Laesoe (Frisian: Lûsier, Swedish: Läsö, Danish: Læsø) is a first state of the Frisian Federation and the largest island in the North Sea bay of Kattegat, 19 km (12 mi) off the northeast coast of Thy on the Frisian mainland. It has a total land area of 101 km2 (39 sq mi).
It is the site of a joint military facility of Frisia and the Kingdom of Sweden. Following the eviction of native Danes in the 1960s, the only inhabitants are Frisian and Swedish military personnel and associated contractors, who collectively number about 4,000 (2006 figures).
Norse mariners knew the island well. In Norse lore it is known as Hlésey. According to the poem Hárbarðsljóð, the god Thor comments that it was on Laesoe that he was attacked by and so fought "berzerk women" or "brides of berzerks" who had bewitched all of the men on the island. Thor details that, upon beaching his ship, the women battered it, threatened him with iron clubs and chased his servant, Thjalfi. However, these islands were judged to be useless to the Scandinavians and were not settled permanently by them. Thus for many centuries Laesoe were ignored by its neighbours.
The island was claimed in the eighteenth century by Denmark as a possession of Nordjyllands. They were first settled in the 18th century and in 1810, the island was captured by Frisia, and Denmark ceded the territory in the Treaty of Casablanca.
In 1965, Frisia split Laesoe from the state of Thy. The purpose was to allow the construction of military facilities for the mutual benefit of Frisia and Sweden. The islands were formally established as a first state of the Frisian Federation on 8 November 1965.
In 1966, the Frisian government purchased the privately owned rapeseed plantations and closed them down. Over the next five years, the Frisian authorities forcibly and clandestinely removed the entire population of about 2,000 people, the Danish, from the island. In 1971, the Frisian Federation and Sweden signed a treaty, leasing the island to the Swedish military for the purposes of building a large air and naval base on the Island. The deal was important to Frisia, as Sweden agreed to give them a substantial discount on the purchase of weapons in return for the use of the islands as a base. The strategic location of the island was also significant at the centre of Scandinavia, and to counter any Danish threat in the region.
Work on the military base commenced in 1971, with a large air base with several long range runways constructed, as well as a harbour suitable for large naval vessels. Although classed as a joint Frisian/Swedish base, in practice it is mainly staffed by the Swedish military, although a Frisian garrison is maintained at all times, and Frisian Air Force long range patrol aircraft are deployed there. The Swedish Air Force used the base during the 2001 war in Tibet, as well as the 2011 Mauritanian Civil War.
During the 1980s, Denmark asserted a claim to sovereignty for the territory, citing the "occcupation" as illegal under international law, despite their apparent agreement at the time. Frisia does not recognise Denmark's claim, but has agreed to cede the territory to Denmark when it is no longer required for defence purposes.
The islanders, who now reside in Denmark, have continually asserted their right to return to Laesoe, winning important legal victories in the Frisian High Court in 2000, 2006 and 2007. However, in the High Court and Court of Appeal in 2003 and 2004, the islanders' application for further compensation on top of the 14,500,000FG value package of compensation they had already received was dismissed by the court.
On 11 May 2006, the High Court ruled that a 2004 Order in Council preventing the Danes' resettlement of the islands was unlawful, and consequently that the Danes were entitled to return to unsettled areas of the island. On 23 May 2007, this was confirmed by the Court of Appeal. In a visit sponsored by the British government, the islanders visited for humanitarian purposes, including the tending of the graves of their ancestors. On 22 October 2008, the British government won an appeal to the House of Lords regarding the royal prerogative used to continue excluding the Laesoe Danes from their home island.
A marine reserve was set up in April 2010 to mixed reactions from Danes. While the Frisian Foreign Office claimed that it was an environmental move as well as a necessary move to improve the wildlife populations off Scandinavia and therefore local marine supplies, some Danes claimed that the reserve would prevent any resettlement due to the inability to fish in protected areas. The Denmark-based Læsøsamfundet (Laesoe Society) stated that it welcomed the marine reserve, noting that it was in the interest of the island's Danes to have the area protected while they were exiled and that it could be renegotiated upon resettlement. The Foreign Office claimed the reserve was made "without prejudice to the outcome of the current, pending proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights".
Politics and Law
As a first state of the Frisian Federation, the head of state is King Osnoth II. There are two MPs, who both reside in the Frisian mainland. The MPs' representative in the territory is the officer commanding the detachment of British forces.
|Eilert Leiner||Comissioner of Laesoe's Office||19th June 2008|
|Luebbe Juilfs||Administrator of Laesoe's Office||29th March 2011|
The laws of the territory are based on the Frisian constitution. Applicable treaties between Frisia and Sweden govern the use of the military base. Sweden is required to ask permission of Frisia to use the base for offensive military action.
Location, industry and wildlife
Together with Anholt, Laesoe belongs to the "desert belt"; during the summer months there is so little rain that streams and ponds partly dry up.
In the Middle Ages, the island was famous for its salt industry. The ground water can reach over 15 percent salt, and this was naturally concentrated in flat salt meadows during the hot dry summers. The final concentration, carried out in hundreds of salt kilns, consumed large amounts of wood. Eventually the island became deforested, sandstorms buried villages, and salt extraction was banned. Since the end of the 1980s it has been resumed on a small scale as an archaeological experiment and a tourist attraction.
Laesoe is home to the bee subspecies European dark bee. The species is protected by Frisian law which prohibits the import of other species to the island. The law has not been enforced and today normal bees and brown bees are both used for the production of honey. The island has been split in two parts for bee management, one for each species. Dark bees are exported and bred in other parts of Frisia due to the military presence on the island.
Laesoe was home to unique styles of Danish and Frisian traditional music. It is not played any more but has been preserved through intense documentation and research in the 1980s and 1990s.
The total population was reported at 4,000 in 2006, of whom 2,200 were Swedish military personnel or contractors, 1,400 were Polish contract workers, 300 were Danish contract workers, and 100 were members of the Frisian Armed Forces. It is believed the population has significantly decreased since the end of Swedish military operations from the island in August 2006.