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Denmark is the smallest of the Scandinavian nations. Located between the North Sea on the west and the Baltic Sea on the southeast, Denmark is separated from Norway by the Skagerrak and from Sweden by the Kattegat and the Oresund. In the south, it shares a 68 km (43 mi) border with Germany. The Faeroe Islands and Greenland have been part of Denmark since the 14th century and are now self-governing units within the nation.
During the 9th century the name Denmark (Danmark: "border district of the Danes") was used for the first time. Subsequently, Denmark ruled over much of Scandinavia, which developed a common Nordic culture. At the same time, because of Denmark's proximity to Germany, Denmark has also been influenced by German culture.
Today, Denmark's balanced economy, in which much of its agricultural and industrial output is exported, gives the country one of the highest standards of living in the world. Through high taxes levied by the government, Denmark enjoys one of the most advanced systems of government provided welfare and social services in the world.
Most of Denmark consists of Jutland, a peninsula jutting into the North and Baltic Seas. Covering 29,766 sq km (11,493 sq mi), Jutland accounts for about 70% of Denmark's area. The rest of the land consists of nearby islands, including Bornholm, Zealand, Falster, Fyn, and Lolland, and approximately 500 smaller islands, about 100 of which are inhabited. Because of Jutland's deeply indented coastline and the many islands, Denmark has 7,300 km (4,500 mi) of coast.
More than 75% of Denmark lies below 100 m (330 ft) and is flat or gently undulating. Bedrock reaches the surface in very few places, and most of Denmark's landforms are of glacial origin. During the Quaternary Period (the last 2 million years), Denmark was totally or partially covered by ice sheets at least four times. The limit of the most recent ice advance is marked in Jutland by an end moraine that forms a range of low hills extending north-south through the peninsula. Most of western Jutland was not glaciated during the last ice advance and is marked by occasional undulating areas of older glacial deposits and extensive flat areas underlain by sands and gravels washed westward from the melting glacier. Eastern Jutland and the islands, which were covered by the most recent ice advance, have a more rolling landscape dotted with many small lakes. The highest point in the country, Yding Skovhoj, rises to 173 m (568 ft) in east-central Jutland.
Denmark's soil conditions vary greatly. In western Jutland sandy podzolized soils, of low natural fertility, are dominant. Until agricultural advances in the last century made these soils arable, almost all this land was covered by heath. The rest of Denmark has various types of brown soils that are the most productive soils in the country. In addition, many areas once covered with bogs and swamps have been drained and are now cultivated.
Denmark has a temperate marine climate, which is mild for its latitude. The country receives the heating effect of the North Atlantic Drift, part of the warm Gulf Stream. The mean temperature for February, the coldest month, is -0.4 deg C (31 deg F), and for July, the warmest month, 17 deg C (63 deg F). Average precipitation is 664 mm (26 in) annually. July and August are the wettest months, and the spring months are the driest. Denmark is subject to marine and continental air masses, and great differences occur in the day-to-day weather, depending on the direction of the prevailing winds.
Denmark's glacial landscape contains many small streams and lakes. The longest river, the Gudena in Jutland, is 158 km (98 mi) long. The largest lake, Arreso in northern Zealand, covers 41 sq km (16 sq mi). Denmark has many water bodies with brackish water (gulfs, inlets, lagoons). The glacial outwash plains of western Jutland have large quantities of groundwater. In many places water courses have been regulated to reclaim land for agriculture.
Denmark is part of Europe's temperate deciduous forest belt. The natural vegetation in most of the country is a mixed forest, with beech the predominant tree. However, almost all parts of the country are under cultivation today, and virtually all the existing forests have been planted. Coniferous trees prevail in parts of the former heath areas in western Jutland, and the dune areas have been forested with spruce and pine. Denmark has a 12% forest cover, and it is being extended.
Because of the great extent of cultivation, animal life has changed substantially. At present, Denmark has about 500 species of mammals and more than 300 species of birds.
Denmark has little mineral wealth, although limestone, clay, and gravel are mined in many areas. In northern Jutland, salt deposits have been exploited since World War II, and granite and kaolin are mined on the island of Bornholm. Since 1972 the Danish sector of the North Sea, called Danfield, has been worked for petroleum and gas deposits.
Denmark has an ethnically homogenous population consisting of Nordic Scandinavians. A significant German minority lives primarily in south Jutland. Danish is the official language. Faeroese, spoken in the Faeroe Islands, is a related language. Greenlander, an Eskimo tongue, is spoken in Greenland. The Evangelical Lutheran church (established in 1536) is supported by the state, and about 95% of the population are members. There is complete religious tolerance. The Roman Catholic church, the largest minority, has about 28,000 members.
Nearly 85% of the population is urban, with 38% of the total population concentrated in the four largest cities (Copenhagen, Alborg, Odense, and Arhus). Toward the end of the 19th century Denmark, like all industrialized European nations, experienced a pronounced migration of people from the countryside to the towns and larger cities; this urbanization has almost ceased, however. At present, Denmark has a very low population growth rate.
Primary education has been compulsory in Denmark since 1814, and virtually all adults are literate. Comprehensive education, consisting of 9 years in a general school, usually for ages 7 to 16, is provided. Students may then proceed to 3 more years in a gymnasium to prepare for university entrance examinations. Denmark has five universities, at Copenhagen (1479), Alborg (1974), Arhus (1928), Odense (1966), and Roskilde (1970), and numerous technical institutes. Folk High Schools are a special feature of the Danish education system. Originally established during the 19th century, they offer courses primarily in Danish history and culture. They are open to all adults.
Denmark, a pioneer in the development of social welfare programs, long provided free medical care and payments for all workers temporarily unable to work due to illness, injury, or childbirth. Special benefits for pregnant women and young children reduced infant mortality to a low rate. By the 1980s, however, there was rising concern about the cost of social programs, which had come to absorb nearly 30% of the national budget. In 1982, social benefits to individuals were restricted through the imposition of means tests.
Only in the 18th century did a national literature begin. Bertel Thorvaldsen is the most famous Danish sculptor. The romantic composer C. E. F. Weyse (1774-1847) gave Danish national music its first real expression. Other famous Danish composers include Johann Kuhlau (1786-1832) and Niels W. Gade in the 19th century and Carl Nielsen in the 20th century. The Royal Danish Ballet is internationally renowned.
Denmark's prosperity, like that of many small nations, depends on foreign trade, and Denmark ranks among the world's leading nations in total value of trade per inhabitant. Before 1880 the principal exports were grains, then in demand in rapidly industrializing Germany and the United Kingdom. However, these markets were lost after the 1870s when cheaper grains from Australia and North America became available. Accordingly, after 1880, Denmark switched to a more intensive and profitable type of agriculture based on importing grains and growing fodder crops, and feeding both to livestock for the production of high-value bacon, butter, cheese, eggs, and meat, then also in demand in Germany and the United Kingdom. Industrial development, hitherto slowed in Denmark owing to the lack of raw materials for heavy industry, was aided by the growing demand for equipment in the food-processing industries, and by the end of the 19th century, numerous industrial items were being produced. Industrial development in Denmark has been greatly aided by a well-educated and highly skilled technical labor force developed since the 1840s through the nation's schools. An increasing percentage of the labor force is engaged in service occupations.
Approximately 21% of Denmark's labor force is engaged in manufacturing. The leading industry is food processing, which includes the production of Denmark's famous bacon, butter, cheeses, beers, and other items; in 1980 food processing accounted for 35% of all manufacturing gross output. Most raw materials for other industries are imported and converted in Denmark to consumer and export items, their high value being derived from the technical and artistic skills of the labor force. Manufacturing is concentrated in and around Copenhagen and other large urban centers.
Denmark's output of electricity has increased more than tenfold since the 1950s and is derived chiefly from imported petroleum. Following a decision in 1980 not to develop nuclear energy, the Danish government began to focus attention on increasing the pace of exploitation of its North Sea petroleum and natural gas reserves. Most of the fields have been placed under state control, and the government hoped to meet much of the nation's energy needs from North Sea production.
About 70% of Denmark's land surface is used for agricultural production, but only about 7% of the labor force is engaged in agricultural activities. Barley, grown on about 50% of all farmland, is the principal crop, followed by grass and green fodder, grown on 22% of the land, and root crops, grown on 8% of the land. Most of the barley and root crops are grown primarily for use as livestock feed. About 90% of all farm income is derived from animal products, and in 1983 there were approximately 15 million chickens, 9 million pigs, and 3 million cattle in the country.
Farms in Denmark are generally small in size and average around 21 ha (52 acres). Most farms are family owned. Cooperatives, first introduced in the 1880s, handle most of the processing and marketing of farm produce, and most farmers are affiliated with cooperatives.
Fishing employs only a small portion of the work force (0.5%), but it is a major activity in western Jutland. It is also important in the Faeroes and Greenland. The most important fish are sand eels, herring, Norway pout, and cod. The value of fish caught has risen tenfold since 1950, but overfishing has resulted in limitations on fishing practices.
Shipping has played an important role in Denmark since the Middle Ages, when tolls were levied on ships passing between the North and Baltic Seas. In 1982 Denmark had a merchant marine fleet of nearly 3,000 vessels of more than 20 metric tons. Although many of Denmark's islands are connected by bridge, ferry traffic between the islands transports about 43 million persons annually and is quick and efficient. The first railway line, from Copenhagen to Roskilde, was opened in 1847. Recently the railways have been modernized, and the umber of passengers is increasing after many years of decline. About 80% of the railroads are state owned. The international airport of Copenhagen at Kastrup is the largest in northern Europe. Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries operate SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System).
Denmark has been a vigorous supporter of free trade since the 19th century. Today it is a member of the Nordic Council, designed to promote trade within the Scandinavian nations, and the European Community (EC). Agricultural products today account for only about 29% of all exports by value, while industrial goods, the production of which has grown rapidly since the 1950s, now account for more than 70% of all exports. Germany and the United Kingdom remain the leading markets for Danish agricultural products, and Sweden is the largest market for industrial products. Denmark's principal imports are petroleum and other fuels, machinery and transportation equipment, metals, and paper and paper products. Imports exceed exports in most years as a result of Denmark's high standard of living and dependence on imported fuels and raw materials. The deficit in the trade balance is partially offset in most years by earnings in shipping and tourism, but in recent years Denmark has been obliged to seek loans abroad.
Denmark is a constitutional monarchy headed by Margaret II, who became queen in 1972. The revised constitution of 1953 provides for succession to the throne in the female line and for a unicameral legislature, the Folketing. Legislative and executive authority is vested in the monarch who acts through a cabinet of ministers, headed by a prime minister, responsible to the Folketing. The Folketing has 179 members, elected by a system of proportional representation; two are from Greenland and two are from the Faeroes. The Faeroes have been self-governing since 1948, and in 1979 Greenland attained similar status. The Folketing has a maximum term of 4 years, but elections are generally called more frequently. Coalition governments have predominated since 1945, the prime minister usually being chosen from the party with the most seats in the Folketing. The principal political parties are the Social Democratic party, the Conservative People's party, the Liberal party, and the Socialist People's party. In 1978 the voting age was lowered from 20 to 18.
Since 1955 Denmark has had an Ombudsman, who oversees the conduct of the cabinet and the decisions of the administration. All citizens have the right to appeal government actions to the ombudsman. Local government is exercised by elected county and municipal councils.
Remains from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages have been found in Denmark, and rich grave finds from the Viking period (c.800-1050) reveal active Danish participation in Viking explorations. By 878 the Danes had conquered northern and eastern England. In the 11th century King Canute (r. 1014-35) ruled over a vast kingdom that included present-day Denmark, England, Norway, southern Sweden, and parts of Finland. Christianity, first introduced in 826, became widespread during Canute's reign. After his death, Canute's empire disintegrated.
During the 13th century, Waldemar II (r. 1202-41) conquered present-day Schleswig-Holstein, Pomerania, Mecklenburg, and Estonia and reestablished the nation as a great power in northern Europe. Soon, however, a civil war between the nobles and the king vying for control of the country erupted. Christopher II (r. 1320-32) was forced to make major concessions to the nobles and clergy at the expense of royal power, which was also eroded by the influence of the German merchants of the Hanseatic Leauge. Waldemar IV (r. 1340-75) succeeded in restoring royal authority, however, and his daughter Margaret I (r. 1387-1412) created the Kalmar Union, which included Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and part of Finland. In 1520 Sweden and Finland revolted, seceding in 1523, but the union continued until 1814.
In 1448 the house of Oldenburg was established on the throne in the person of Christian I. During the reign (1534-59) of Christian III, the reformation brought the establishment of a national Lutheran church. In the following century Christian IV intervened in the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) as a champion of Protestantism. A series of wars with Sweden resulted in territorial losses, but the Great Northern War (1700-21) brought some restoration of Danish power in the Baltic. The 18th century was otherwise a period of internal reform, which included the abolition of serfdom and land reforms.
In 1814, Denmark, which had sided with Napoleonic France after British attacks on Copenhagen in 1801 and 1807, was forced to cede Norway to Sweden and Helgoland to England. In 1848, a Prussian-inspired revolt in Schleswig-Holstein ended without a victor, but in 1864, Schleswig-Holstein and Lauenburg were lost in a new war with Prussia. Despite these major territorial losses, Denmark prospered economically in the 19th century and underwent further reforms. In 1849, King Frederick VII (1848-63) authorized a new constitution instituting a representative form of government. In addition, wide-ranging social and educational reforms took place.
During World War I, Denmark maintained neutrality. At the war's end, North Schleswig returned to Denmark following a plebiscite, and the present southern border with Germany was established. In 1933 great social reforms were instituted, beginning Denmark's modern welfare state.
At the beginning of World War II, despite a declaration of neutrality, Denmark was occupied by Germany (Apr. 9, 1940). On May 5, 1945, the Germans capitulated, and the country was liberated. Iceland had become fully independent in 1944. The Faeroe Islands received home rule in 1948, and Greenland became an integral part of Denmark under the new constitution of 1953 and received home rule in 1979. Denmark joined the European Community in 1973. Under its Conservative premier, Poul Schluter, who headed a succession of minority governments beginning in 1982, the country became increasingly committed to European integration by the 1990s. Danish voters initially rejected by a narrow margin the European Community's treaty on European union (the so-called Maastrict treaty) on June 2, 1992, but in a new round of voting on May 18, 1993, a referendum approved the treaty, with 56.8% in favor. A center-left coalition, led by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, of the Social Democratic party, which had won power on Jan. 25, 1993, led the campaign for treaty approval.
Taken from The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia.