Denmark Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Denmark is not a place people traditionally look to find diversity, but that doesn't mean it isn't there. In this lesson, we'll talk about the changing ethnic composition of Denmark and see what this means for the nation today.

Denmark

The region of Northern Europe called Scandinavia was once home to the fearsome Viking warriors. Now it's home to some of the most successful welfare programs in the world, and several cultures that boast their enduring friendliness. What can we say? Things change. At least, some things do. In many Scandinavian nations, such as the Kingdom of Denmark, ethnic distribution may look basically similar to what the region would have looked like centuries ago. But, times change, and even those changes that aren't as visible can have some major impacts.

Denmark
Denmark

Danish People

At first glance, Denmark is a place of visible ethnic homogeneity. The vast majority of people in Denmark are of Scandinavian ancestry, basically being descendants of the Vikings and other people indigenous to the region, as well as other Europeans brought back to Scandinavia by Viking raids. However, if you ask the people of Denmark to describe themselves, ethnically, many will not answer as Scandinavian. Many will call themselves Danish. This is one of those places where ethnic identity becomes a little tricky. Technically, the term Danish is a national, not ethnic term. Any citizen of Denmark is a Dane.

However, the Kingdom of Denmark first emerged back in the 10th century, long before there were really any ethnic minorities. So, the Danes have a very long national history, and for centuries the concept of national and ethnic identity have melded into one.

Although clothing styles have changed, most people still expect the Danish people to be fairly homogenous
Danish people

Ethnic Minorities in Denmark

There is a risk to this scenario. Many Danes see their national identity as an ethnic identity, which can imply that only Scandinavians are the 'real' Danish people. So, what does that mean for Danish citizens that aren't of Scandinavian descent? Historically, Denmark has not been home to large immigrant populations, but has hosted groups of Inuits, Germans, and other Northern Europeans. Most are not found in large numbers, and either integrated into Danish society or stayed out of the way in the margins of society.

However, there have been some important changes in the last few decades that have challenged this. Denmark opened itself to immigrant work programs in the 1960s and 1970s under the assumption that the immigrants from places like India would come, earn some money, and return to their countries of origin. Some did, but many stayed in Denmark. Over the 1990s, a small anti-immigrant attitude started to spread, one which has increased with waves of Iranian and Somali immigrants seeking refuge in recent years.

Immigrant groups are playing a larger role in Danish society
Demographics chart

While Denmark is not a place of outright ethnic violence, there is a growing level of tension as the government and people struggle to figure out exactly what a multiethnic Danish nation looks like. For the first time, non-Scandinavian people make up a visible portion of the population (about 6%), and are also the fastest-growing segment of the population. At first, many of the government's policies aimed to both grant immigrants access to welfare and simultaneously keep them in the margins of mainstream society. There has been strong reaction against this, particularly by Muslim citizens who are expressing a desire to participate more fully in Danish society.

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