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Thread: Blekinge - Between Denmark and Sweden

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    Blekinge - Between Denmark and Sweden

    Blekinge - Between Denmark and Sweden

    by Ingemar Lönnbom

    translated by Eva Jonasson

    Once upon a time, Blekinge was a major supplier of wood to other parts of the rather more poorly forested Denmark. Later on, large parts of the county became an important naval base. In a way that is indeed rather unique, Blekinge's role in history switches from peripheral to central.

    When Blekinge, the south-eastern corner of the Scandinavian peninsula, became Swedish through the Peace of Roskilde in 1658, the county was no more than a remote spot of the Kingdom of Denmark. Its major export commodities were all kinds of wood products. Some thirty years later, the county had turned into a power centre of Sweden. The transition from "the woodshed of Denmark" to Sweden's finest naval base was not an easy process, but the people of Blekinge had long ago learned the difficult art of survival. Today Blekinge is once again back in a geographical focus - an inspiring challenge, not least for its trade and industry.
    The picture of Blekinge that emerges in the first half of the 17th century is a county on the very outskirts of the Kingdom of Denmark, although with a certain strategic importance as buffer zone vis-à-vis Sweden. From the Copenhagen perspective an out-of-the-way spot, the inhabitants of which were granted a certain freedom as long as they paid taxes to the right king.
    An illuminating example is the trading operated from the numerous little local harbours along the county coastline. according to prevailing commercial policy, trading at that time should be concentrated to the towns - in particular to Ronneby and Lyckeby. But the local peasant harbours prospered, and in the 16th century a Danish official report - commissioned by the King - seems to have realized that the rural trading was indeed vital: the poor people of Blekinge would never survive without it. Better a county with people paying modest taxes than a barren county generating no income at all, and rural trading was thus permitted in Blekinge even though rigorously forbidden in other parts of the kingdom.

    An odd-job people

    The population of Blekinge became something of an odd job people: farmers, merchants, fishermen - multifarious occupations more often by not performed by one and the same man. Trading partners were the inhabitants of Småland, across the northern border as if it simply did not exist. The kings of Stockholm and Copenhagen regarded this cross-border trading with suspicion, or even hostility. The Swedes wanted commodities from central Småland to be exported via Kalmar not out of Ronneby and other smaller harbours.

    The people of Blekinge were no faithful patriots, nor were the Smålanders across the border. On several occasions when Denmark was at war with Sweden, the rural population in the border area made peace with one another in sheer defiance ' of their respective authorities. In these unofficial peace negotiations, the populations on both sides of the border promised each other not to participate in any act of warfare aimed at its neighbours. Kind of a declaration of neutrality, indicating how weak the emotional ties to Copenhagen or Stockholm really were. For these people it was of utmost importance to maintain peaceful relations with a trading partner living across a border that was all but non-existent for the people living close to it.
    Historians used to emphasise the large differences in the living conditions of Danish and Swedish farmers. Not anymore, though - now, life is believed to have been rather similar, no matter which side of the border you lived.

    Geographical focus

    Following the conquests by the Swedish great power on the other side of the Baltic Sea, Blekinge suddenly found itself a geographical centre. The focus on Blekinge was of an economical nature as well, however. Unlike the Danish King, the Swedish authorities had no intention to let the people of Blekinge live in freedom. Control was taken on all fronts economy army and religion. The most important change was brought by the foundation of the two towns of Karlshamn and Karlskrona. In particular the heavy investments in Karlskrona, naval base, had enormous consequences. Trees were cleared, food produced, commodities imported, people moved, rural areas urbanised - all these measures with large effects on and damage to nature and people. One such example is that rather soon after Blekinge became Swedish, as much as one third of its population lived in Karlshamn and Karlskrona. Not until 1930 did Sweden as a whole reach a similar population concentration to the cities!

    Is history repeating itself?

    Sweden has been living in peace ever since 1814; also Blekinge's history has thus become much more quiet and peaceful. The memory of ravages, peace treaties and exposure is probably obliterated, but maybe lingers somewhere in the subconscious of the very soul of Blekinge? One large difference between then and now is that the odd jobbers are long gone - the diversified economy has been all but replaced by the more monotonous labour of manufacturing industries. Maybe, in view of the millennium, would it be time to once more strengthen the traditions ' of cross-border trading, co-operation and entrepreneurship? after the fall of the old Soviet Union, Blekinge once again found itself in a situation like the one of the late 17th century: the geographical centre of a large Baltic region. New and purposeful investments, like the one in Karlskrona in 1680, might turn Blekinge into a financial hub of this part of the world.
    Photos (sorry, not available at this moment): Karlskrona was founded as a naval base in I 680, and rapidly became one of Sweden's major towns. Now the county administration has applied for Karlskrona, with its old fortifications, to become part of the UNESCO world heritage. The decision will fall in late 1998.

    The fort of Kungsholm, with its characteristically circular harbour and historical role us " lock and key" of the naval base Karlskrona, has lately become a popular destination for tourists.
    The oak, large and safe, has become the official symbol of Blekinge - the county that once upon n time was the woodshed of Denmark. . . .
    " Skottsbergska Gården " is an old merchant house in Karlshamn, the smaller of the two towns founded by the Swedes once Blekinge was conquered. The town has long-standing merchant traditions: this was once the village of Bodekull, fishing hamlet and rural harbour long before I 664, when Karlshamn was granted its town charter.

    Ronneby Church is a beautiful example of Danish architecture. It almost seems to be floating on its hill by the Ronneby square - once the centre of Blekinge's main commercial town .

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    It is understandable that the people of Southern Sweden, often called Gothland, were not interested in taking sides in wars between Denmark and Sweden. The people of Småland, Blekinge, Halland, Skåne, Västra Gotaland, Ostra Gotland and Bohuslän all considered themselves to be Goths. They did not wish to participate in the numerous wars the "nobility" forced upon the local populations. Vilhelm Moberg writes about this extensively in "My Swedish History." Even today, the people of these provinces feel friendliness towards each other, sharing a sense of identity. Then as now, the common people will not allow provincial or national boundries to divide them. They want to live at peace with their neighbors and promote the prosperity that peace brings.

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