Friday April 28, 2017

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The View from Copenhagen
Michael Keldsen
The View from Copenhagen

Friendly advice

Greenland lawmakers would do well to keep in mind that their relationship with Denmark is first and foremost a political one

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Siumut, Greenland’s largest political party, appears to have misunderstood the country’s relationship with Denmark.

Shortly before Christmas, Jens-Erik Kirkegaard (pictured above, at right), one of the party’s leaders in the national assembly, wrote in an op-ed published by Sermitsiaq, a newspaper owned by this website’s parent company, that Greenland and Denmark “had built up a friendship over the course of many years”. The rest of the piece goes on to explain what it means to be a friend, and what happens when one of the friends (in this case Denmark and the Danes) becomes arrogant.

To say that the relationship between Denmark and Greenland is “based on friendship” displays a complete lack of understanding of the situation. The relationship is not a friendship; it is a political construction, enshrined in 1953 in the most recent Danish constitution, and reiterated in the 2009 Self-Rule Act. No more, no less.

SEE RELATED: Greenland to remain close to Denmark

This is something that the Self-Rule Authority, in fact, goes to lengths to make sure is respected. As do authorities in Copenhagen. The most recent example of this can be found in an article in the issue of Sermitsiaq as the one in which Mr Kirkegaard’s op-ed appeared. The article describes Nuuk’s dissatisfaction with the Danish Foreign Ministry for stating that Greenlandic approval of a major mining project was in keeping with the devolution agreements between the two countries.

Personally, I have no opinion about what the correct thing to do so in this specific instance would have been, but, in general, I feel that it is in keeping with the obligations the Self-Rule Authority has taken upon itself – as well as those of the authorities in Copenhagen – to remove all doubt about who is responsible for what.

Friendship is something entirely different. For better or for worse, the friendship between Greenland and Denmark is built upon 300 years of familial relations and the individual experience of those who left one country to seek new adventures, an education, a new future or something else entirely in the other. This has nothing to do with the political structure that links the two countries.

Unlike the personal relations between Denmark and Greenland, the formal relationship between the two can be changed quite simply; it would require little more than a referendum, either among Danes or Greenlanders. Compared with something like Brexit, Greenlandic independence would be quick and easy.

SEE RELATED: Free to decide for themselves

As one who lives in the southern part of the Kingdom of Denmark, I note an increasing attitude towards Greenland that – unfortunately – resembles same populist movement we’ve seen take hold in Europe and in America as people become increasingly dissatisfied with immigration, globalisation, off-shoring, increasing inequality and many of the other societal developments of the past several decades.

This growing movement has set up the potential for the political rejection of anything that is deemed ‘foreign’ in some way. Were such a situation to arise, there would be no holy cows. In the case of Greenland, this could have unfortunate consequences; imagine if a populist government came to power in Copenhagen. We could very well see the establishment of a Ministry for the Winding Down of the Kingdom.

That is something I’d prefer not to have happen – and neither is it my intention to suggest that unless Greenland toes the line it will face consequences. On the other hand, would I would like to see is a Greenland is headed that is based more on fact and realism than it is on indignation and an attempt to score points. The only thing that leads to is Dane-bashing.

SEE RELATED: To have and to hold on to

In his op-ed, Mr Kirkegaard was up in arms over the fact that not everyone in Greenland speaks Greenlandic. Everyone has their own pet peeve, of course, but if you believe that requiring everyone to speak Greenlandic has benefits, then you’re going to need to accept that it will have consequences as well, not least in the form of emigration of those who don’t speak Greenlandic.

As a counter-example, it’s worth bringing up the experience of Novo Nordisk, one of Denmark’s largest companies, and the employer of 45,000 people world-wide (almost the same as the population of Greenland). Some 17,000 Novo Nordisk employees work in Denmark, including a large number of foreigners. Now, would you expect that Novo Nordisk requires its foreign employees in Denmark to learn Danish? No, of course not. In fact, English is the corporate language: you can’t get a job there if you don’t speak English.

Has this undermined Danish society in any way, or detracted from the contribution Novo Nordisk makes the economy? What do you think?

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

Photo: Leiff Josefsen