The world wars took their toll on the Scandinavian countries, but by the end of the 20th century they had emerged as sophisticated economic powers.
The 20th century dawned with not only the union of Sweden and Norway on the rocks but also the special relationship between Finland and Russia. While breakaway Norway recruited Håkon VII, né Prince Carl of Denmark, as its first independent king for 600 years, Finland was delivered into the hands of Nikolai Ivanovich Bobrikov.
Kong Håkon accepted the job only after a plebiscite indicated that three-quarters of the Norwegian population wanted him.
The three kings of Scandinavia met at Malmö in Sweden in December 1914 and declared their neutrality. However, putting their proclamation into practice was not so easy. After centuries of anguish over Schleswig-Holstein, Denmark was not Germany’s greatest admirer, but it was no position to defy the Kaiser’s order to mine Danish sea-lanes against the British navy.
Conversely, Norway received a warning from Britain that selling fish, iron pyrites or copper to Germany would not be tolerated, and Sweden was blockaded, eventually suffering acute food shortages, for trading too eagerly with Wilhelm.
The worst blow, though, was Germany’s declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1916. Hundreds of Scandinavian ships and crews commandeered by Britain went to the bottom, with heavy losses.
On Russia’s withdrawal from the war after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, Lenin appealed directly to sympathizers in Scandinavia, particularly Finland.
Sweden sailed through the post-war years on a wave of international demand from Swedish steel and ball bearings, Ericsson telephones and Electrolux vacuum cleaners.
While also doing well, Norway and Denmark clashed over Greenland and the Arctic islands of Svalbard (Spitzbergen) and Jan Mayen, which raised issues rooted in Viking times. Asked to arbitrate, the international court at The Hague gave Greenland to Denmark, the islands to Norway.
Scandinavia emerged from the second crisis of the inter-war years, the Great Depression, with improved political systems. Small parties with narrow interests – farmers’ parties being a prime example – were forced to remove their blinkers and join broader coalitions, the front runners generally calling themselves “Social Democrats”.
Modern Age Scandinavia, written by Tor Kjolberg