It may come as a surprise to many Shetlanders that they are in the middle of the largest state in western Europe. Denmark proper may be a small part of Scandinavia, but it also controls massive sections of the North Atlantic, through the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Greenland is the largest island in the world, after Australia, and since it too is Danish-controlled, the Danish state's combined land area is much larger than either France, Germany or Spain. In the past, two of Shetland's other neighbours – Norway and Iceland were also controlled by Denmark due to the consequences of the Kalmar Union. Sweden has been ruled by Denmark too, especially the southern part. When Shetlanders talk about their link with Scandinavia, it is generally Norway that they think of, yet it is highly likely, that if Orkney and Shetland had not been taken by Scotland, that it would be Denmark, and not Norway which would be ruling them now. This is because Denmark took all of Norway's main North Atlantic territories – including Iceland and the Faroes – and incorporated them directly into the Kingdom of Denmark.
Denmark in Europe
Of all the Nordic countries, Denmark is perhaps the least peripheral in relation to the rest of western Europe, in both cultural and historical terms. There are several reasons for this – firstly, Denmark controls the channels leading between the Baltic and the North Sea; secondly, it is the furthest south, and is physically connected to the main section of western Europe; thirdly, its control over most of the other Nordic countries (it never ruled Finland) at some time or another, meant that it allowed it to dictate exactly what role they were to take in Europe. While Sweden has had a notable role in European history, its focus has generally been to the east, on Baltic shores.
Much of Denmark proper consists of islands, but a considerable section, Jutland, is joined to continental Europe. The southern section of this, Schleswig-Holstein, has changed hands regularly between Denmark, and German states over the centuries. This means that traditionally there have been districts of Germany with Danish speakers, and parts of Jutland, which had native German speakers. There is also a third language, Frisian, spoken by a minority of people in the south west – dialects of this language can be found along the North Sea coast along to the Netherlands. Denmark's geographical position has put it in a precarious position during the two world wars, and it was for a while completely occupied by Germany. (While this was going on, the Allies, particularly Britain, occupied Iceland, Greenland and the Faroes. This set up led to independence for Iceland, and considerable autonomy for the Faroes.) Also, because of its southerly position, Danish is perhaps the closest of the Nordic languages to German. Denmark itself is in the European Union, while Greenland and the Faroes are out of it.