Huge windmills spinning leisurely across the sprawling meadows touched by a gentle breeze-this pleasant picturesque thought crosses one’s mind the moment it is uttered, Denmark.
Fondly referred to as the Kingdom of Denmark, it is one of the few surviving monarchies of the world. One of the smallest regions of European Union, the global positioning of Denmark is between 54° and 58° of latitude north and 8° and 15° of longitude east.
Bordered by the Baltic Sea and North Sea, Denmark comprises of the German peninsula of Jutland and 406 islands of which 78 are inhabited (as per 2003 census, courtesy official website). Of these, the largest and most densely populated is the island of Zealand on which the capital of Copenhagen is situated. Funen and Bornholm are two other prominent ones. The conglomeration of these small islands is popularly referred as the Danish Archipelago. All these archipelagos are interconnected with well built bridges. The country’s terrain is mainly plain land with little elevation. It is divided into 13 counties and more than 200 municipalities.
The population count of Denmark is approximately 5.4 million, roughly 1.4 % of the total EU population. Scandinavian descents dominate the majority of the population with small groups of Inuit (from Greenland), Faroese, and immigrants comprising the rest. In fact, immigrants made up 6.2% of the total population.
Traditionally, Denmark has been placed high on basis of international standards of quality of life. The welfare system pushes it up as subsidies are available in various stages of life. The Danes, basically, are a friendly race with informal behaviour pattern. Except while speaking to an older, distinguished person, the formal De is rarely used, everyone is addressed by the informal Du. The influence of an open economy and foreign trade are evident from the Danes’ broad outlook and adjusting attitude. While Danish is the main language of this country, a small group near the German border also speaks German.
But Danes are also fluent in English as a consequence of open economic model. The education system in Denmark is very strict with compulsory education schemes and various subsidies to support the pupils for higher education.
Religion has never been a great dividing factor for Denmark. The Danish People's Church (Den Danske Folkekirke) or the Church of Denmark follows a form of Lutheranism and 84.3% of Danes are members of this sect. The rest are primarily of other Christian denominations and about 4% are Muslims.
Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod
The climate pattern in Denmark is moderate with mild winters and cool summers. Generally the atmosphere is humid and overcast. The summer months extend from June to August and winter goes on from December to March. During this period it is wet with long periods of frost. February is the coldest month but the spring and autumn are the most pleasant ones with enjoyable weather conditions. The Faroe Islands are influenced by the warm currents of the Gulf Stream that provide ideal climatic conditions for tourists.
In geographical measurement Denmark can be a tiny existence with its 43,098 square kilometers, smaller than many of the individual states of the United States, but historically it is so rich and vast that till date no historian has been able to draw a definite line encompassing it’s bygone era. For more than 120,000 years it has been periodically inhabited by different communities and races. Right from the Stone Age people to the Celts and Scandinavians, traces of each age are left behind in this country. From the burials of the Celts to the oysters taken by the Stone Age people remind of the pre historic times.
Denmark gained international prominence from the time when the Danes were more popularly known as the Vikings. Basically they acted as sea adventurers and skilled merchants but for a brief period around 11th Century they together with Norwegians and Swedes involved in colonising and raiding different parts of Europe. During the 14th century, Denmark ruled over Norway and parts of Sweden and stretched its reign from Nordkapp to the Elbe. But eventually, due to the excesses of wars and subsequent poverty, by 1658, Denmark’s territory and population were reduced heavily.
The early decades of 19th century witnessed the rise of the Danish liberal and national movement. After the European revolutions of 1848, Denmark became a constitutional monarchy on June 5, 1849. But the relationship with Germany ensured that more misfortune was in store for Denmark.
The major blow came with the Second Schleswig War in 1864 that changed the Danish identity forever. Its territory was reduced by a third when Schleswig and Holstein were ceded to Germany. But Denmark moved on from this disaster and regained its power and aura with vigorous internal development and growth. Finally, in 1920 North-Schleswig returned to Denmark following a plebiscite.
But Denmark’s political and national pride was challenged again during the World War II when it was occupied by Germany. After the war, Denmark became one of the founding members of NATO and, in 1973, joined the European Economic Community, later, European Union.
Old farm house
After all trials and tribulations of time Denmark was successful in rising out of the ashes of it’s turbulent past. And as time progressed it implemented apt policies and strategies in its socio-economic scene and reaped heavy benefits. The Danish economy is epitome of a balanced financial system. On one hand, it generates a modern market trend with a huge emphasis on foreign trade. On other way, it has visible glimpses of a welfare state with extensive government measures ensuring balanced growth in agriculture and small-scale industry.
The all round prosperity is evident from a stable currency and comfortable living standards for citizens from all strata of the society. One of the most amazing features of Denmark’s eco-political scenario lies in its labour market. The Danish labour market is perhaps the most organised system in the world. The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions is the largest one with 75% of its labour force being members of this union. Instead of being at loggerheads, the unions and employers share a cooperative relationship to bring about positive growth rate for both parties.
The unions take active part in supervising various work related issues like wages and conditions of employment, length of the working week and holidays. The Union representatives sit on most companies' managing committees and play a vital role in dealing with daily workplace issues. Surprisingly, minimal government intervention is required while the rules on work schedules and pay are negotiated between unions and employers.
Denmark is also one of the forerunners in opposing abusive child-labour conditions in the developing countries. In Denmark itself, there may be an extensive child-labour force as 26% of children aged 7-14 have a spare-time job, but this is exclusively at their own initiative to fulfill their fashionable needs.
The Danes have successfully established themselves as export giants of EU. Danish goods compete well in the world market supported by their nominal wage structure and excellent infrastructure. As an island country, Denmark overcame the natural obstacles to industrial growth by building bridges. The engineers created majestic masterworks such as the Farø and Great Belt bridges. As a result, Danish bridge-builders are now in high demand through out the Far East and many other countries.
For long, Denmark has actively participated in the internationalization moves and strategies. They set an example by meeting, and even exceeding, the economic convergence criteria for participating in the third phase (a common European currency) of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). But Denmark, in a September 2000 referendum, refused to join the 12 other EU members in the Euro. The country also topped on the Economist Intelligence Unit's "e-readiness" rankings for the past two years.
Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen (The Danish Parliament)
All these success stories are materialised with immense government initiatives and awareness. Politically, the year 1849 was a landmark for Denmark, as it transformed into a constitutional monarchy with the adoption of a new constitution. Though the monarch is regarded as the formal head of state, in reality it is a ceremonial address only. The cabinet ministers who are headed by the prime minister exercise the executive power.
The government and the Danish parliament, known as the Folketing, wield legislative power. It consists of 179 members. The ruling party is elected through a country-wide fair election process. The election period is of four years though the prime minister has the authority to call for one in mid term under certain circumstances. Also if the Folketing passes a vote of no confidence in the government, it must resign or call an election.
But since 1909 no party has enjoyed an absolute majority, the legislation is formed with some compromise and coalition. This has given Danish politics the name "collaborative democracy". The Folketing after every election nominates an Ombudsman, who may criticise the central administration and also the local authorities.
The Danish Judiciary functions independently without any executive and the legislature interference.
The Danes have been a culturally active community. The fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen and comedy writer and philosopher Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754) probably remains the best-known Danes in the world. Eminent Danish Nobel Prize winners include the author Johannes V. Jensen, whose book Kongens Fald (The Fall of the King) was chosen by the population as the best Danish 20th century novel in 2000.
Jazz, films, paintings, literature and all other art forms bubble with enthusiasm among the Danish community. The applied art and designs of the Danes are world famous. From fashion, furnishing fabrics, furniture, silver-ware, porcelain to jewellery, every aspect of creativity calls for unbound appreciation. The silversmith George Jensen created magnificent hollowware and cutlery while architect Poul Henningsen explored the effects of light and designed outstanding lamps.
The government has also realised the merits and prospects of tourism in the country. Umpteen number of accommodation option are available in the island cities of Copenhagen (on Zealand), Aarhus, Aalborg (on Jutland) and Odense that provide comfortable stay and facilities to enjoy the beauty of Denmark.
The New Little Belt Bridge