Doing It Their Way

By Hinrichsen, Don | Scandinavian Review, Autumn 2017 | Go to article overview

Doing It Their Way


Hinrichsen, Don, Scandinavian Review


THE FAROE ISLANDS, STRANDED in the turbulent North Atlantic between the Shetland Islands to the south and Iceland to the north, have been settled longer than either Iceland or Greenland. By the time the first Norwegian Vikings landed on these rugged volcanic spots of land around 800 A.D., they found that some of the 17 inhabitable islands were already occupied by Celtic monks who had been living in eremitic seclusion since about 500 A.D. Norway's occupation was interrupted by the Danes who conquered Norway in 1380. The Danes then established a complete trading monopoly over the islands that lasted over 300 years, from 1535 until 1856. Faroese farmers raised mostly sheep on these steep treeless islands, but also exported dried cod and herring to mainland Denmark.

In 1849, the Danish Parliament incorporated the islands as a county of Denmark. By 1900, there was a strong independence movement across the islands with a full-fledged Home Rule Party formed in 1906. In 1948, after the British occupation of the Faroe Islands during World War II, Denmark changed the Faroes' status to a "self-governing community within the Kingdom of Denmark." This transferred to the Faroese Parliament (the Lagting) the power to regulate and govern their own affairs, though defense, foreign and monetary policy and the judicial system remained under the direct supervision of Denmark.

Currently, the Faroese send two representatives, elected every four years, to the Danish Parliament (Folketing) in Copenhagen. The Faroe Islands Parliament has 33 elected members, who in turn elect an executive body known as the Landsstýrið. Denmark is represented by a commissioner, appointed by the Danish Parliament.

In 2000, the Landsstýrið began negotiations with the Danish government in an effort to lay the groundwork for greater self-governance. Over the past few years, these efforts have accelerated with the prospect of discovering oil and gas fields in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which covers an impressive 274,000 square kilometers.

The Faroe Islands is planning to hold a national referendum on a new constitution in the spring of 2018. If accepted by the majority of Faroese, this will set the stage for more self-determination, particularly in the economic and political sphere.

"The Faroese constitution will define our identity as a nation and our fundamental rights and duties as a people, including our right to self-determination," pointed out the Faroe Islands Prime Minister, Aksel V. Johannesen. "This will be clearly reflected in the requirement that the Faroese people must be consulted by referendum on questions related to further independence from, or further integration with, Denmark."

The referendum will also be a safeguard against the abuse of power, said Johannesen. "The new Faroese constitution will move the ultimate decision-making power from the parliament to the people on such fundamental questions."

These wind-swept islands are now home to just over 50,000 people, most of them direct descendants of the Norwegian Vikings. They are concentrated on six main islands, with over 40 percent of the total population living in or around the capital city of Tórshavn on the island of Streymoy. The Faroese language is closer to Icelandic (old Norse) than any of the other currently spoken Scandinavian languages.

According to Páll Holm Johannesen, Communications Advisor to the Prime Minister, the referendum is scheduled to be held on April 25, 2018. If the new Constitution is approved, as expected, then the Faroese people will gain more control over their economy and resources. It may also set the stage for an eventual referendum on complete independence (though it is too early to predict this outcome).

According to the coalition agreement between the Social Democrats, the Republicans and the Progressive Party, the Faroe Islands will seek independent membership in the Nordic Council, the World Trade Organization and the European Free Trade Association. …

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