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Nordic Unions through the times (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
nordic flags
The home pages for the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nordic
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Nordic Unions through the times

 

2.5.8 Political history & cooperation

The forming of what we today know as the Nordic countries is a rather complex historical process. This is also the reason why it's not a very tight unit. While the common cultural heritage and even political unions of the Nordic peoples go well beyond the Renaissance, a conscious supra-national identity is a relatively recent development. After the splitting up of the Kalmar Union in early 16th century, Sweden (with Finland) and Denmark (with Norway) remained arch-enemies for almost three hundred years, fighting each other for the dominance of Scandinavia. Political cooperation was for the most part out of the question.

In the learned circles of the late 18th century, however, a movement known as Scandinavism started to spread with the growing realization of national identity on one hand and common cultural heritage on the other hand. At first this was limited to promoting cultural exchange, but in the 1830s a political Scandinavism was born among the students of Sweden and Denmark; it aimed to create a Nordic defense alliance and even to unite the countries as a single state.

King Oskar I of Sweden, who was an enthusiastic Scandinavist, supported Denmark when the country was subjected to strong political pressure from Prussia in 1848-49, which increased the popularity of Scandinavism in Denmark. During the Crimean War of 1853-56 efforts were made to get Finns to embrace Scandinavism and Sweden planned to liberate Finland from the yoke of the Russian Empire so that it could rejoin the Scandinavian family, but at that time Finns were quite content with their autonomy and didn't show much enthusiasm for Scandinavism.

Political Scandinavism collapsed by and large in 1864 when Denmark was attacked by Prussia and Austria. Although the reigning Swedish King Karl XV was an advocate of Scandinavism, the Riksdag (the Swedish parliament which had grown in power) had a more sceptical attitude, and decided not to send any troops to aid the Danes. In addition to this, the Norwegian independence movement started to cause tension between Norwegians and Swedes.

Thus the dreams of a unified Scandinavia were abandoned, and Scandinavism came to be focused on cultural and economic cooperation, standardizing legislation and acting together in international conferences. This cooperation has continued up to this date, although the word "Scandinavism" itself is no longer used.

So, how then do the Nordic countries cooperate today?

The main Nordic cultural and political organs are the Norden-societies in each country (founded in Swe/No/Dk in 1919, in Iceland in 1922, Finland 1924, Faroes 1955, Åland 1970), their umbrella organization (founded in 1965), the Nordic Minister Council (1971), and most importantly the Nordic Council (1952/1956), through which free movement of labour, passport-free travel and common legislation have been introduced in the Nordic countries. A similar political profile has led all the Nordic countries to develop into welfare states with a high social security and a high standard of living.

Behind the political cooperation lie the factors that have enabled it in the first place. These include common cultural background, linguistic relationship, shared history, religion and geography. With the exception of religion, none of them is fully shared by all five countries, but even so, there are more things that unite us than ones that separate us.

In 1946 Scandinavian Airlines Systems, SAS, was founded in cooperation between the states of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

I've heard the Scandinavian countries failed to agree on a union in the 1940s.

That's correct. Actually three times. First in October 1939 the Nordic kings and presidents met to discuss the serious situation at the eve of the World War. Soviet's demand on Finnish territory was one of the main problems discussed, and the Finns must have hoped for guarantees from the other states for support against the Russian threats. But the result was the opposite. Each state declared its intention to follow a strict policy of neutrality, which was the same as telling the Soviet Union that none of the other Nordic countries would interfere in the Soviet-Finnish conflict.

Then after the Winter War 1939-40 between the Soviet Union and Finland a regular union was discussed for Sweden and Finland - like the personal union 1814-1905 between Sweden and Norway. But the Soviet Union didn't like the idea.

Finally after the second world war a defense alliance was planned between Norway, Denmark and Sweden. (Finland's participation was again vetoed by the Soviet Union.) But the Norwegians' bad impression of the 19th-century union with Sweden was the obstacle on which the idea fell. Instead Norway took up discussions with the USA about participation in the planned NATO, and soon also Denmark followed.

Was that for the first time after the split of the Kalmar-union?

Well, actually there was a Currency-union between Denmark, Norway and Sweden 1873-1914 with the purpose to make trading easier. And people who are careful with the notions would maybe object that the last trace of the Kalmar-union lasted until 1944 when Iceland declared its independence from Denmark. :->

But otherwise you are right. The personal union 1814-1905 between Norway and Sweden was not at all voluntary from the side of the Norwegians, and before that the idea of a Nordic union had been stone dead since the 16th century.

How come the Kalmar-union was ever accepted?

It wasn't.  :->>
It was the result of a long and complicated chain of coincidences:

Is it true that Scandinavia was a united Norse Realm before Christianity?

Well, ...yes and no!

There existed short-lived kingdoms with considerable size also before the 14th century, but they all disintegrated when the king in question died - if not before. Maybe the army which was raised to defend Jutland against the Huns was the first.

During the 11th century there are for instance King Canute the Great's realm including most of England, Norway, maybe Sweden and (of course) Denmark. But the first years of the millenium was rich in power-play:


That's rather messy, isn't it?
Could you please make a table?

- At your service!


 1022-35   King Canute the Great united Denmark, Norway and parts of
           England.

 1042-47   King Magnus of Norway inherits the Crown of Denmark.

 1262-1536 Iceland is governed by Norway

 1319-55   Personal union between Norway and Sweden

 1332-60   Personal union between Sweden, Scania and Gotland

 1362-64   Personal union between Norway and Sweden

 1387-1536 Personal union between Denmark and Norway

 1389-1523 Personal union between Denmark, Norway and Sweden

 1536-1814 Norway is incorporated¹ in the Danish realm

 1536-1918 Iceland is incorporated in the Danish realm
           and 1918-1944 in personal union with Denmark

 1536--    The Faroe islands are incorporated in the Danish realm

 1814-1905 Personal union between Norway and Sweden

¹/ There remains some dispute regarding if Norway regained sort of a status
   as a kingdom again, in personal union with Denmark, in 1660.



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- Is the text above really reliable?
- See the discussion in section 1.2.2!
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© Copyright 1994-2001 by Antti Lahelma and Johan Olofsson.
You are free to quote this page as long as you mention the URL.
The line of flags is modified after a picture at det Åländska skoldatanätet.
This page was last updated June the 28th in the year of 1998.

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