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Denmark - Upheaval and Crisis Since 1973

The traditional party structure collapsed as a result of the incipient youth revolution of 1968 and growing resistance to heavy taxation. Consumer patterns changed dramatically, and new lifestyles were created which led to cultural clashes and, eventually, to the significant changes in the political patterns experienced in the first half of the 1970s. The most notable political and cultural clashes of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s were between the new generation of youngsters who had grown up with the welfare system, and the older generation with their memories of the time before and during the war.

The youth revolution had many themes: Anti-nuclear protests, demonstrations against USA involvement in Vietnam and, more generally, against stereotypic democratic processes. The keywords were democratisation and participation at all levels of society. Initially, the changes were felt most strongly within higher education where the Statute that was introduced in 1970 gave students and junior staff a say in the running of the institutions. The political and cultural debate underwent renewed ideologisation during the same period, strongly influenced by Marxism and other radical ideologies. The new activism was expressed in untraditional extra-parliamentarian actions: Protest marches, sit-ins in houses, factories and universities, the so-called ‘wildcat’ strikes, street theatre and happenings.

At the landslide election in 1973, electoral support for the four traditional parties declined from around 84% to a mere 58% and a number of new protest parties – The Progress Party (Fremskridtspartiet), The Centre Party (Centrum-Demokraterne), and The Christian People’s Party (Kristeligt Folkeparti) – entered the parliamentary arena. The general election in November 2001 resulted in considerable shifts in the parliametary picture. For the first time since 1920, The Liberal Party won more votes than The Social Democratic Party. At the same time The Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti), which has immigrant policy as its main issue, registered a gain, while The Progress Party and The Centre Party dropped out of the Folketing altogether.

The Social-Democrat/Social-Liberal Government resigned as a result of its defeat at the polls and was replaced by a government led by Liberal leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen and consisting of The Liberal Party and The Conservative People’s Party (Det Konservative Folkeparti). The Danish People’s Pary and The Christian People’s Party form part of the non-Socialist Government’s parliamentary basis.

Alongside Denmark’s integration in Europe, its post-war economy has become increasingly internationalised. The country did not participate in the negotiations which, in 1957-1959, led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC), but in 1960 it instead joined the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) together with Great Britain, which was the country’s main export market. Denmark did not join the EEC until 1973, again with Great Britain. Since then, the relationship with the EEC – from 1993 the European Union (EU) – has been a burning domestic issue, dividing the population into two camps of almost equal size.

Thus, the 1992 referendum on the Maastricht Treaty concerning increased integration produced a narrow majority for the opponents, and it took another referendum before Denmark could join the Treaty after obtaining certain opt-out clauses. Participation in the single European currency, the euro, was rejected at a referendum in 2000. In this, as in other respects, the Danes are reluctant Europeans.

Denmark’s current shape and extent is the result of successive cedings of territory due to its exposed location by the access routes to the Baltic. Until recently, the Danes were an exceptionally homogenous people, which can be attributed to the gradual loss of marginal parts of the realm in the course of time.

However, the traditionally high degree of homogeneity and consensus in Danish society is also closely connected with some of the historical features mentioned above – the doctrinal influence of the Lutheran State Church, the uniformity of the broad population brought about by absolutism, the late industrialisation which did not create a large urban lower class until the 20th century, and the inability of the political parties to muster an absolute majority on their own, which has made compromise a condition of political life.

Rather than merely weakness and prosperity – as suggested by the British diplomat in 1939 – it is historical experiences of this kind that have determined the development of the modern Danish national character.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2013 18:53:43 ZULU