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No-one ever expected that Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s premier, was going to pursue independence as doggedly as his predecessor, who, in a now famous statement, once said that she hoped to see the country break free of Denmark in her lifetime.
Nevertheless, it caught many people off guard when Mr Kielsen, while on an official visit to Japan earlier this month, made it clear that implementing independence would be a job for the next generation of his country’s leaders.
The statement is in keeping with the position that he has held all along: that independence remains the ultimate goal, but that there are more fundamental issues, including housing, education, employment and economic development, that must be addressed first.
Few could doubt the importance an independent Greenland plays for Mr Kielsen; in his most recent statement about the matter, he described it as “a light in his heart that shines as brightly as new fallen snow on a sunny day”. It was a poetic defence of his position, but also a necessary one. His comment in Japan had left some back in Nuuk wondering about his commitment to the process.
Since returning, the debate over independence has flared up after laying dormant since the November general election, and Mr Kielsen appeared to be losing the confidence of powerful figures within his party.
“If Kim Kielsen in Japan has called off the independence movement, I’ll gladly discuss the matter with him,” said Lars-Emil Johannesen, another former premier and the current speaker of the national legislature, upon hearing of his apparent hestiation.
Mr Kielsen, however, cautions against confusing his message with the media’s interpretation of it. He blames the sudden uncertainty on a headline, published on the website of Sermitsiaq, a national newspaper and this website’s sister publication, which he felt overstated his position.
The headline purported that the comments in Japan amounted to setting the independence process on stand-by. Mr Kielsen, speaking at a press conference yesterday to address the matter, underscored that this was in no way the case.
“Greater autonomy and political independence will always be the result of the work we, together, do to establish a country of our own.”
The position that Greenland is in the midst of a process that, someday, will end in independence is one that is widely held among many in the country. For some, like Aleqa Hammond, Mr Kielsen’s immediate predecessor, it is a process that cannot go fast enough. She went so far as to equate Mr Kielsen's statment with uncessary foot-dragging.
“There are other things than money that can be used to build a country upon,” she wrote on Facebook.
Those in Mr Kielsen’s camp favour getting the country’s other affairs in order first. Once that happens, they argue, it should be up to the next generation to decide whether to declare independence.
“I’m not one for setting a date on when Greenland should declare its independence,” Mr Kielsen said. “That’s not important. The challenges of the present have me focused on today. What’s important is that we keep working and don’t lose sight of our goal.”