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Rarely used term for a political concept that used to be more commonplace: the idea that the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland) and their ancillary autonomous and semi-autonomous groupings (such as the Faeroe Islands, Åland, and significant ethnic groups, such as the Saami) constituted a natural fellowship of nations.

Other terms for this concept are Nordism, Scandinavism and Pan-Scandinavism.

Historically, the three central Nordic nations of Denmark, Sweden and Norway were united in a personal union (the Kalmar Union) from 1396/1397 to 1523, and Denmark and Norway continued to be united until 1814, when (by the terms of the Treaty of Kiel), Norway was handed over to Sweden. From 1814 to 1905, Sweden and Norway were united in a personal union.

Although Denmark and Sweden (and by extension, Norway as part of the dual kingdom of Denmark-Norway) were bitter enemies from 1522 until 1814, the 19th century saw a rapprochement between them. Under pressure from the growing Prussian state (and later, the newly-united Germany), Denmark and Sweden grew closer together.

The growth of a Romantic Scandinavist theme in literature during the 1830s and 1840s led to an increased diplomatic and economic understanding between Denmark and Sweden, which was to prove of crucial importance during the tumultuous events of the period 1848-1864.

During the First War for Schleswig-Holstein (1848-1850), Swedish troops were stationed in Denmark, as a sort of military "insurance policy" - in the event of significant German advances, the Swedes were under orders to intervene. This never became necessary, however. The war was far from decisive, and the underlying issues (essentially, a dispute over whether the Schleswig-Holstein border region was Danish or German, ethnically and politically) continued to cause trouble.

When, in the 1860s, the war seemed likely to reignite, and the Danish King Frederik VII was, at the same time, without a direct heir, it was proposed from several leading Danish politicians1 that Denmark and Sweden reunite, under the Swedish king, in a personal union.

Such a development would have meant the recreation of a modern Kalmar Union, and would have placed the newly-united Nordic state among the great powers of Europe. Sadly, it was not to be. A distaff line relative of the heirless king, Christian IX, was chosen to succeed him. War soon broke out with Prussia and Austria, and the resulting débacle left Denmark battered and diminished. Throughout the Second War for Schleswig-Holstein (1864), Danish politicians held out the hope that Sweden would intervene, turning the tides of war. The hoped-for intervention, however, never materialised - nor did any of the other great powers of Europe see fit to provide aid.2

In the post-war period, Denmark turned inwards, and Scandinavism, while still presented as a live issue, became essentially dead. It was not until the 20th century that Pan-Nordism once more became a serious issue. In 1905, the personal union between Norway and Sweden was dissolved peacefully, and the Norwegians chose a new king, a member of the Danish royal dynasty of Glücksborg. In the course of the century, the Nordic states3 developed along their own uniquely Nordic path, a path of peaceful and non-violent nationalism. Following the harrowing years of World War II (in which Sweden was neutral, while Denmark and Norway were occupied by Germany), the Nordic states proceeded to revive their common identity, in the form of the Nordic Council (Danish: Nordisk Råd), an international organisation containing the Nordic countries (which, for this purpose, also includes Finland4).

Among the achievements of the Nordic Council was the creation of a passport union, whereby Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Finns can travel between the four countries without having to show a passport. A common coinage standard (though not a single currency) had already been implemented in the second half of the 19th century.

Despite the pretensions of Nordic unity, the common cultural and political goals, and the great affection the Nordic nations have for each other (despite frequent joking claims to the contrary), Pan-Nordism is nevertheless again a dormant concept. The reason this time is not mutual disaffection - rather, the growth of the European Union is to blame. More and more, the Danish and Swedish states are becoming part of the slowly-unifying EU, while Norway5 remains outside the EU. While this does not exactly invalidate the Nordic Council, it has reduced the Council's significance.

Pan-Nordism has been a "dead" issue before, so I do not necessarily consider this the end of the matter. If the EU continues to assimilate the European states, Norway will eventually have to join. At that point, Pan-Nordism may well see a revival as part of an effort to maintain a regional identity within the new European state.


1 The Danish politician Orla Lehmann said, on this subject: "We have a Victor Emmanuel {meaning King Carl XV of Sweden}. Now all we need is a Cavour." He was probably thinking of casting Count Henning Hamilton, Swedish envoy to Denmark, in the rôle of Cavour.

2 Proper Danish jingoism would seem to require me to utter a "...those bastards!" at this point. However, I honestly can't blame them. The entire bloody mess could have been avoided with diplomacy, and it is not unreasonable to state that Denmark brought the disaster on herself. Once the fighting had started, the diplomats of the great powers (especially the British and the Russians) did their level best to bring about a swift and peaceful resolution with as little loss of life as possible. They weren't to blame that both parties to the conflict were intractible - especially the Danes.

3 Iceland was, until 1944, in a personal union with Denmark. Finland had formerly been a Swedish territory. The Faeroe Islands are an autonomous region within Denmark, as of 1948.

4 Finland is the only Nordic country that does not speak a Nordic language (although most Finns can speak some Swedish - see pakkoruotsi for more on this subject). Finnish belongs to the Finno-Ugric languages, and is thus more closely related to Hungarian. Even so, Finnish culture and political life is very much Nordic in style. The language issue isn't that critical: while the main Nordic languages, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are mutually intelligible, Icelandic, Faeroese, and West Norwegian form a separate language grouping. This is not a problem, as common ground still exists, linguistically.

5 Hooray for Norway!

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