"I think like a Dane but live like a Swede.” In one line, Lars summoned his identity as we sat facing each other in the train. Outside, the rain drops moulded into veins over the glass window of the train. We were crossing a slice of the Baltic Sea and were somewhere in between Sweden and Denmark. It was during the 17 minutes that its takes to cross from a country to another that we started talking. “I am an Öresund citizen,” said Lars. The Öresund region comprises the eastern part of Denmark (Zealand mostly) and southern part of Sweden (Skåne), and is signified by the Copenhagen-Malmö axis. Until 1658, the Skåne region of Sweden was under Danish rule, when following a defeat in the second Northern War, Denmark had to concede it to Sweden.
“The bridge has expanded the job market considerably. We can now live in Sweden and work in Denmark. The Öresund region now contributes 25-27 per cent of Denmark’s and Sweden’s GDP. What else, Danes now can access the cheap housing on the Swedish side.” Lars persisted that the global economics has shaped a new identity for people of the two nations. The concrete and steel factor that had brought upon this transformation was the Öresund Bridge over which we were coursing, and which was often, in political circles, referred to as the bridge of reconciliation. The 7.8 km-long Öresund Bridge connects the southern tip of Sweden to Denmark. In good humour, the Danes call this area the “pepper island” to complement the natural island of Saltholm (Salt Island) to its North.
More than a sea link
The Öresund Bridge is much more than a sea link, as I found out. “They call us love refugees in Denmark”, said Carsten when I asked him what it means for him to cross the bridge daily for work. Carsten is a Dane but lives in south Malmö with his wife, a Pakistani lady, who does not have a residence permit in Denmark. Refusing to leave either his country or his wife, Carsten shifted to the other side of the bridge with his family though he continued to work in his motherland, Denmark. Thus, he became a “love refugee”.
Denmark has peculiar rules around immigration — one being that if a Dane marries a woman from outside EU, especially from a developing country, then it is extremely difficult for the newlywed to get the residence permit. No surprise then that Malmö has become a nest for thousands of such Danish “love refugees” and the Öresund Bridge is a consequential character in their love stories.
Nitin Chaudhary is a freelance writer based in Malmö, Sweden