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Kingdom of Denmark

Exit in haste, repent at leisure

During an era when exits are all the rage, it’s worth remembering that there are benefits of keeping a kingdom together
One down. Two to stay?

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The united kingdom that is made up of Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands is the child of negotiations in Kiel, Germany, in 1814, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The negotiations brought to a close hostilities between Great Britain and the Kingdom of Sweden, on the one side, and the Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, on the other.

No-one at that time could have predicted that the negotiations in Kiel would result in Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Denmark being gathered into a single kingdom (and which, until 1944, also included Iceland).

One goal of the negotiations was expected: Norway was to be split from Denmark and given to Sweden as compensation for its loss of Finland, which Russia took in 1809. Norway was to be Sweden’s reward for taking part in the hostilities as the ally of Britain and Russia, its former adversary.

SEE RELATED: Why is Greenland a part of the Danish kingdom?

It was also expected that Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland would all come under British control, given that Britain had controlled the North Atlantic since 1807. After more than a millennium of Scandinavian influence in the North Atlantic, it was time for Britain, the world’s leading sea power of the day, to once and for all claim sole dominion over the North Atlantic. An era had come to a close.

Were things to have gone that way, the Faroe Islands would today be ruled from London. Greenland from Ottawa.

That it did not happen like that is a matter of a last-minute decision on the part of the British negotiator. Great Britain, it turned out, wasn’t interested in controlling Greenland or the Faroe Islands. Even less so a rebellious Iceland, which had been making trouble about its status since 1807. No, the North Atlantic islands were instead to be given to diminutive Denmark, sitting on the edge of the European continent. Britain’s word at that time was law, and, with the signing of the Treaty of Kiel, the Kingdom of Denmark was born.

Historically speaking, it was a miracle. Had Greenland become a part of the British empire in 1814, Greenlandic language and culture would have been neglected and left to wither. Instead, all four countries embarked on a path of cultural, linguistic and political awareness that continues to this day.

SEE RELATED: An independence day waiting to happen

Ever since the formation of the Kingdom of Denmark, the country of Denmark has helped to build up Greenland’s economy, in both the good times and the bad, and it has made sure that living standards there are not much different from in the rest of the kingdom. Had Greenland become part of the British Empire – and, after 1931, a part of Canada – things probably would have gone much differently: the news we hear from Canada’s territories, and in particular Nunavut, with its majority Inuit population, is rarely up-lifting.

For the Faroe Islands, being a part of Britain would likely have meant that Faroese as a language would have been forced out by English, in precisely the same way that the people of the Orkney and Shetland islands, who after first becoming Scottish subjects in the 15th century, later fell under the British crown, lost their Norse languages.

Likewise, today, it is the Faroese Merkið that flies over Tórshavn. Had things gone differently, it would be the Union Jack that would be waving proudly over Thorshavn. The Faroe Islands would have become a part of the EU in 1973, just as the Orkney and Shetland islands are today – and, also like the Orkney and Shetland islands are today, be tangled up in Brexit.

For Denmark proper, being the metropole of a multinational kingdom meant that it was considered a North Atlantic and polar power, even though its coast lies far from the Atlantic and the Arctic. This has given Denmark both a sense of confidence and a sense of connection. Had it not been for the Faroe Islands or Greenland, Denmark would have been just another rump European state, the likes of Lichtenstein or Luxembourg. Being part of a kingdom together has been a gift for Danish science and culture.

SEE RELATED: Lessons of the Caribbean

Given that all three countries have benefitted to the degree they have from being a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, one would think that there would be more support than there is for keeping it together. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

In Denmark, there is minimal interest in the Faroe Islands or Greenland. Meanwhile, both the Faroe Islands and Greenland are discussing their independence and whether to draw up their own constitutions.

In closing, I urge people to think carefully over what dissolving the Kingdom of Denmark would mean, and whether they really want to see a North Atlantic Brexit.

For the Faroe Islands, not being a part of the Kingdom of Denmark would mean being pulled closer to the United Kingdom, and its chaotic situation.

For Greenland, the first consequence would be the elimination of its annual subsidy from Copenhagen and a dramatic decline in the standard of living. Currently, the subsidy amounts to 3.7 billion kroner ($580 million) and the prospects of replacing it any time soon are minimal.

SEE RELATED: Looking back

The other thing to keep in mind is that Greenlandic ‘independence’ would only extend so far. It could hardly escape being drawn into the US sphere of influence, given Washington’s strategic and military interests there. If this happens, Greenland can look forward to a future as a neglected territory, not unlike the Virgin Islands (which Denmark, coincidently, sold told to the US in 1917) and which to this day can claim little more representation in Washington than a non-voting representative in Congress.

Compare that with Greenland’s current situation: it has two full-fledged members of the Folketing, Denmark’s national assembly. In the current political situation, in which the Danish government holds a single seat majority, one of the two MPs has even managed to position herself into the role of kingmaker.

And what about Denmark? Without Greenland, without the Faroe Islands, without the Kingdom of Denmark, it would become what everyone in 1814 expected it would become, yet narrowly avoided: a tiny little principality on the edge of the European continent.

Together, we are stronger. Much stronger than we can imagine. Alone, we are weak. Much weaker than we can imagine.

The author is a historian and a former lecturer at Ilisimatusarfik/The University of Greenland.

The commentary above is an excerpt from a speech given during a January 12 rally in support of the Kingdom of Denmark.