Green­land fu­eled for in­de­pen­dence

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY JOSHUA KUCERA

NUUK, Green­land | The world’s largest is­land, Green­land, took a step to­ward be­com­ing an in­de­pen­dent coun­try June 21 by for­mally tak­ing over re­spon­si­bil­ity for its in­ter­nal af­fairs — in­clud­ing con­trol over what are thought to be sub­stan­tial oil re­serves — from Den­mark, which col­o­nized it nearly 300 years ago.

At a cer­e­mony in Green­land’s cap­i­tal, Nuuk, Queen Mar­grethe II of Den­mark, wear­ing the tra­di­tional Green­landic cos­tume of a mul­ti­col­ored, beaded top over seal­skin pants and boots, handed over the Act on Green­land Self Gov­ern­ment to the head of Green­land’s Par­lia­ment, Jozef Motzfeldt.

Green­land al­ready has ex­er­cised some au­ton­omy, beginning in 1979, when it first gained “home rule” from Den­mark. But some key gov­ern­ment re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, in­clud­ing the jus­tice sys­tem and con­trol over the coun­try’s min­eral and petroleum re­sources, re­mained un­der Dan­ish con­trol or in­flu­ence. Green­land now takes over those rights.

In ad­di­tion, Green­landic (closely re­lated to the lan­guage spo­ken by Inuit in Canada) will be the sole of­fi­cial lan­guage.

Self-gov­ern­ment is “a sym­bol of the dreams of the Green­landic peo­ple,” Mr. Motzfeldt said at the cer­e­mony. “We have achieved the right of con­trol of our sub­soil, and we ex­pect in the years to come that this will be a sup­ple­ment to lay the foun­da­tion for an eco­nom­i­cally in­de­pen­dent Green­land.”

Se­ri­ous oil ex­plo­ration has only re­cently be­gun off Green­land’s coast, aided in part by the melt­ing of the sea ice due to global warm­ing. Oil has not been found, but es­ti­mates, in­clud­ing those of the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, sug­gest that Green­land could have about 50 bil­lion bar­rels of oil.

Green­land’s pop­u­la­tion is 56,000, so if the oil es­ti­mates prove cor­rect, the is­land would con­trol nearly one mil­lion bar­rels of oil per per­son. It would be a stag­ger­ing leap for a peo­ple who, un­til World War II, were sub­sist­ing al­most en­tirely as seal hun­ters and fish­er­men.

To­day, Green­land has lim­ited eco­nomic op­tions, and com­mer­cial shrimp­ing ac­counts for the bulk of its ex­ports.

Den­mark cur­rently pro­vides a large sub­sidy to Green­land’s gov­ern­ment — about $700 mil­lion this year or more than $10,000 for ev­ery per­son in Green­land. The sub­sidy makes up about 60 per­cent of the gov­ern­ment bud­get.

But when and if oil rev­enues start to come in, Den­mark will re­duce the sub­sidy ac­cord­ingly. When the sub­sidy is fully paid off, Green­land of­fi­cials say, they will be­gin to se­ri­ously dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of be­com­ing an in­de­pen­dent coun­try.

Den­mark, which had to ap­prove the self-gov­ern­ment act and would also have to ap­prove in­de­pen­dence for Green­land, has not ob­jected.

“For sev­eral hun­dred years, we’ve had a strong re­la­tion­ship be­tween Green­land and Den­mark, and we’re looking for­ward to con­tin­u­ing that re­la­tion­ship,” said Lars Lokke Ras­mussen, Den­mark’s prime min­is­ter, in a press con­fer­ence af­ter the cer­e­mony. “The ques­tion of in­de­pen­dence is not the is­sue to­day, but it is to­tally up to the Green­landic peo­ple.”

Green­land hosts a large U.S. radar fa­cil­ity at Thule, built dur­ing the Cold War as part of the early-warn­ing radar sys­tem and re­cently up­graded as part of the na­tional mis­sile-de­fense pro­gram. Some Green­lan­ders have ob­jected to the pres­ence of the air base, sug­gest­ing it could make Green­land a tar­get.

The sta­tus of the air base should not change as a re­sult of self-gov­ern­ment, said Green­land Prime Min­is­ter Ku­upik Kleist.

“We’ve had a long re­la­tion­ship with the United States, some­times trou­ble­some, but we’ve re­newed our agree­ment be­tween Den­mark, the United States and Green­land, and it is a pos­i­tive one,” he said. “We will look for­ward to de­vel­op­ing this agree­ment fur­ther.”

The im­pact of global warm­ing has been felt in Green­land more than al­most any­where else on Earth, but the re­ac­tion has been mixed. Green­land’s po­lit­i­cal leaders re­fer to the cli­mate change as both a threat and an op­por­tu­nity.

In the north, where the econ­omy is still based largely on sub­sis­tence hunt­ing and fish­ing, peo­ple have suf­fered be­cause the warm­ing cli­mate has short­ened the win­ter hunt­ing sea­son, when hard ice is needed for dog sleds. An­i­mals’ tra­di­tional mi­gra­tion pat­terns also have been al­tered.

But in south­ern Green­land, the agri­cul­tural grow­ing sea­son is get­ting eas­ier, and the gov­ern­ment is ex­per­i­ment­ing with new crops such as turnips, broc­coli, cau­li­flower, let­tuce and straw­ber­ries.

Global warm­ing also has helped spur the po­ten­tial oil boom in Green­land — and as a re­sult, the drive for in­de­pen­dence — by melt­ing the sea ice that used to make it treach­er­ous to prospect off the coast. It has also opened up pos­si­bil­i­ties for min­ing.

One lead and zinc mine in north­ern Green­land was ex­posed by a re­treat­ing glacier, and an­other on the north­ern coast only re­cently has be­come reach­able by ship.

Green­land’s gov­ern­ment adopted self-gov­er­nance af­ter 76 per­cent of Green­land’s vot­ers ap­proved the plan a ref­er­en­dum in Novem­ber 2008.

The re­cent elec­tion of a new, younger gov­ern­ment has bol­stered en­thu­si­asm for self-gov­ern­ment. A sin­gle party, Si­u­mut, had held power for 30 years, and had suf­fered through cor­rup­tion scan­dals and wide­spread crony­ism. But in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions ear­lier this month, Si­u­mut was voted out.

The new gov­ern­ment, con­trolled by the So­cial­ist Inuit Ataqatigiit party, has sev­eral min­is­ters in their 20s and 30s. Sev­eral Green­lan­ders in­ter­viewed in Nuuk said the ex­cite­ment over the new gov­ern­ment made self-gov­ern­ment all the sweeter, com­par­ing it to glas­nost at the end of the Soviet Union.

“I voted ‘no’ [on the ref­er­en­dum] be­cause I didn’t like the deal and I didn’t like the politi­cians who were in charge. I thought that things won’t get bet­ter with self-rule. But now that we got a new Par­lia­ment, I’m re­ally happy,” said Maria Paninguak Kjaerulff, a painter in Nuuk who re­cently grad­u­ated from col­lege. “You know how when Obama was elected, you couldn’t quite be­lieve it? It’s the same way here. There’s just a re­ally good en­ergy in the so­ci­ety now.”

Many Green­lan­ders spoke of the pride of work­ing to get free of the Dan­ish sub­sidy, which pro­s­elf-gov­ern­ment cam­paign­ers called a “pil­low,” al­low­ing Green­lan­ders to rest rather than work­ing to build their coun­try up.

“Peo­ple will have to be re­spon­si­ble for their own sit­u­a­tion now,” said Mette Krin­stensen, a cloth­ing de­signer. “Peo­ple blame ev­ery­thing on this — ‘I drink, but it’s be­cause we were a colony for so long.’ It’s a crutch we’ve been re­ly­ing on too long. If you’re in­de­pen­dent you have to solve your prob­lems your­self.”


Den­mark’s Queen Mar­grethe II, wear­ing a tra­di­tional Green­landic cos­tume, and her hus­band, Prince Hen­rik, cel­e­brate a new era of self-rule for Green­land June 21 in the is­land’s cap­i­tal, Nuuk.


A pro­ces­sion carr ying Green­landic flags makes its way to the colo­nial har­bor as part of the cer­e­mony in Nuuk.

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