Tale of the little man who tweaks the bully's nose

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The Independent Online

A Finnish author who often travels to Italy once remarked to me that when staying for a couple of days in Copenhagen, on the way from Finland to Italy, he felt he was on the Continent, while a stop-over in the city on the way home always gave him the feeling of being back in Scandinavia.

A Finnish author who often travels to Italy once remarked to me that when staying for a couple of days in Copenhagen, on the way from Finland to Italy, he felt he was on the Continent, while a stop-over in the city on the way home always gave him the feeling of being back in Scandinavia.

In a way, this sums up Denmark's special position in Europe. Never doubting its Scandinavian credentials, it is the only Scandinavian country directly connected to the European mainland. It has always shared a sense of being Scandinavian with the realisation that from Denmark you could simply wander off on foot into the great European heartland. Denmark is half in and half out, and that almost 50-50 division has just been replayed in the referendum on the euro.

There have over the past century and a half been many occasions on which Denmark and its big neighbour to the south have been in conflict - in 1848, when the Danes actually beat Prussia - or thought they did; in 1864, when they took on Prussia again and were given a thorough drubbing, resulting in a huge territorial loss that was not made good until 1920. And then there was the Nazi occupation during the Second World War which left a legacy of bitterness.

Throughout all this, Denmark has fought to maintain its independence and its own standard of living. When Southern Jutland was lost after the 1864 war, a Danish politician coined the phrase that "what has been lost to abroad shall be made up at home", and indeed that is precisely what happened. The affluence that was gradually created went hand in hand with a great sense of patriotism.

The history of Danish relations with the Common Market/EU has throughout been one of attraction and hesitation. The attraction has been the idea of "belonging" and of potential progress; the hesitation has resulted from a fear of being swamped and losing the national identity. There is little danger of either, but one result has been a series of concessions wrung from Brussels.

One of the concessions is the acceptance by the EU of the Danish law preventing other European citizens from buying weekend cottages in Denmark. Denmark has one of the finest coastlines in Europe - a major attraction to non-Danes, and enough to provoke the fear among of being over-run in the summer. So the answer is to keep the foreigners out - although how long the ban can be maintained is another matter.

Any Dane will tell you that Denmark is a "small" country. They usually add, "so we have to work hard to preserve our independence", or "but just look at our achievements". They are immensely proud of achievements in areas as diverse as beer and design, windmills and now IT. And, of course, Denmark has produced the greatest fairytale writer of all times.

One theme of Hans Christian Andersen's stories is that of the underdog who comes out on top. Little Claus and Big Claus is perhaps the most famous example, the story of the poor but resourceful little man who tweaks the nose of the big and rich bully and finally does him to death. And then there is Simple Simon, who comes from nothing and by brazen audacity wins the princess.

There is something quintessentially Danish about these stories, and they are both apt in the present situation. Denmark is not, in fact, trying to tweak the European nose, because Denmark after all knows that its home is in Europe, but it wants to be there on its own terms, welcoming but not succumbing to the charms. And Denmark has a history of remarkable success in this field.

Glyn Jones is Emeritus Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of East Anglia.

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