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If the people of Greenland find themselves looking south to the US Virgin Islands this week, it will likely have less to do with interest in taking a Caribbean holiday than it will with how Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the Danish PM, recognises the country’s past as the islands’ colonial masters.
March 31 marks the 100th anniversary of the transfer of what, up to that date, were known as the Danish West Indies to Washington’s control. In the process, the islands become a US territory, a status they hold today.
Mr Rasmussen will be on hand during ceremonies commemorating the transfer. As the day has approached, there have been increasing calls for him to make an official apology to the descendants of the 100,000 slaves Danes brought to the islands during 245 years of colonial rule, and to compensate the islands for the wealth they created for their Danish owners.
Mr Rasmussen has called Denmark’s past in the West Indies a “shameful period”, but if its attitude toward Greenland is indicative, he is unlikely to utter an apology, let alone go full out and offer compensation; in 2013, Copenhagen declined Nuuk’s invitation to participate in a reconciliation commission, intended to put that country’s colonial period to rest for good.
Helle Thorning Schmidt, the PM at the time, defended her decision, arguing “we don’t need reconciliation.” Mr Rasmussen may come to the same conclusion about his country’s need to make an apology. That, unfortunately, would ignore the fact that the descendants of the people it enslaved want one.