots movement began to grow among farmers and craftsmen. The farmers gathered to pray and sing hymns at the farms, and they were persecuted for it. They had come into opposition to power of the state.

In 1841 local councils were established in rural parishes. The farmers were to elect representatives to local government. They were to be included in a national community, with local responsibility for providing for the poor, educating children and keeping up the roads.

In the 1800s farmers began to work more closely together to establish savings banks, insurance, book clubs, folk high schools and eventually cooperatives. The first political magazines and journals were founded in 1842. The farmers would no longer bear the largest tax burden and be the only ones conscripted into the military.

Bicameral legislature
From 1848 to 1850, the Crown was at war with the predominantly German-speaking duchies and Danish territories of Schleswig and Holstein. The German-speaking population wanted independence. They lost the war but later Holstein and a large part of Schleswig were engulfed by Germany.

In 1848 the absolute monarchy collapsed. The Constitution of 1849 created a bicameral legislature. Farm owners were also given the right to vote and stand for election. In 1866 the Constitution was revised so that landowners came to dominate the one chamber. Farmers soon after found their influence in rural local government strengthened.

Farmers' party
In 1870 the farmers formed a political party known as the Liberal Party. Farmers were dissatisfied that landlords and civil servants held power. The Liberal Party grew and called for parliamentarianism. The right-wing governments had come to rule without the sanction of parliament by adopting
provisional laws. In 1885 the country was close to civil war. Several opposition figures were jailed. Some farmers refused to pay taxes. Liberals talked about taking up arms against the government. A young assassination-mined man tried to shoot the prime minister. A week later the prime minister created a new corps of gendarmes to patrol the country. The corps was highly unpopular and existed only a few years. An increasing number of groups were engaged in politics. They read newspapers, went to meetings and demonstrations, formed associations and participated in elections. In 1886 the newly established "Women's Progress Association" called for yet another step towards democratisation: women's suffrage.

Inwardly gained
Two thirds of the population lived in rural areas in 1890. Denmark was a country of capitalist farmers. Self-asserted farmers exported to the growing British market. Although Danish agriculture had difficulty selling goods in the 1870s and 1880s, farmers found new ways to earn a living. They began to raise livestock for export. Adaptability was an extension of the slogan: "What is outwardly lost must be inwardly gained", coined after the loss of Schleswig-Holstein in 1864.

A social democratic labour movement was growing in the cities, paralleling the Liberal surge in the countryside. Only in Scandinavia were farmers able to create strong, lasting political parties. Because the majority of farmers had small farms, they were more likely to believe in equality. That fact made it easier for farmers to make compromises with moderate Social Democrats.

In 1901, the Liberals finally came to power and the party strengthened local government. In 1915 landowners lost dominance of one chamber of parliament, and women and servants were given the right to vote. Denmark was now a peaceful democracy with collaborating political parties. More and more people were moving to cities, and the old differences between town and country were smoothed out.

Landslide victory
In 1970 parishes were consolidated into local councils as part of a reform of local government. During the 1973 general election a new party, the Progress Party with its opposition to paying taxes, suddenly found itself the country's second largest party. The number of parties in parliament doubled, and the old parties suffered heavy losses. Voters were reacting against the rapidly modernising welfare state, which was perceived as being intrusive. Some were also opposed to Danish accession to the European Community in 1973.

After another local government reform in 2008, the number of local governments was reduced from 270 to 98 - far fewer than the original 1,300. Local councils are responsible for administering the social welfare system under state leadership. A sense of belonging to one's home town is waning in today's mobile society. The growing disengagement in local politics is seen most clearly at the regional level, where voters pay little attention to how the middle of Denmark's three tiers of government is run.

Satisfied Danes
The welfare state is widely accepted, and the Danes, according to many studies, are the most satisfied nation in the world.

But some fringe groups seek to distance themselves from conventional lifestyles. Some may be anarchists or socialists who reject private property. Their ideal is autonomous communities of people sharing possessions and living in harmony with their neighbours. Decisions are made by consensus and open votes are avoided. In the 1970s and 1980s many lived in communes. Some occupied empty buildings. In 1971 activists broke through the fence surrounding a disused military base in Copenhagen and established a commune and named it Christiania. The state has attempted to integrate Christiania in the surrounding community, and now it is a legally recognised settlement. The original occupation has been given up, and Christiania's special legal exemptions have been curtailed. Christiania is dissatisfied with the development, but accepts the principle of property rights and demands ownership of Christiania.

In the 1980s, a new squatter movement began taking over empty buildings. As late as 2007 young people were occupying buildings in several cities. The squatters don't stay for long; if they do, the police step in.

Denmark is now generally a homogenous country. Citizens respect the rules of the game in a democracy and support the rule of law and civil rights it brings.