Thursday May 25, 2017

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The View from Copenhagen
Michael Keldsen
The View from Copenhagen


No-one is going to oppose Greenlandic independence. That is why it is so important that its leaders plot the country’s course wisely
A ghost of politics-yet-to-come (Photo: Theodore Saramandis)

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We live in an age when wide swaths of the electorate are hungry for a new way of being governed. Their basic argument is that our current forms of government, based on a democratic tradition that is over 200 years old, have either failed entirely or have failed to live up to meet the expectations that they could solve problems that have followed in the wake of societal developments the likes of globalisation.

This hunger has led Britain to make its way toward the EU’s exit. In the US, it meant the election of Donald Trump as the country’s next president. With elections in France and Germany scheduled for next year, the string of unpleasant outcomes may yet continue.

The impacts of these electoral upheavals remain to be fully understood. In Britain, we have seen the first signs that the economy is coming in for a hard landing. Depending on your political standpoint, you can either choose to shrug off this development as a consequence of a legitimate referendum in which a majority voted to take the country in a new direction, and that this majority, before voting, was, one, fully informed itself of the consequences of such a decision and, two, prepared to accept the situation, should it turn out worse than expected.

SEE RELATED: Are the voters always right?

What if that weren’t the case? What if someone was selling voters a form of populism that based its arguments on something else entirely, such as criticism of specific societal groups: immigrants, the elite, politicians, the EU, the nation-state or what have you.

If this is the case, the election results risk being determined less by considerations of what is best for society as a whole than they are by people’s positions on narrowly defined causes or their fears.

And just who is it is responsible for the rise of populism? Any number of people and organisations are implicated. The media, populist lawmakers, lobby groups or even our own emotions. Regardless of where it came from, populism has reached a level unseen in recent history.

Although voters in Greenland have yet to cast a ballot during these uncertain political times, the wave of populism is lapping at its shores. The genie was let out of the bottle during the formation of the current governing coalition, in October, when the three party leaders declared unilaterally – and without the input of the electorate – that the process of independence had reached the point of no return. The political manifestation of this declaration was the establishment of an independence minister and, soon after, a constitutional commission.

SEE RELATED: Greenland independence “a task for the next generation”

Personally, I have nothing against Greenlandic independence, neither as an individual nor fellow subject of the Kingdom of Denmark. But what I am opposed to is the tendency to base the march towards independence on a disdain for the kingdom and for Danes. Still, what I find even more worrying is that discussions about Greenland’s independence are not based on a realistic assessment of how it can function as an independent state.

One concern is, of course, what will happen after Greenland loses its annual subsidy from Copenhagen, which I would think would be something Danes would demand once Greenland is no longer a part of the kingdom.

An even bigger concern is whether Greenlandic society has the proper moral, educational and democratic foundation upon which an independent country can be built.

As far as I see it, the new governing coalition’s platform is as sign that Greenland’s lawmakers lack the institutional maturity to govern. Being an elected representative requires not just accepting the consequences of independence. It also requires taking responsibility for coming up with a plan for bringing it to fruition. We’ve heard plenty of eloquent speeches in favour of independence and verbal attacks against the Kingdom of Denmark. But what we haven’t heard is a clear plan for how Greenland will administer and pay for the one thing its people wish for most.

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Mentioning independence in its governing platform makes it clear that the coalition fails to understand that independence is not something that can be given to Greenland; it is something Greenland must take. No-one is going to oppose Greenland’s independence, not least because this is a right that has been written into its self-rule agreement with Denmark. The consequence of this, however, is that once the decision is taken, it is irreversible. There is no going back.

Again: there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Greenland’s march towards independence. It only becomes a problem once independence becomes a goal in and of itself. The problem with paying too much attention to independence is that it means lawmakers risk paying too little attention the pressing issues Greenland faces right now.

The author is a Danish barrister and a columnist for Sermtisiaq newspaper, which is owned by this website’s parent company.