Magazine article History Today

Independent Means: Kathryn Hadley on the History Behind Greenland's Recent Referendum

Magazine article History Today

Independent Means: Kathryn Hadley on the History Behind Greenland's Recent Referendum

Article excerpt

In November last year, over 75 per cent of Greenland's 39,000 voters answered 'yes' in a referendum on the expansion of self-rule.

At the beginning of May 2008, the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen travelled to Greenland to present a report setting out the path to full sovereignty for the vast territory. It included plans to expand home rule to over 30 new areas, including the police, courts of law and maritime environment, and guidelines for the division of Greenland's potentially huge oil revenue between Denmark and Greenland, as the first step towards assuming economic independence from Denmark.

Greenland's colonial history began in 1721 when Denmark-Norway claimed the territory and launched a missionary expedition to convert Greenland's 'pagan' population to Christianity. It became a specifically Danish colony in 1814 after Denmark, defeated in the Napoleonic Wars, ceded Norway to Sweden. During the nineteenth century, the northern part of Greenland became settled by Inuit families who had emigrated from British North America. In 1953, Greenland's colonial status was lifted, in a process similar to that experienced by members of the British Commonwealth, and it became part of the Danish Kingdom with representation in the Danish parliament, the Folketing.

In 1973, Greenland and Denmark joined the EEC. However, Greenland's membership sparked opposition, and local parties promoting independence gradually emerged claiming that Greenland had insufficient representation in Copenhagen. In February 1979, the Home Rule law was passed, in accordance with which Greenland became a special cultural community within the Kingdom of Denmark. It came into force on May 1st, 1979. In 1985, Greenland left the EEC. It adopted its own flag and Danish town names were replaced. …

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