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History of Denmark

World War II

Despite its declaration of neutrality at the beginning of World War II, and the conclusion of a non-aggression agreement with Nazi Germany, Denmark was invaded by Nazi Germany (Operation Weserübung) on April 9, 1940 and occupied until May 5, 1945. The Faroe Islands and Iceland were, however, occupied by British forces in April 1940 in a pre-emptive move to prevent a German occupation (see: British occupation of the Faroe Islands in World War II). Iceland became a fully independent republic in 1944; previously the Danish monarch had also been King of Iceland.

The occupation of Denmark was unique in that the terms of occupation were initially very lenient (although the Communist party was banned when Germany invaded the Soviet Union). The new coalition government tried to protect the population from Nazi rule through compromise. The Folketing was allowed to remain in session, the police remained under Danish control, and the Nazi German authorities were one step removed from the population. However, the Nazi German demands eventually became intolerable for the Danish government, so in 1943 it resigned and Nazi Germany assumed full control of Denmark. After that point, an armed resistance movement grew up against the occupying forces. Toward the end of the war, Denmark grew increasingly difficult for Nazi Germany to control, but the country was not liberated until Allied forces arrived in the country at the end of the war.

Also notable was the relocation of most Danish Jews to Sweden in 1943 when Nazi forces threated deportation, see Rescue of the Danish Jews.

Post World War II and Late 20th Century

In 1948 the Faroe Islands were granted home rule. 1953 saw further political reform in Denmark, abolishing the Landsting (the elected upper house), colonial status for Greenland and allowing the female right of succession to the throne with the signing of a new constitution.

After the war, with the perceived threat posed by the USSR and the lessons of World War II still fresh in Danish minds, the country abandoned its policy of neutrality. Denmark became a charter member of the United Nations and was one of the original members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, though Denmark had originally tried to form an alliance only with Norway and Sweden. A Nordic Council was later set up to coordinate Nordic policy. Later, in a referendum in 1972, Danes voted yes to joining the European Community, the predecessor of the European Union, and became a member 1 January 1973.

In the middle of 1990s period of economic growth, the right-wing government unexpectedly had to resign in January 1993. Their downfall was caused by the Minister of Justice Erik Ninn-Hansen's violation of the Aliens Act (known as the Tamil affair), a case which was subsequently tried and became the first Danish impeachment in 80 years.

Poul Schlüter's successor was the Social Democrat Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. He first led a four-party coalition of Social Democrats, Social Liberals, Centre Democrats and representatives of the Christian People's Party; the Christian People's Party lost their seats at the election in September 1994, but Nyrup Rasmussen continued as prime minister in a three-party coalition of Social Democrats, Social Liberals and Centre Democrats.

In 1996 the Centre Democrats withdrew from the government. The improved trading climate has strengthened the Danish economy and made possible a fall in unemployment. But at the same time international competition and European integration have restricted the options open to the government and parliament.

In the general election of March 1998 the Conservatives suffered a serious setback, partly due to a leadership battle in the party. The Danish People’s Party and the Centre Democrats emerged stronger.

The Christian People’s Party was again represented in the Folketing. Just after the election the Liberal leader, Uffe Ellemann Jensen, and the Conservative leader, Per Stig Møller, resigned. They were replaced by Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Pia Christmas-Møller, but in 1999 Pia Christmas-Møller was replaced by Bendt Bendtsen. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen was able to carry on a recontructed coalition government consisting of the Social Democrats and the Social Liberal Party.

For a number of years attitudes and policies towards immigrants and refugees have been in the forefront of public debate and in 1998 the Aliens Act was tightened considerably. A more salient theme for the politically aware has been the principles and forms by which the welfare society is to be maintained and developed in changing international conditions.

Denmark in the 21st Century

In the light of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, Denmark’s international obligations and role featured prominently in the public debate. However, when Poul Nyrup Rasmussen called a general election for 20 November 2001, these problems were overshadowed by Denmark’s policies on immigration, and the election campaign centred on refugees and Danes with another ethnic background than Danish. The government was subject to immense pressure from not only The Danish People’s Party but also The Liberal Party and The Conservative People’s Party.

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