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Research into the history of the Cold War

 
 

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The „Cork“ in the Baltic Sea.
 

 
 

 

The military importance of Denmark is based on its geographical location: Denmark can control the shipping into and out of the Baltic Sea. During the years of the Cold War, this fact was equally important for both the USA and the Soviet Union. In Danish history, conflicts for the control of its waterways (the “bottleneck” in the Baltic Sea) have always played an important role. The Danes only controlled them during a relatively short period – under Kings Frederic II (1559-1588) and Christian IV (1588 – 1648). For many years, these seaways to the Baltic were controlled by the British Navy. During the Second World War, the Great Belt and the Oresund were very important for both the German and the British Fleets.

Then the Cold War started: In times of war as well as of peace, the Soviet Union depended heavily on unhindered passage through the Danish waterways. Therefore, the USA and NATO wanted to insert a “stopper” into the Baltic Sea, in order to prevent the Soviet fleet units from exiting it. In case of war, both the Great Belt and the Oresund could be closed off by means of minefields. This procedure would have constituted a breach of international law, because both passages are international waterways. This would have left the Soviet Union with no other choice than to remove these minefields. To prevent this from happening, two fortresses, Stevnsfort and Langelandsfort, were built. If a major crisis should have led to a war, Denmark would have become a theatre in a war which could have caused more serious damage than ever before, because both NATO and the Warsaw Pact would have considered the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons.

At the end of the cold war, access to the East-German military archives was obtained. There they found war plans, which showed that the Soviet Union planned to attack Denmark with massive use of chemical and nuclear weapons. Even military leaders were surprised by this theoretical heavy use of nuclear weapons, completely disregarding the serious losses, also on the Soviet side. Both spear heads of the attack, Falster and Køge, as well as Langelandsfort and Stevnsfort, would have been subjected to attacks with nuclear arms.

 

 

 

 
 

Langelandsfort and the Cold War.

 
     
 

 

The Cold War had its origins in the Second World War and continued until the downfall of the Eastern Block in the 1990’s. In contrast to the Second World War, which was characterized by overt acts of war, the Cold War was characterized by covert actions. However, during the Cold War there were wars and crises as well, such as the Korea War, the Vietnam War and the Cuban Rocket Crisis. The Langelandsfort played an important role in the latter conflict. In Europe, the civilian population lived in steadily increasing material wealth. At the same time, they felt the cold war as a politically uncomfortable undercurrent and realized that even a small mistake could well lead to a nuclear apocalypse.

Denmark played an important role during the Cold War, due to its geopolitical position: near the GDR and the waterways through which the Warsaw Pact ships had to pass in case of a conflict. Langelandsfort and Stevnsfort were two coastal artillery fortresses, which had to guard these waters and, if necessary, fire upon enemy ships. Consequently, espionage activities on Danish territory were much more intense than the civilian population was aware of at the time. The activities of the Danish Intelligence Service outside the borders of their country were also much more than one would normally expect. A well-informed, high-ranking Eastern intelligence source (Myagkov) estimates the number of East-European agents in Denmark during the Cold War at 5000.

The cold undercurrent was also noticeable in the art and culture of that time. “Ufarlige historier“ (“Undangerous Stories”), written by Villy Sørensen in 1955, contains the story entitled “Soldatens juleaften“ (a soldier’s Christmas Eve), which tells about a soldier who jumps out of an airplane by parachute on Christmas eve, holding a nuclear bomb under his arm. But painters, sculptors, musicians and actors expressed their fear as well, sometimes with sardonic humour, like in Stanley Kubricks 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb".

The remarkable development of the Scandinavian welfare state must probably be seen as part of a social democratic government’s strategy, which wanted to ensure that Soviet-style communism would not become an attractive alternative for its citizens. The one-family house with garden, charter-flights to the South etc. should be seen in the light of this strategy. A certain amount of healthy rivalry between the East and the West, concerning such issues as liberty and prosperity, was visible in the more liberal lifestyle of young Scandinavian people, who were given the opportunity to visit jazz clubs and enjoy themselves.

During the last ten years, the Cold War museum at Langelandsfort was changed from a badly maintained, decommissioned military installation into an up to date museum of the Cold War. The number of visitors now approaches 40.000 persons per year and still seems to be increasing.  The main focus of interest is on the military installations and the international politics around the Cuban Rocket Crisis, in which Langelandsfort played an important part, because it was from this fortress that the Soviet ships, carrying rockets on their way to Cuba, were discovered and President Kennedy was informed.

The second phase in the development of the fortress, which is being planned for the next ten years, will focus on providing information about espionage, the activities of agents and the nuclear strategy of the Cold War, as well as their effects on the civilian population, their everyday life, art and culture and the peace movements, which came into existence mainly because of the Vietnam war. The new exhibition will provide the public with a balanced view of the living conditions on both sides of the iron curtain. Several exiting themes are being prepared, in co-operation with the museum’s partners at home and abroad.

The decentralised position of the museum in the present day landscape is important from a point of view of information because it shows the political tensions in the cultural landscape of the Cold War, which lost their importance after the end of that war. The museum wishes to add a research department to the fortress, in order to ensure that Research and Information together build a centre, oriented mainly on Northern Europe and at the same time a memorial to the Cold War in the Baltic area with permanent as well as changing exhibitions.

 

 

 
     
     
 

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