Relations with SwedenTheme
Neighbours, for better and for worse
Ever since the end of the 19th century, everything Swedish has been the antithesis of Danish", and defined who "we Danes" are. Throughout the 20th century, aspects that came to define Denmark – the cooperative agricultural movement, Grundtvig, democracy and individualism – were set in relief with examples from Sweden.
Prior to 1930, Sweden was a backwards, outmoded society. But once Swedish industry began to take off, the country made enormous progress and began developing a welfare state. After 1930, comparisons between Denmark and Sweden were used to illustrate how Danes risked losing their individual rights if the country became too modern.
"Us and them"
Starting in the mid 1980s, and especially after Sweden joined the EU in 1995, Denmark and Sweden have developed along much the same path. For a number of years Sweden appeared to be losing its importance for our self-conception. However, discussions about refugees and immigration that began after 2002 show that "the other" is still someone we both can use to define ourselves. Denmark and Sweden have an interesting history together, and that history has had enormous influence on the development of both countries' national identities.
The battle for Scandinavia
Relations between Denmark and Sweden stretch back far further than the end of the 19th century. Although that phase of our histories has little to do with our identities, the events that transpired then explain to us why our borders came to lie where they do, and how we came to be independent states.
The coronation of Gustav Vasa as king of Sweden in 1523 signalled the definitive end of the Kalmar Union. Instead, two centres of power in Scandinavia emerged. One controlled the agricultural settlements on the shores of the Sound, and collected taxes on trade in and out of the Baltic Sea. The other was centred on the Mälaren region, and was oriented towards the east, across the Sea of Åland, and was rich in deposits of strategic metals. The political and geographic situation in the Baltic area meant that conflicts of interest between the two were unavoidable. War was only a matter of time.
Hemmed in by the territory of the Dano-Norwegian king, and Kronborg Castle at the mouth of the Sound, the kingdom of Sweden's access to the world market was controlled by Denmark. If his country was to be able to trade more, the Swedish king needed to fight his way to a solution. However, the Dano-Norwegian king was just as determined to make sure that nothing threatened the balance of power in Scandinavia.
The conflict resulted in open hostility on a number of occasions. The first two – the Northern Seven Years War (1563-1570) and the Kalmar War (1611-1613) – both ended without any borders being redrawn, but from there on out the situation changed rapidly. The involvement of Denmark's King Christian IV in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) proved fatal for Denmark. In 1625, his army was defeated near Hannover, greatly reducing its fighting capacity. After the Torstensson War (1643-1645), Christian lost the Norwegian territories Jämtland and Härjedalen, Danish islands Gotland and Øsel. The king was also forced to transfer Halland to Swedish control for a period of 30 years.
Farewell to Scania, Halland and Blekinge
In 1657, Christian's son, Frederik III, sought revenge but failed. Sweden's Carl X Gustav marched his army from Poland, up the Jutland peninsula, to the newly established fortress at Frederiksodde (Fredericia), and there proceeded to destroy it. Thanks to an unseasonably icy winter, Denmark's waterways froze solid, and the Swedish army was able to march directly to the gates of Copenhagen. British and French envoys stepped in and forced Frederik to sign the Treaty of Roskilde on 26 February 1658. Under the terms of the treaty, Denmark surrendered its Swedish provinces of Scania, Halland, Blekinge, the Baltic island of Bornholm, Ven island in the Sound, as well as Norweigan possessions Bohuslän and the Trondheim province.
The siege of Copenhagen
Carl X Gustav soon regretted that the had not ousted Frederik completely. In August, a Swedish army landed near Copenhagen, and before long the capital was surrounded. The Swedes established a fortified camp, Carlstad, but throughout the summer Frederik had reinforced his defensive positions around the capital, and before long he had encouraged people living outside the city's walls to resist the Swedes. One of the most famous of rebels was Svend Poulsen Gønge. And on Bornholm, a popular uprising resulted in the death of the Swedish commandant, and the island's voluntary reunion with Denmark.
Foreign powers played the decisive role in the outcome of the war. Poland and Brandenburg sent armies to Jutland, and a Dutch fleet helped break the Swedish siege. A Swedish assault on Copenhagen was turned back.
The Netherlands, Britain and France all watched the situation with concern, and met to find a proposal that would end the hostilities. Both kings rejected the Treaty of Roskilde as the foundation of any new agreement. But Frederik dropped his resistance as soon as he was made a promise that some of the lost territories would revert to him. The death of the Swedish king made mediation possible, and with the signing of the Treaty of Copenhagen (1660), Trondheim again became a part of Norway. Bornholm was also returned to Denmark, but the king was required to compensate the Swedish crown (the Bornholm Tax). Much to Frederik's disappointment, the borders in the Sound region remained unchanged. But although the Sound continued as an international waterway, Denmark was still permitted to collect tolls on ships passing Kronborg Castle. The wars of 1657-1660 drew the political borders in Scandinavia that we still recognise to this day.
Even though a peace had been signed, both countries continued to build up their militaries. A number of conflicts occurred, with both sides claiming occasional victories. However, neither the Scanic War (1675-1679) nor the Great Northern War (1700-1720) led to boundaries being redrawn. Stronger powers, who had an interest in ensuring that no single state controlled the Sound, made sure they used their power to prevent it from happening. Denmark, for that reason, today rules one coast of the Sound, while Sweden rules the other.
As it became increasingly evident that the international powers would not accept new borders between Sweden and Denmark, the two stopped seeing each other as enemies and began on a path towards closer relations. Sweden lent Denmark a hand during and after World War II, and identity came to replace animosity as the focal point of their relations.