In the first half of the 1970s I had for several years in Canada a Danish girlfriend and also spent some time with her in Denmark. I was struck by the profound nationalism of the Danes, most of the time of a light-hearted yet very confident sort. They viewed Norwegians as sort of country bumpkins and the Swedes as humourlessly serious; but at least not Germans.
My girlfriend’s mother had lived through the German occupation and her shop in the summer catered mainly to German tourists. She knew their language and used it with them because she needed to. I had no Danish but did have some German; but when my girlfriend and I stayed with her she refused on principle to use German with me even though she had no English. We still got along well but I think her example was indicative of the national character (yes, RoC Canadians, there is such a thing) that is described in the following excerpts from an article in the NY Review of Books:
Liberal, Harsh Denmark
In part, the Danish approach has been driven by the country’s long experience with terrorism and jihadism. Nearly a decade before the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January 2015, and the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris in November, the publication of the so-called Muhammad cartoons by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten had already turned Denmark into a primary target for extremists. Initially driven by a group of Danish imams, outcry against the cartoons gave strength to several small but radical groups among the country’s 260,000 Muslims. These groups have been blamed for the unusually large number of Danes—perhaps as many as three hundred or more—who have gone to fight in Syria, including some who went before the rise of ISIS in 2013…
…many Danes I talked to are less concerned about terrorism than about the threat they see Muslims posing to their way of life. Though Muslims make up less than 5 percent of the population, there is growing evidence that many of the new arrivals fail to enter the workforce, are slow to learn Danish, and end up in high-crime immigrant neighborhoods where, while relying on extensive state handouts, they and their children are cut off from Danish society…
…The modern state emerged in the late nineteenth century, following a series of defeats by Bismarck’s Germany in which it lost much of its territory and a significant part of its population. Several Danish writers have linked this founding trauma to a lasting national obsession with invasion and a continual need to assert danskhed, or Danishness.
Among other things, these preoccupations have given the Danish welfare system an unusually important part in shaping national identity. Visitors to Denmark will find the Danish flag on everything from public buses to butter wrappers; many of the country’s defining institutions, from its universal secondary education (Folkehøjskoler—the People’s High Schools) to the parliament (Folketinget—the People’s House) to the Danish national church (Folkekirken—the People’s Church) to the concept of democracy itself (Folkestyret—the Rule of the People) have been built to reinforce a strong sense of folke, the Danish people [and then there’s Hyggelig, the essence of Danishness]…
As the advanced democracies of Europe reconsider their physical and psychological borders with the Muslim world, the restrictive Danish approach to immigration and the welfare state offers a stark alternative. Brought into the political process far earlier than its counterparts elsewhere, the Danish People’s Party is a good deal more moderate than, say, the National Front in France; but it also has succeeded in shaping, to an extraordinary degree, the Danish immigration debate. In recent weeks, Denmark’s Social Democrats have struggled to define their own immigration policy amid sagging support. When I asked former prime minister Fogh Rasmussen about how the Danish People’s Party differed from the others on asylum-seekers and refugees, he said, “You have differences when it comes to rhetoric, but these are nuances.”
In January, more than 60,000 refugees arrived in Europe, a thirty-five-fold increase from the same month last year; but in Denmark, according to Politiken [the leading newspaper], the number of asylum-seekers has steadily declined since the start of the year, with only 1,400 seeking to enter the country. In limiting the kind of social turmoil now playing out in Germany, Sweden, and France, the Danes may yet come through the current crisis a more stable, united, and open society than any of their neighbors. But they may also have shown that this openness extends no farther than the Danish frontier.
—February 10, 2016
Some history well known to Danes: in the war of 1864 they were defeated by the Prussians and Austrians; but in the war of 1848-51 against the German Confederation the Danes won (more here from 1850). On one visit to Denmark my girlfriend–a smart and very liberated modern lady–made a point of taking me to a battlefield. One would have been hard pressed to find a Canadian lady of her generation doing anything similar.