The Right to National Self-Determination: The Faroe Islands and Greenland

The Right to National Self-Determination: The Faroe Islands and Greenland

The Right to National Self-Determination: The Faroe Islands and Greenland

The Right to National Self-Determination: The Faroe Islands and Greenland


What are the Faroese and the Greenlanders? Are they peoples in their own right, indigenous peoples or Danish minorities? And what is their status under international law? Do they have the right to national self-determination? And if so, what does this right include? This volume describes the constitutional history of the Faroes and Greenland, it analyses the current international status of the two countries and compares it to countries in similar situations, and looks at how Denmark has administered the sovereignty of its dependencies. It thus sheds new light on a constitutional arrangement that by some is described as, democratic, creative and imaginative, and by others is deemed colonial. But the book also deals with the status of non-sovereign polities and the right to self-determination in general, as well as with the current attitude of the UN towards such matters. It thus offers insights which can be of value for other countries, struggling with the issue, as well as scholars working in this field.


Sjúrður Skaale

Denmark — or “Denmark Proper” — is in itself a small state. It has a population of around 5.4 million people, and the total land and sea area of the country of Denmark is 149,000 square kilometres. Add to that, however, the northern dependencies which, together with Denmark Proper, form “All the Parts of the Danish Realm,” and an altogether larger picture emerges.

The Faroes, or the Faroe Islands, encompass only 1,400 square kilometers of land that are populated by 48,000 people. But the total land and sea area of the Faroes is 268,900 square kilometres, almost twice the size of Denmark. in Greenland there are 57,000 people, but geographically Greenland dwarfs Denmark with its whopping 4,430,000 square kilometres of land and sea, thirty times the size of continental Denmark.’

Consequently, both Greenland and the Faroes contribute to making the State of Denmark a very large state in geographical terms. Through their size and strategic location, Greenland and the Faroes, both during the Second WorldWar and throughout the Cold War, have lent enormous geopolitical importance to Denmark. By virtue of the combined size of those two territories, Denmark was able, first, to be counted as an Allied State, and then, to make significant contributions to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The State of Denmark, or the Realm of Denmark as the constitutional text refers to it, is thus a state where 97 per cent of the geographical mass lies outside the political centre. These waste areas make Denmark Proper appear as an enclave far away from its main geographical centre.

The Danish Constitution has an odd relationship with this reality. Originally written at a time when Denmark was a constitutional conglomerate with even more associated countries, the text can, and will by Danish nationalists, be interpreted as a constitution of a centralised and homogenous state without significant subdivisions.

1 Sjúrður Skaale, who works for the North Atlantic Group in the Danish Parliament, has been the Secretary of the Working Group that has written this report. He has a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Copenhagen, is a former editor and journalist, and former Advisor to the Faroese Government.

2 Numbers provided by the Danish land register institute, Kort og Matrikelstyrelsen.

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