Coming together at Dybbøl, 18 April 1864
In the on-going 150th anniversary of the 1864 Danish-Prussian War, no date is more symbolic than April 18. This is the date of the decisive Danish defeat at Dybbøl in which the besieged, outnumbered and outgunned Danes were driven from mainland Jutland and the war effectively won for the Prussians and their Austrian allies.
On Dybbøl Day in 2014, the commemoration activities usually arranged and accommodated by the Danish Armed Forces (see gallery from 2012 here) were significantly increased in size and scope. In effect, instead of being a local-regional matter hosted by the commander of the Sønderborg Sergeant School – an institution that had, ironically, been abandoned a few weeks prior as the result of budget cuts in the Danish Army – this year the anniversary was a matter of national attention. Spearheaded by the Danish Queen, the Crown Prince, the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, the traditional military wreath-laying ceremony and subsequent ‘civil ceremony’ in the Dybbøl Hills turned into a sort of celebrity spotting exercise for the 15.000-strong audience on the chilly spring day.
The symbolic weight of the Danish delegation, however, also caused some concern. The 1864-2014 anniversary has been insistently branded as a bi-national affair, a ‘contemporary, forward-looking and transboundary’ marking, to use the words of Danish regional politician Carl Holst. But on the symbolic day itself, no official German counterparts to the Danish heads-of-state were to be seen, despite invitations having gone out to both German and Austrian leaders on Chancellor and presidential levels. Instead, the ‘Other’ voices were restricted to the German ambassador to Denmark and the (regional) Minister-President of Schleswig-Holstein. Clearly, the persistent stressing of cross-border importance from the Danish side could not hide the fact that ‘1864’ as a cultural point of reference does not ring a lot of bells in larger Germany (or indeed Austria). Thus, despite a polite and diplomatic rhetoric of reconciliation and of coming together, in actual practice Dybbøl seems to remain a very Danish site and symbol.