Smallest of the Scandinavian countries (half the size of Maine), Denmark occupies the Jutland peninsula, a lowland area. The country also consists of several islands in the Baltic Sea; the two largest are Sjælland, the site of Copenhagen, and Fyn.
From 10,000 to 1500 B.C., the population of present-day Denmark evolved from a society of hunters and fishers into one of farmers. Called Jutland by the end of the 8th century, its mariners were among the Vikings, or Norsemen, who raided western Europe and the British Isles from the 9th to 11th century.
The country was Christianized by Saint Ansgar and Harald Blaatand (Bluetooth)—the first Christian king—in the 10th century. Harald's son, Sweyn, conquered England in 1013. Sweyn's son, Canute the Great, who reigned from 1014 to 1035, united Denmark, England, and Norway under his rule; the southern tip of Sweden was part of Denmark until the 17th century. On Canute's death, civil war tore apart the country until Waldemar I (1157–1182) reestablished Danish hegemony in the north.
In 1282, the nobles won the Great Charter, and Eric V was forced to share power with parliament and a Council of Nobles. Waldemar IV (1340–1375) restored Danish power, checked only by the Hanseatic League of north German cities allied with ports from Holland to Poland. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden united under the rule of his daughter Margrethe in 1397. But Sweden later achieved autonomy and in 1523, under Gustavus I, independence.
Denmark supported Napoléon, for which it was punished at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 by the loss of Norway to Sweden. In 1864, the Prussians under Bismarck and the Austrians made war on Denmark as an initial step in the unification of Germany. Denmark was neutral in World War I.
Occupied Denmark Saves Its Jews
In 1940, Denmark was invaded by the Nazis. King Christian X reluctantly cautioned his fellow Danes to accept the occupation, but there was widespread resistance. Denmark was the only occupied country in World War II to save all its Jews from extermination by smuggling them out of the country.
Beginning in 1944, Denmark's relationship with its territories changed substantially. In that year, Iceland declared its independence from Denmark, ending a union that had existed since 1380. In 1948, the Faroe Islands, which had also belonged to Denmark since 1380, were granted home rule, and in 1953, Greenland officially became a territory of Denmark.
Denmark Closes Its Doors to Refugees
In 2001, the dominant Social-Democrat Party lost to Anders Fogh Rasmussen of the center-right Liberal Party, which formed a coalition with the Conservative Party. Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen, author of From Socialist to Minimalist State, is a strong proponent of privatization, deregulation, and limited government. Immigration to Denmark fell dramatically in 2002, after Fogh Rasmussen instituted Europe's most restrictive laws for asylum seekers. Because of Denmark's social welfare benefits, the country had become a much-sought-after haven for refugees. In Feb. 2005, Fogh Rasmussen won a second term as prime minister.
In Feb. 2006, the publication of political cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad set off a series of outraged demonstrations and riots in a number of Muslim countries. At least a dozen died in the protests.
Fogh Rasmussen was narrowly elected to a third term in early elections in Nov. 2007. Rasmussen's close win forced him to broaden his coalition government to include the recently formed pro-immigration party, New Alliance.
First Female Prime Minister Elected
In Sept. 2011, Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt won a narrow majority in parliament to become Denmark's first female prime minister. Thorning-Schmidt's campaign platform combined tax raises, increased public spending, and a promise to roll back tough immigration laws. In parliament, the center-left won 89 seats in Denmark's 179-seat parliament over 86 for the center-right parties. Turnout was high at 87.7%. The prime minister's new government included Villy Søvndal as foreign minister, Nick Hækkerup as defense minister, Margrethe Vestager as interior minister, and Bjarne Corydon as finance minister.
Worst Terrorist Attack in Thirty Years
In Feb. 2015, two separate terrorist attacks killed two people. In the first attack, on Feb. 14, a gunman fired into a cafe where Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was speaking. Vilks, who is on a list of Al-Qaeda targets for his Prophet Muhammad caricature, was unharmed in the attack. However, one man was killed, and three police officers were wounded. The gunman escaped, setting off a manhunt by police.
The following morning, another attack happened outside a synagogue. One man was killed, and two officers were wounded. The gunman escaped and police continued the manhunt. Later in the day, police shot and killed the suspect during a shootout.
Details emerged about the gunman, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, in the days after the attacks. He was released from jail two weeks before the incidents. He had been in prison for attacking a train passenger with a knife. Details suggested that El-Hussein may have been radicalized while in jail. The two shootings were the worst terrorist attack in Denmark since the 1985 bombings of the Great Synagogue and the Northwest Orient airlines office in Copenhagen, which killed one person and injured twenty-six others.
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