150-året for Slaget på Dybbøl Banke - Kongehuset
Today 18th April the DRF will commemorate the 150th aniversary of the battle of Dybbøl 1864.
If you wish to hope ever to understand current Danish mentallity and politics there is no way around the two Schleswigan Wars, especially the second in 1864.
It was such a traumatic event that it completely changed Danish mindset and we only started to emerge from that during the 1990's.
It can very much be compared to the feelings the white population in the southern states went through in the generations after the American Civil War.
I will write two posts.
The first will provide a brief and somewhat simplified historical background.
The second post will be illustrated.
Since the start of Denmark becoming a nation the areas now known as Schleswig and Holstein (S&H from now on) were border regions and as such were contested areas with a more or less constant military precense.
As the Danish kings had to be constantly on the move in order to rule the kingdom, a military governor was put in charge of that area, with a standing army at his disposal, to form a buffer until the king could mobilize the rest of the country.
Such a governor, an earl (jarl in Danish) naturally had a lot of power, so when the king was weak, the earl was powerful. When the king was strong, one of his greatest headaches was how to maintain control over S&H.
By the time DK emerged from Medieval times, that was resolved by the Danish king automatically becoming duke (but not king) of S&H. And everybody was happy.
S&H thus remained a, German, nation within the then multinational Danish realm.
Centuries went by and in the 1840's it was time for a reform. It was time to abolish Absolutism and introduce a Parliament for the kingdom, which now after the loss of the ancient Danish lands in southern Sweden in the 1600's and the loss of Norway in 1814, now mainly consisted of Denmark itself and S&H.
In the 1840's a wave of nationalism swept across Europe. There were revolutions and troubles everywhere and the map was constantly being changed.
Nationalism also emerged in both Denmark and S&H. A new constitution for the whole kingdom
was being drafted with the intention of taking effect in 1849. It was practical, it would be a more efficient way to administrate the realm, rather than having different regional legislations, that were more or less identical anyway.
"No way"! They yelled down in S&H. "We are not Danes, we are Germans. We are not a part of Denmark and we do not intend to become a part of Denmark. The abolishment of Absolutism and having a new constutions is a great idea, we love it - we just want our own".
From DK the response was: "Come on! The point is to make this somewhat backward realm work more efficient. We've de facto been the same country for a thousand years. It's crawling with Germans here in DK, and can you hardly turn around down in your end without bumping into a Dane".
- So feelings flared up. You can understand S&H, they feared being swallowed up by Denmark and lose their national identity. On the other hand people had intermarried for centuries and moved about freely. Danish history is full of prominent German names and S&H is to this day heavy influenced by Danes.
More rationel heads started to suggest that it was perhaps time to split. Holstein (and the smallest duchy Lauenborg) could become independent and Schlewig could join Denmark. They were shouted down by the nationalist on both sides: "No way"!! In Holstein in particular they maintained that the duchies had always been together and it should remain that way. In Denmark the nationalists chanted: "Denmark to the river Eider". The whole thing was complicated by S&H getting considerable political and later military support from emerging German nations to the south.
And that's how the First Schleswigan War began.
Ironically the Danes fought in the name of the King, while S&H fought in the name of their Duke, who initially at least happened to be the Danish king...
It ended three years later with a kind of compromise. S&H de facto became a part of Denmark, but were allowed to retain their language and with a number of basic rights being respected.
Three years of war leads to a lot of bitternes. Family members and friends had fought each other, the resentment on both sides was great.
Unfortunately the nationalists on both sides gained ground, not least spurred on by even more nationalist newspaper editors.
By the early 1860's there was trouble on the horizon again. The Parliament decided, led by nationalists, to override the considerations to S&H and impose a pure Danish administration. After all: "Who won the bloody war, eh"!?!
The by now even stronger German nations, led by Preussia and Bismarck protested. International negotiations started. Some cooler heads suggested that Schleswig could be divided and that would mean that the border would go almost exactly where it is now. But common sense wasn't on the agenda and the Second Schleswigan War started quietly in 1864.
Denmark mobilized and and Preussian and Austria took over the military bit from S&H, no amateurs here, please!
The usual story. The politicians had not allocated enough funds for the military, while at the same time steering straight towards a war with their nationalist politics.
In the winter of 1864 the shock came. The Danish army had withdrawn from the ancient border defence, Dannevirke. In the mind of the public Dannevirke had become mythical, it was a veritable Maginot Line and now the army had left! - The truth: A few hopelessly inadequte positions and the generals made a very sound decision in withdrawing, or they would have been outflanked and destroyed. - It was a militarily briliantly executed retreat that later on became glorious.
Okay, ready for the second blow? The army withdrew to the flanking positions of Fredericia and Dybbøl. Flanking positions have always been the key in the defence of Denmark, because the Danish navy has always controlled the sea. So an army marching up through Jutland would eventually have to withdraw or risk being cut off by a Danish army landed by sea in the rear.
That was also the case here. Dybbøl, which is located very close to Gråsten was hastily prepared and the Germans followed and took up positions. In the meantime negotiations continued. Alas, the Danish politicians were at best inexperienced and naive - at worst inept and blind fanatical nationalists. Not helped by the King who did not wish to see his realm reduced by two-fifths. The negotiations broke down and in April 1864 the Germans prepared to storm Dybbøl.
The German artillery was better and the Danish redoubts were blown apart and finally on 18th April the storm came. Heavy fighting but also a well executed retreat across a sound to the nearby island of Als. The Danish army had suffered severe losses but it wasn't beaten yet. The navy still controlled the sea and there was still a sizable army ready to fall in the back of the Germans.
More negotiations. In vain.
In the summer of of 1864 the Germans managed to get across to the island of Als in the cover of darkness. A very daring and well executed operation. It was however possible to extricate a large part of the Danish army from Als, but the war was over. The Danish losses had been too heavy, not least in materiel.
S&H ceeded from Denmark - and became de facto a part of Preussia... No independence.
Northern Schleswig voted to return to Denmark in 1920 after a referendum.
What was left was a small, deeply traumatized country, an insignificant country that was close to joining the German league. You can say fortunately for DK Bismarck at the time was not interested in antagonizing Britain and France by taking control of the Baltic Sea.
Well, it's nerver the politicians who are at fault. So 1864, in the collective memory, became a glorious defeat. A small, defenceless country, betrayed by S&H attacked by the Germans and abandoned by our Nordic bretheren the Swedes and Norwegians. We became introvert, assumed a kind of national foetus position after that thrashing. Politically speaking there was no way, we would put up our heads again. The Danish version of the Tall Poppy Syndrome, Janteloven, very much sprang up around that time.
We also became very nationalist. What is Danish was cultivated and elevated and still is today. Quietly. We don't want to antagonize anyone.
It also meant that we genuinely pulled ourselves together and rebuild the nation, from a somewhat backward nation to a much more progressive nation.
Now that we are finally emerging from the trauma, the notion of us being the victims has become more nuanced and that's where we are today and that's why the Second Schleswigan War 1864 is a defining event in our national psyche.