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Map of Denmark.
In Denmark, there is a very different understanding of what "freedom" means... they have gone a long way to ending the enormous anxieties that comes with economic insecurity.
Bernie Sanders.[1]
I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism... Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy... The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security to its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish.
—Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.[2]

The Kingdom of Denmark (Danish: Kongeriget Danmark) is a country in Scandinavia notable for its highly developed status, extensive social welfare programs, and (probably resultant) happiness.[3][4][5][6] While most of Denmark is in Continental Europe, there are two autonomous territories: the large island of Greenland and the smaller Faroe Islands. Both are located in the Northern Atlantic. Denmark also formerly owned some islands in the Caribbean, but they sold them off to the United States in 1917; these became the U.S. Virgin Islands.[7] Most of Denmark's population are Christians, and Denmark is not quite a secular state since there are official links between the government and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark.[8] Denmark's monarch is also required under Part II, Section 6 of the constitution to be a member of that church.[9] Despite these factors, a meager 3% of Danes attend church at least once weekly.[10] The country's capital and largest city is Copenhagen.

Denmark was famously a homeland of the Vikings, fearsome pagan raiders who fought and traded across Europe during the Middle Ages. Denmark was the first country in Scandinavia to be Christianized by the decree of Harald Bluetooth in 975 CE. The actual religion spread fairly slowly among the people and adapted many local traditions. While grappling for control over the Baltic Sea, Denmark's monarchs managed to use some dynastic shenanigans to forge the Kalmar Union in 1397, a system in which their monarch sat on the thrones of Sweden and Norway. This turned Denmark into a regional power, although Sweden proved troublesome and rebellious and seceded for good in 1523. During the Protestant Reformation, Denmark's monarchs converted the country to Lutheranism and established a state church. From there, Denmark championed Protestant interests and intervened in the Thirty Years' War against the Catholic forces led by Austria.

Despite being fellow Lutherans, Denmark and Sweden fought many wars against each other, with Sweden generally coming out on top. After the Napoleonic Wars, Sweden took Norway as well; Denmark kept the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Iceland colonies as a little consolation prize. Having become geopolitically irrelevant, Denmark peacefully became a constitutional monarchy in 1849 and focused on industrializing. In 1864, Denmark got beat up again, this time by the German Empire, which took the territory of Schleswig. They only got it back after the dismembering of Germany after World War I, although Denmark got it for free since they had remained neutral. Unfortunately, Denmark was jumped again in 1940 when Nazi Germany invaded them on the way to Norway. Danish resistance helped save some Jews from the Holocaust, while Iceland took the opportunity to make a break for independence in 1944.

After liberation, Denmark became a founding member of the European Free Trade Association and began implementing what would become a highly advanced welfare state. It joined the European Union but opted out of certain provisions, notably keeping its own currency, the krone. Denmark was also a founding member of NATO.

Denmark's supporters have provided evidence that despite not being subject to laissez-faire economic policies, it is the happiest country in the world[11] and the best country to do business.[12]


In ancient times, some people sank this poor dude into a bog to appease their gods.

Ancient times[edit]

Humans first migrated into Denmark from further south in Europe using Schleswig as a land bridge sometime around 10,000 BCE.[13] Since Danish soil is flat and fertile, agriculture quickly developed. Celtic influence was strong there, notably exemplified by the intricately designed silver Gundestrup cauldron dated from between 200 BCE and 300 CE.[14] It looks pretty sweet, but it's notable due to the designs it carries showing probable Gaulish inspiration. This demonstrates that a fairly intricate trade network probably existed in Northern Europe even during these ancient times.

Probably the biggest development here was the discovery that Denmark's many peat bogs often held iron ore deposits that could be dug up and forged into weapons.[15] Access to easy iron catapulted Denmark's development and military prowess since iron weapons kill people real good. That will be relevant later.

Denmark's bogs are also important because they became sites of religious human sacrifice, which modern historians know about because many of the victims' corpses ended up well preserved in the cold mud.[16] These so-called "bog bodies" are fascinating historical artifacts still being studied to determine how these ancient people lived and why they thought tossing people into freezing mud to die was nice.[note 1]

Viking era[edit]

Viking longship wreckage preserved in Denmark.
See the main article on this topic: Vikings
It’s the same thing that made people travel to America or Australia a couple of hundred years ago. New transport options developed in the 9th century, and people began to use sailing ships on a large scale.
—Søren Sindbæk, Viking researcher at Aarhus University, Denmark.[17]
Most scholars today believe that Viking attacks on Christian churches had nothing to do with religion, but more to do with the fact that monasteries were typically both wealthy and poorly defended, making them an easy target for plunder.
—Gareth Williams, curator of Early Medieval Coins at the British Museum.[18]
Reconstructed Viking-era Danish house.

As mentioned above, the easy access to iron meant that Danes and other Scandinavians got nice weapons to kill people with. Around 800 CE, this helped them launch the Viking Age, where they began raiding, trading, and colonizing much of Europe and the North Atlantic. Still pagans at this point, the Viking raiders saw Christian Europe as an easy target for picking and young noble sons who would otherwise have been irrelevant saw raiding as an easy way to get cash and prestige.[19] It also helped that the Scandinavians had become warlike people who believed that death in battle and adventure would lead them to Valhalla, the best version of the afterlife in their mythology.[20] Hence, let's hop on some boats and steal some shit.

The Vikings' good ship and advanced grasp of strategic mobility made them effective foes, although their actual brutality was probably not much greater than anyone else in Europe.[21] Their tactics were more hit-and-run than anything else.

Like their much later descendants, the Viking-era Scandinavians were also colonizers. They settled across conquered territory in the British Isles[22] and in places like Iceland and Greenland.[23] Contrary to popular belief, Vikings were not especially big (men averaged 5'6" and women 5'1") and blonde hair was far from ubiquitous; brown and even red hair was far more common in many areas. Also, they didn't wear helmets with horns, Richard Wagner came up with that ex culo for one of his operas; seriously, that would have been about the stupidest battle helmet design imaginable.[24]


Harald I's runestone declaring Denmark united and Christian.
Ring fort believed to have been commissioned by Harald I.

The wide travels through Christian Europe were not without consequences for the pagan Scandinavians. By forming trade networks with the Christians, Vikings brought the religion's ideas back home, and it soon became apparent that the only way to fully access the profits of European trade would be by converting.[25] It was often a condition to at least bear Christian symbols to trade in Medieval Christian towns and cities. They also started to come under intense military and cultural pressure from the still-powerful Holy Roman Empire.

Official conversion occurred under King Harald I of Denmark (commonly known as "Harald Bluetooth"), the man who unified the country sometime around 960 CE.[26] Harald was the first Scandinavian monarch to undergo baptism and emerge as a converted Christian. In 965 CE, he commissioned what many consider to be Denmark's founding document: a runestone that declared Denmark to be one Christian nation.[25][27] In reality, his task was helped considerably because much of the Danish merchant population had already converted to ease trade relations. Others had extensively intermarried with Christians, with children brought up in mixed-religious households.[18] Still, his rule successfully allowed the Catholic Church to make official inroads into Denmark, with bishops installed in several locations during his reign.

Even after Harald I, conversion was far from abrupt. Christianity moved slowly, and the new converts often viewed Christ as supplementing their traditional Nordic pantheon rather than usurping it.[25] Scandinavia became multi-religious, and it's somewhat surprising that no major wars resulted from this. For decades and centuries, this state of affairs evolved into a Christian population that still held a wide variety of folk beliefs traditionally dating back to the Norse days.

Medieval Denmark[edit]

Roskilde Cathedral, begun 1026 CE.

It wasn't too long after Denmark's conversion that the Viking era started to go out the door. Its last gasp came under Harald I's grandson Cnut the Great, who conquered England and founded the so-called "North Sea Empire" in 1016.[28] Cnut contributed to the end of the Viking era by beginning a pattern of centralizing power and forbidding military expeditions without his leave, and the Mongol invasions also helped by closing off river passages the Vikings had used to travel.[29] When Cnut died, and the English broke away, there were no more huge Viking raids from Denmark.

Extent of Medieval Denmark.

Christianity became entrenched, and Denmark shifted into an overtly feudal society. This proved to be a far more difficult transition than the religious one, as local nobles fought as hard as they could to keep their old privileges and powers (as nobles always do).[30] Noble families fought each other for the throne, often violently, and then turned around to fight against the authority of the throne. Also violently. Of course.

A more modern Denmark came into being during the reign of King Valdemar II, which began in 1200 CE. He promulgated a unified legal code called the Codex Holmiensis[31] and created an aristocratic pseudo-parliament called a hof to appease the nobles.[30] Unfortunately, this didn't work out. After he died, the country was torn apart again by civil wars begun by greedy nobles. These wars finally resulted in a new king, Eric V, being forced to sign the Haandfæstning agreement in 1283, strengthening the nobility and making yearly hof meetings a requirement.[32] It was basically the independently-crafted Danish version of the English Magna Carta. It was also similarly anti-democratic since the nobles were vested in taking power away from the peasantry.

Territorially, though, Denmark expanded fairly readily, taking land in Estonia and along the southern part of what is now Sweden.[note 2] Denmark also expanded southward along Schleswig, taking lands that stretched into what was considered German. Again, that was gonna cause some problems later.

Kalmar Union[edit]

Effigy of Margaret I from her tomb in Roskilde Cathedral.

Unlike many of its fellow European monarchies, Denmark actually benefited from the dynastic clusterfucks of the era. Denmark's Margaret I, who came to power in 1358, quickly demonstrated her keen political leadership intellect by forging the Kalmar Union, an alliance between Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, along with all of Norway's overseas colonies.[33] The arrangement ended up being a personal union, with Denmark's succeeding monarchs holding the thrones of all three nations. This was all motivated by the threat of the Holy Roman Empire to the south, allowing Scandinavia to pose a united front to push back against German military imperialism.[34]

Unfortunately for Denmark, Margeret's successors were not nearly as savvy as she was. While Sweden's powerful nobles had expected the arrangement to be as loose as possible, the Danish monarchs started attempting to further centralize power. Especially offensive to the Swedes were the Danish policies of constantly hiking taxes while extorting soldiers for defense and offensive wars.[35] It didn't take long for the Swedes to rise against Danish rule. Nobleman Charles VIII of Sweden was amusingly crowned as a king by the Swedish rebels no less than three times, in 1448, 1464, and finally in 1467.[36]

Sweden broke away for good under the leadership of Gustav Vasa in 1523 after a hard-fought war.[37] The Danes, who didn't appreciate that very much, became Sweden's bitter enemy. Not wanting to risk similar disloyalty from the Norwegians, Denmark reduced it to a simple province and declared itself the Kingdom of Denmark–Norway.[38]

For Denmark, the good thing was that they had preserved much of their strength. The bad thing was that most of that strength would be sapped through endless wars with Sweden.

Reformation and religious war[edit]

Blockade of Copenhagen during the civil war.

The Protestant Reformation, which began in the early 1500s with the writings of Martin Luther, influenced Denmark as heavily as it did most of the rest of northern Europe. The king during this time, Frederick I, promised the Church that he would root out this heresy, but ol' Freddie quickly reneged on that promise once he realized that Protestantism would give him a good excuse to expand his power and wealth at the expense of the clergy and their properties.[39] When Frederick died in 1533, his heir, Christian III, seemed poised to convert the country to Lutheranism. Unable to accept that, the Catholics backed their rival claimant to the throne.

Christian III.

Cue the dynastic civil war. For two bloody years between 1534 and 1536, the rival kings and their noble supporters burned the country down over the issue of religion and the throne.[40] Sweden intervened on behalf of Christian III, deciding that a fellow Protestant realm would make for a better neighbor than a Catholic one. The Swedish troops still had no reason to conduct themselves well on their nemesis' soil, so many Danish cities were looted and burned.[40] After losing Copenhagen to the Catholic faction, Christian III regained it after a lengthy blockade.[41]

Christian III proved to be the exact king that the Catholics feared. His first actions were having Catholic bishops arrested, having Catholic Church property seized by the Crown, and then revoking many of the traditional rights of the nobility.[39] All of this was to solidify the king's power, and the peasantry suffered under heavier authoritarianism. In 1539, Christian finalized the establishment of the Church of Denmark as the country's state religion, although it was wholly subordinated to the king's will.

Danish naval assault on Sweden, a fellow Lutheran realm (1611).

Despite being both Lutheran realms, Denmark and Sweden still hated each other, and Denmark still hoped to restore the Kalmar Union. In 1563, Denmark attacked Sweden in the Northern Seven Years' War, resulting in massive casualties and destruction across Scandinavia as armies brutalized each other and civilians.[42] It ended with a peace of exhaustion that resulted in no border changes. Denmark attacked again in 1611, once again causing terrible destruction but still managed to extort a large reparations payment from Sweden despite no border changes.[43]

However, these wars with the Swedish Lutherans didn't change Denmark's devotion to the Protestant cause. Denmark intervened in the Thirty Years War on behalf of the Protestants against Austria, although this almost immediately resulted in a terrible defeat.[44] The German Catholics counter-invaded Denmark itself, pillaging and burning lands, forcing Denmark back out of the war. This functionally ended Denmark's status as the most powerful Nordic state, as the rising star of Sweden soon took on the torch of the Protestant cause under its celebrated King Gustavus Adolphus.[45] Denmark, meanwhile, had accomplished little beyond getting a bunch of people killed.

Fuck Sweden[edit]

Danish naval victory over Sweden in 1676.

Sweden showed up Denmark by hopping into the Thirty Years' War and winning major victories, which Denmark failed to do. Emboldened by their relative successes and still threatened by Danish power, Sweden teamed up with the Netherlands to attack Denmark in 1643, while the Thirty Years War was still ongoing.[46] Denmark lost heavily and had to concede large tracts of land to Sweden, thus ending its status as a Baltic power.

Having become the unquestionable hegemon of the north, Sweden began its imperial age by bullying many of its neighbors. In 1657, Denmark attacked Sweden in the hopes that Sweden's ongoing conflicts with Poland and Russia would distract it for long enough to make a difference.[47] Instead, Denmark got spanked by the tactically superior Swedes and had to give up all of the lands they still held in what is now Sweden. Sweden's king regretted not having gone further to ruin Denmark and then attacked again some years later, although he failed to take Copenhagen during a siege and blockade.[48] In 1675, Denmark, not quite ready to quit, tried one last attempt to avenge itself upon Sweden by invading while the Swedes were busy fighting France. This offensive was also a failure, forcing Denmark to quit its constant and costly wars with Sweden.[49] Gotta quit while you're ahead.

It ultimately took the full power of Russia to humble Sweden, and even the Great Northern War of 1700 began poorly for the anti-Sweden coalition.[50] Denmark was ejected from the war early on, but they rejoined after it turned against Sweden for good. Russia ultimately became the dominant power in the Baltic, while Denmark's only consolation was that Sweden had been cut down to size.

Absolute monarchy[edit]

Fredensborg Palace, built 1720 to be a royal residence.

The military catastrophes above strengthened the central government, as much of Denmark's military activities had been directed by its nobles.[51] Since the whole point of the nobility was that they were supposed to be the military class of the nation, this incompetence convinced the Crown and much of the populace that the noble class' scheming and privileges were not worth it. This gave the Danish monarchs political power to abruptly start stripping away the nobility's position and powers. This culminated in the reign of Frederick III, who ushered in a new era of absolutism by purging the nobles from government and replacing them with a class of civil servants loyal only to him.[52] Wealth, rather than noble birth, became the true power in Denmark. Denmark's government then created a proper tax and land assessment system and finally established a formal and unified legal system. All shit we take for granted now, but everything was new at one point.

Denmark's foreign policy settled into fairly resolute neutrality even with a stronger king. There was no hope of restoring Kalmar or even retaking the old Danish lands, and Sweden no longer had the strength to pose a threat.[53] Instead, Denmark maintained alliances to maintain a balance of power in northern Europe and finally decided peace was more beneficial than war.

Napoleonic carnage[edit]

British forces burn Copenhagen in 1807.

The biggest hiccup in this era of peace came, unsurprisingly, from the Napoleonic Wars. Denmark tried to escape the carnage by declaring armed neutrality alongside Sweden and Russia, but the United Kingdom considered this a hostile act and attacked in 1801.[54] The Royal Navy smashed most of the Danish fleet outside of Copenhagen. Denmark thus became an enemy of the United Kingdom, throwing them totally unprepared into the continental fray. Worst of all, Denmark had to face its old enemy Sweden in 1813, ending with a great defeat and seeing Denmark finally lose Norway.[55] That basically ended Denmark's geopolitical relevance once and for all. The only silver lining was that Denmark got to keep Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, which had been Norwegian for centuries but were given to them as a "don't feel too bad" prize.

That loss and the wars were a total catastrophe for Denmark, with trade cut off, Copenhagen destroyed, and grain prices skyrocketing thanks to sanctions.[54] Denmark had to humiliatingly declare bankruptcy in 1813.

Liberalism and nationalism[edit]

Danish soldiers return from the First Schleswig War.

Although it was delayed, Napoleon brought a wave of liberal and nationalist movements that swept Europe. The 1830 July Revolution in France inspired liberals and wealthy people in Denmark to form true representative institutions.[56] When formed, these institutions only catered to the rich, causing more criticism from the liberals. Only in 1848 did the liberals get what they hoped for, as much of the rest of Europe went up in revolution.[57] Hoping to avoid similar violence, the recently-crowned Frederick VII peacefully ended the absolute monarchy and created a bicameral parliament that would be elected by popular vote.[56] A new constitution also guaranteed the right of freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of association.

Unfortunately for Denmark, nationalism was also a consequence of the 1848 revolutions, particularly those in Germany. German nationalism during the 19th century caused headaches for Austria and France, and Denmark was no different. The duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in the southernmost parts of Denmark had large German populations who began agitating to leave Denmark and join their fellow Germans.[58] Like most countries do when faced with secessionism, Denmark cracked down. They did not, however, count on the German states interfering, which sparked a war in 1849. Denmark managed to hold on and keep all of its territories thanks to international mediation, but German nationalism never takes "no" for an answer.

The Second Schleswig War started in 1864 when Prussia and Austria attacked again. This time, the international community wasn't interested in saving Denmark's ass, and Denmark was ultimately forced to cede almost a third of its country to Prussia and Austria.[59][note 3]

Social transformation[edit]

Industry and transport in Copenhagen, 1910.

The humiliation by the Germans led to a conservative revival, and the king allowed them to revise the constitution to give undue weight to landowners and the rich.[60] Rules ensured the conservatives had a stranglehold on parliament and used that power to preserve the monarchy's powers and prevent social reforms. Liberals and leftists teamed up to demand a return to the fairer 1849 document, and the conservative intransigence ground the government to a halt for decades. The crisis was not resolved until 1894, when a compromise allowed the conservatives to remain in power until 1901 but mandated a return to fair elections.

Meanwhile, social democracy and a broad labor movement sprouted across Denmark thanks to industrialization and urbanization.[61] Leftist movements benefited from widespread public anger towards the conservative bullshittery, and worker demonstrations repeatedly escalated into violence throughout the 1870s and forwards.[61] Combined with compulsory education measures, these factors saw Denmark's old peasant society transform into a modern class of day laborers, salaried workers, and independent entrepreneurs.

When the liberal and left-wing parties finally got their shot at the government after 1901, they quickly enacted reforms. They replaced land and property taxes with income and capital taxes, introduced state-subsidized unemployment programs, and finally enfranchised women in 1915.[62]

The last gasp of the conservative monarchists at regaining power occurred after World War I. Denmark had gotten the Entente to agree to hold plebiscites in the territories Germany had taken from them, and the irredentist conservatives were furious when only North Schleswig[63] voted to return to Denmark.[64] They convinced the king to intervene in government in an attempt to scrap the deal and take everything, resulting in a brief political crisis before the king caved and agreed to stay out of politics.[65] This ended the monarchy's role in political affairs, relegating the royal family to the status of figureheads. The crisis also resulted in the final defeat of the old order of conservative dominance and empowered monarchs.

Denmark's first social-democratic government came into power in 1924, at which point Denmark became one of the few Western countries to recognize the Soviet Union and halt sanctions.[66] Denmark also joined the League of Nations. Amid much political screaming, the social democrats managed to strike the Kanslergade Agreement in 1933, which set the groundwork for the extensive welfare state Denmark now enjoys.[67]

Nazi occupation and Danish heroism[edit]

Danish anti-Nazi street demonstration, 1944.
The rescue operation by the Danish underground is exceptional because of the widespread agreement and resolve of many Danes from all walks of life – intellectuals, priests, policemen, doctors, blue-color workers – to save the Jews... They viewed it as a national refutation of Nazi Germany and a reaffirmation of democratic and humanistic values.
—Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.[68]

Denmark hoped to remain neutral in World War II, as they were too small and weak to survive such a brutal conflict. As with Belgium and the Netherlands, neutrality didn't save them. On their way to Norway, Nazi Germany smashed into Denmark in 1940. Denmark's government had hoped to avoid German ire by keeping military efforts at a minimum; this only made the country seem like an easy target to the warlike Adolf Hitler.[69] Neither the Allies nor the Danes had any pretensions that the country even had a chance.

Badass Danes hold SS goons at gunpoint, 1945.

Since the Danish military had put up almost no resistance to the invasion, the German occupiers allowed the government to put up some semblance of remaining independent under a "peaceful occupation".[70] It also helped that the Germans considered the Danes "fellow Aryans" and valued good public relations over their usual brutal methods. Hitler even sent King Christian X a long, flower telegram in 1942 for the king's birthday; Hitler was furious when the king slighted him by sending a curt "thanks" in return.[71]

The German occupation started to get much worse after 1943 amid military setbacks against the Soviet Union. Starting to get desperate, the German occupiers began cracking down against public opposition, prompting the Danish government to resign in protest rather than participate.[72] The German military commander, General Hermann von Hanneken, declared martial law and started having Danish civilians and Jews arrested in bulk. Waffen-SS General Werner Best then telegrammed Adolf Hitler to suggest using the situation to spread the Holocaust into Denmark by deporting Danish Jews into the death camps.[72] Hitler agreed.

Realizing what was about to happen based on the already-known tales of Nazi mass murder, Danish civilians and authority figures then launched a massive secret operation to smuggle Jews into neutral Sweden.[72] King Christian X encouraged the efforts and protested the German plans while Danish universities and businesses closed to give people time to help the effort.[73] Already short on manpower, the Germans had hoped to rely on Danish police forces to conduct deportations. Danish cops generally refused to cooperate, and the Germans only managed to deport 470 out of the many thousands of Jews who lived in Denmark.[72] 120 of them died. Many Danish police officers were also deported into concentration camps, and somewhere between 90 and 131 died.[74] Amid deteriorating conditions and escalating German brutality, Denmark was finally liberated from the occupation by the United Kingdom in 1945. On the negative side for Denmark, Iceland declared independence in 1944.

Modern Denmark[edit]

Rail transport in Nordsjælland, 1976.

Neutral no more[edit]

After the war, Denmark's social democratic government ultimately chose not to alter its 1920 border despite some encouragement from South Schleswig's minority Danish population.[75] Denmark instead focused on the more urgent question of how to ensure that an invasion and occupation of the whole country could never happen again. The government decided to abandon neutrality in 1949 and join NATO.[76] This was a fairly obvious development since the experiences of the two world wars demonstrated that neutrality did not prevent a country from being invaded. Despite that, Denmark stressed three conditions: it would host no nuclear weapons and allow no NATO bases anywhere on Danish territory save Greenland.[76] They wanted to stress the defensive nature of the alliance in the hopes of avoiding Soviet wrath.

Denmark also joined the European Economic Community and the European Union.

Welfare era[edit]

Danish healthcare card.

The social democrats maintained their electoral dominance after WWII and used the following decades to implement more economic and social reforms, leading to the rise of Denmark's take on the "Nordic model." Unions, popular movements, and left parties formed the backbone of the effort to increase social safety nets. Welfare became available for the entire population, and in 1956 the social democrats introduced an extensive old-age pension.[77] The result was fairly telling, as Denmark's standard of living rose quickly.

The country was not, however, immune to the later pushes towards privatization. Economic troubles, especially in the 1973 oil crisis, contributed to a rise in unemployment and to the 1980s being the decade of austerity, following the forming of a conservative-liberal government under the Conservative People's Party in 1982.[78] The government had to steadily hike taxes, contributing to Denmark's infamously high tax rates. Denmark also experienced a wave of neoliberal cutbacks to the social system, with pension reductions, privatization of certain sectors, and raising the retirement age to the highest in Europe.[79]

While the economy recovered in the 1990s, Danish politics started a different conflict, this time over the rights of refugees and immigrants. The conservative-liberal Prime Minister, Poul Schlüter, had to resign in 1993 after his Justice Minister, Erik Ninn-Hansen, was caught illegally delaying visas to Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, and it was eventually found out that Schlüter and several other leading figures in the Conservative People's Party had implicated themselves in the case to varying degrees.[80] Right-wing parties escalated anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the Danish government has lately begun to cater to those demands.[81]

Government and politics[edit]

Frederik X of Denmark.

Constitutional monarchy[edit]

Denmark has one of the oldest monarchies in the world, and the current king, Frederik X, can allegedly trace his bloodline back to Harald Bluetooth.[82] Ever since the 1920 crisis, monarchs have wielded very little political power. Royals do not interfere with politics nor express political opinions, but they fulfill certain ceremonial requirements like signing legislation and presiding over the opening session of the parliament.[83]

Symbolically, monarchs and members of the royal family also greet foreign officials and visit the autonomous regions to keep the country together.[82] Denmark's monarch is also required under Part II, Section 6 of the constitution to be a member of the Church of Denmark.[9] The 1953 Act of Succession mandates male-preference primogeniture, meaning that women can inherit the throne only if there are no male children of the reigning monarch.[84] This system allowed the former queen, Margarethe II, to take the throne as she had no brothers.

The Folketing[edit]

Christiansborg Palace, seat of the Danish government.

The Folketing, known in English as the Danish Parliament, is the real power in the Danish government. It is unicameral, consisting of 179 representatives who are democratically elected by proportional representation.[85] Additionally, two representatives are from Greenland, and two are from the Faroe Islands. The Folketing passes all laws, approves the cabinet, and elects the prime minister of Denmark. Denmark has universal suffrage for all citizens over 18.

Denmark has a shitload of political parties, no less than 13. This means that almost all governments in Denmark end up being coalitions of at least two parties but usually many more.[86] The Social Democrats are the current ruling party and have been traditionally quite powerful.[87] Current party leader Mette Frederiksen has been pushing the party leftwards on economics but sharply to the right on immigration issues.[88]

Welfare state[edit]

This is a very important element of the Scandinavian welfare regime: everyone is working. In Denmark, it's these benefits that allow people to be in the labor market. There's been a strong consensus around these family policies, and actually the whole welfare policy.
—Dr. Peter Abrahamson, University of Copenhagen.[89]

Despite its high tax costs, Denmark's extensive welfare programs are extremely popular, and Danes like to point out that the percentage of their working population is higher than in the United States.[79] Denmark also has strong labor unions. Under the Danish system, parents have the right to 52 weeks' leave with maternity subsistence allowance, the full-time workweek is 37 hours, and education is free at all levels.[90] Nurseries are also guaranteed, alongside a basic income for families with children, and elderly care, such as senior centers, adapted transport, and meals-on-wheels programs.[89]

In terms of healthcare, most Danes opt for the free option provided by a general practitioner.[91] Some choose to pay a portion of their bills out-of-pocket in exchange for the right to choose their own practitioner. Private health insurance is also available. With good nutrition, housing, and quality healthcare provided with no money stress, Denmark has a very low infant mortality rate.[91]

Denmark's system is, however, facing intense challenges because the increasing age of the Danish population is increasing costs while decreasing income from healthy young workers.[92] Nonetheless, there are at least some advantages over the United States system of "fuck you, I got mine."


Denmark has strict controls on immigration and rules to promote social cohesion and stop areas from becoming "ghettos" full of immigrants. Government policies attempt to prevent any area from getting a large immigrant population, which is supposed to encourage integration but also stops people living near relatives and others of their own religion and ethnicity, preventing them from preserving their language and traditions and practicing religion.[93][94]

In 2010 the government started publishing a list of "ghettos", areas with higher than average poverty and crime, lower educational achievement, and a majority of first or second-generation immigrants. Crimes are punished more seriously in these areas, and families can be evicted if one member violates rules; children must attend daycare from age one, or their parents lose benefits. In 2018 the government proposed mass evictions and relocations along with the demolition of houses to break up the ghettos, and in 2020 announced further plans to reduce social housing in these areas. The UNHCR condemned the plans, saying they were "hugely troubling & risks heightening racial discrimination against people of migrant origin - further ‘ghettoising’ them. Coercive assimilation measures run risk of fuelling racial prejudice, xenophobia & intolerance" and called for an end to demolition programs.[93][95] The legislation proposed in 2021 would seek to reduce the immigrant population in these neighborhoods (no longer officially called ghettos) to less than 30% by similar methods.[94]

Autonomous territories[edit]

Kunoy village on the Faroe Islands.

Faroe Islands[edit]

The Faroe Islands are a rugged archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean north of Scotland. Norsemen settled the islands in the 800s, and the name derives from old Norse.[96] They were historically isolated and self-sustaining until the advent of industrial fishing in the 1800s. Fish is still the islands' major export, although tourism has also become a major part of their economy.

Denmark granted home rule to the islands in 1948 after they had tried and failed to declare independence in 1946.[97] The Faroe government controls various issues like trade, education, research, and conservationism. They also have their own democratically-elected parliament called the Løgting.[96] Unlike Denmark, the Faroe Islands are not in the European Union. In exchange for these extensive rights, the islands only have two representatives in the Danish national parliament.


Tasiilaq village in southeast Greenland.
See the main article on this topic: Greenland

Greenland is the world's largest island that isn't also a continent (looking at you, Australia). Greenlandic Inuit people are the vast majority of the island's population and have certain minority guarantees.[98] Their language has official status in Greenland.

Like the Faroe Islands, Greenland has home rule in place, taking responsibility for policing, the judicial system, and border controls. Greenland's parliament is called the Inatsisartut, with 31 directly elected members.[99] Also, like the Faroe Islands, Greenland pays for these extensive rights by having only two representatives in the Danish parliament.

Greenland has close ties to the United States due to its Arctic location and strategic placement between the US and northern Russia.[100] Per with Denmark's NATO membership, the US has operated Thule Air Base there since the 1950s.[100] The base currently serves to warn the US of any potential incoming missiles.

Greenland's economy is much worse than Denmark's, with per-capita GDP being about half and much of the Inuit population being unemployed.[101] Substance abuse is common, and suicide rates are alarmingly high.[102] Many of these problems directly result from the 1950s-era Danish program of forcibly resettling the Inuit into urban communities out of a misplaced desire to develop the island.[101] This resulted in a breakdown of the traditional Inuit culture and activities, and the cookie-cutter flats built to house them felt alien and lifeless.


Maribo Cathedral in Lolland.

Denmark has a state church, the Lutheran Church of Denmark, and most Danes are still nominally Lutheran because Danish law requires them to opt out rather than opt-in. However, the country's laws and population are largely secular, and less than 10% of the population regularly attends any church, temple, or mosque. A 2005 Eurostat poll suggests that 19% of Danes self-identify as atheists.[103]

Islam is the second-largest religion (which is not saying much as Muslims constitute only 2% of the population) due to immigration since the 1960s (mainly Turkish and, to a lesser extent, Pakistani migrant workers, later supplemented by various Muslim refugees). This has caused a host of troubles for the secular yet mono-cultural nation, though Denmark still has one of the lowest proportions of foreigners in Europe, and violent clashes between immigrants and (other) Danes have been relatively minor. 20% are happy to vote for a xenophobic right-wing populist party[104] that, along with immigrant-bashing, thinks it can ignore the Schengen AgreementWikipedia and reintroduce border controls - various members have in the past touted such initiatives as wanting to abolish the teaching of philosophy, to shut "commie" universities and to get SchleswigWikipedia back from Germany, because hey, irredentism.

Nonetheless, Denmark and Sweden demonstrate that religion is likely not critical to a healthy society.[105][106]


Problems ensued after a small, local Danish newspaper considered, solicited, and printed some cartoons that Muslims found offensive. However, they did not immediately cause any trouble. Months later, some Muslim Imams, looking to stir up trouble, took the 8 cartoons, added what would be the four most offensive images, and distributed the cartoons in Muslim countries. The backlash then led to death threats and even to attempted murder. 100 people worldwide are known to have died due to the trouble.[107]


See also[edit]


  1. Bernie Sanders’ American Dream is in Denmark. CNN.
  2. Denmark's prime minister says Bernie Sanders is wrong to call his country socialist. Vox.
  3. Denmark 'happiest place on earth' BBC News.
  4. Happiness is... being Danish and enjoying life
  5. What can the Danes teach us about happiness? BBC News.
  6. Denmark: The Happiest Place on Earth, Despite High Taxes, Danes Rank Themselves as Happy and Content. ABC News.
  7. See the Wikipedia article on United States Virgin Islands.
  8. See the Wikipedia article on Religion in Denmark.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Denmark - Constitution.
  10. Religion in Europe: Trust Not Filling the Pews. Gallup.
  11. Denmark - happiest country! And that's after Kierkegaard!
  12. Denmark - best country in which to do business!
  13. The history of Denmark.
  14. See the Wikipedia article on Gundestrup cauldron.
  15. Denmark's History: Iron Age.
  16. Europe’s Famed Bog Bodies Are Starting to Reveal Their Secrets. Smithsonian Magazine.
  17. Why Danish Vikings moved to England. Science Nordic.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Viking Religion. BBC History.
  19. Why Did the Viking Age Happen? History on the Net.
  20. See the Wikipedia article on Valhalla.
  21. Viking Warfare. Ancient History Encyclopedia.
  22. Viking Colonists. BBC History.
  23. The Vikings in Iceland. Ancient History Encyclopedia.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Christianity comes to Denmark. Nationalmuseet i København.
  26. Harald I. Britannica.
  27. See the Wikipedia article on Jelling stones.
  28. See the Wikipedia article on North Sea Empire.
  29. Denmark: The Viking Era. Britannica.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Denmark: The High Middle Ages. Britannica.
  31. See the Wikipedia article on Codex Holmiensis.
  32. See the Wikipedia article on Haandfæstning.
  33. See the Wikipedia article on Margaret I of Denmark.
  34. Finland: The Kalmar Union. Country Studies.
  35. 1397-1523 - Kalmar Union. Global Security.
  36. See the Wikipedia article on Charles VIII of Sweden.
  37. Kalmar Union. Britannica.
  38. See the Wikipedia article on Denmark–Norway.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Denmark: Reformation and war. Britannica.
  40. 40.0 40.1 See the Wikipedia article on Count's Feud.
  41. Count's War. Britannica.
  42. See the Wikipedia article on Northern Seven Years' War.
  43. See the Wikipedia article on Kalmar War.
  44. See the Wikipedia article on Battle of Lutter.
  45. Lockhart, Paul D (2007). Denmark, 1513–1660: the rise and decline of a Renaissance monarchy. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-927121-4. p. 172
  46. See the Wikipedia article on Torstenson War.
  47. See the Wikipedia article on March Across the Belts.
  48. Stone, Andrew; Bain, Carolyn; Booth, Michael; Parnell, Fran (2008). Denmark (5th ed.). Footscray, Victoria: Lonely Planet. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-74104-669-4. p. 35
  49. See the Wikipedia article on Scanian War.
  50. See the Wikipedia article on Great Northern War.
  51. Danish absolutism. Britannica.
  52. Frederick III. Britannica.
  53. Denmark: The 18th century. Britannica.
  54. 54.0 54.1 Denmark: The Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath. Britannica.
  55. Treaty of Kiel. Britannica.
  56. 56.0 56.1 Denmark: The liberal movement. Britannica.
  57. See the Wikipedia article on Revolutions of 1848.
  58. First Schleswig-Holstein War. Global Security.
  59. See the Wikipedia article on Treaty of Vienna (1864).
  60. Denmark: The Right and the Left. Britannica.
  61. 61.0 61.1 Denmark - 1864-1901 - The Great Transformation. Global Security.
  62. Denmark - 1901-1913 - Constitutional Reform. Global Security.
  63. See the Wikipedia article on South Jutland County.
  64. Denmark - 1914-1920 - Neutrality and Conflicts. Global Security.
  65. See the Wikipedia article on Easter Crisis.
  66. Denmark - 1920-1929 - Liberalism to Intervention. Global Security.
  67. See the Wikipedia article on Kanslergade Agreement.
  68. The Rescue of Denmark's Jews. Yad Vashem.
  69. Swift Invasion of Denmark. Warfare History Denmark.
  70. 1940-1945 - The Occupation. Global Security.
  71. See the Wikipedia article on Telegram Crisis.
  72. 72.0 72.1 72.2 72.3 Denmark. US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  73. King Christian X of Denmark. US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  74. See the Wikipedia article on Deportation of the Danish police.
  75. Postwar Denmark, 1945–c. 1990. Britannica.
  76. 76.0 76.1 Denmark and NATO. NATO.
  77. Welfare state (1915-2000). Nationalmuseet i København
  78. Denmark: Postwar economics. Britannica.
  79. 79.0 79.1 The Real Denmark. Jacobin.
  80. Danish Prime Minister Quits in Visa Scandal. Associated Press.
  81. Denmark is a liberal paradise for many people, but the reality is very different for immigrants. CNN.
  82. 82.0 82.1 One of the world's oldest monarchies.
  83. The Constitutional Act of Denmark. The Danish Parliament.
  84. See the Wikipedia article on Act of Succession (Denmark).
  85. See the Wikipedia article on Folketing.
  86. The rules of the game; understanding the Danish political system. Your Danish Life.
  87. See the Wikipedia article on Social Democrats (Denmark).
  88. Mette Frederiksen: the anti-immigration left leader set to win power in Denmark. The Guardian.
  89. 89.0 89.1 Denmark’s Model: Quality Living, With Benefits. US News.
  90. A welfare society. Copenhagen Capacity.
  91. 91.0 91.1 Denmark: Health and welfare. Britannica.
  92. Danes make welfare a hot election issue as cracks show in Nordic model. Reuters.
  93. 93.0 93.1 How Denmark's 'ghetto list' is ripping apart migrant communities, The Guardian, 11 March 2020
  94. 94.0 94.1 Denmark plans to limit 'non-western' residents in disadvantaged areas, The Guardian, 17 March, 2021
  95. UN human rights experts urge Denmark to halt contentious sale of “ghetto” buildings, UNHCR, 23 Oct 2020
  96. 96.0 96.1 The Faroe Islands.
  97. See the Wikipedia article on 1946 Faroese independence referendum.
  98. See the Wikipedia article on Greenlandic Inuit.
  99. See the Wikipedia article on Inatsisartut.
  100. 100.0 100.1 Trump reportedly wants to 'buy' Greenland. This is what it's like at the US's Arctic base there. Business Insider.
  101. 101.0 101.1 Inuit (Greenlanders). Minority Rights Group International.
  102. The Arctic Suicides: It's Not The Dark That Kills You. NPR.
  105. Phil Zuckerman: Society Without God
  106. Society without God
  107. Cartoon Body Count at the Internet Archive.


  1. Rationalwiki's stance is that human sacrifice is uncool.
  2. That last part was gonna cause some soreness.
  3. Prussia and Austria promptly fought over the spoils.