Greenland was a colony of Denmark until 1953, when Denmark had an amendment of the Danish Constitution in which Greenland had its status renewed and became a constituency in the Danish Kingdom alongside the Faroe Islands. However, with the fast growing modernization of the Greenlandic society demands for greater economic and political independence grew as well.
In January 1979 a referendum on greater autonomy was held in which 63 % of the voters voted in favor of a Home Rule, and on May 1st, 1979, Greenland Home Rule was established.
At the change of the century the Government of Greenland, set in action the process of evaluating the Home-Rule agreement. This led to the Self-Government Act in May 2008, upon which there was held a national referendum in November 2008, where 75 % of the voters voted in favor of the Self-Government Act. On the National day, June 21st 2009, the Greenland Self-Government replaced the Home Rule Government.
Facts on Greenland
Kalaallit Nunaat – Greenland
Earlier the indigenous population, the Inuit called their country Inuit Nunaat meaning country of human beings. Today the country is called Kalaallit Nunaat –“Country of the Greenlanders”. The world’s largest island with 2.166.086 km2 (which could cover the area from Norway to Sahara) situated on the northern American continent between the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic Ocean, northeast of Canada. The northernmost point of Greenland, Cape Morris Jesup, is only 740 km from then North Pole. The southernmost point is Cape Farewell, which lies at about the same latitude as Oslo, Norway. However, 85 % of the area is covered by the icecap meaning that only 15 % of the costal line is inhabitable.
The population of Greenland is 56.648 with 14.719 inhabitants living in the capital Nuuk. The second largest city is Sisimiut (5.344), followed by Ilulissat (4.512) and Qaqortoq (3.238) besides these four growth centers situated on the west coast there are 18 towns and 120 villages in which the rest of the population lives. Greenlandic settlements are defined by having inhabitants between 50 – 500.
Approximately 4-5.000 years ago the first Eskimo migration took place and people living in Greenland today are descendents from the last migration (the Thule Culture) which took place around year 800 A.C. The Greenlanders call themselves “Kalaallit” and are an indigenous inuit people: Inuit meaning “human being”. They constitute 85 % of the population while the remaining are primarily Danes. During and after colonial times a proportion of the Inuit intermarried with Europeans, why a lot the Greenlanders today can number Inuit and Europeans among their ancestors.
The prevailing religion in Greenland is Protestantism and Greenland is an independent diocese in the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church with a bishop appointed by Denmark. However, there are other religions and faiths of beliefs such as the Roman Catholic Church, New Apostolic Church, the Evangelic Ebenezer, Bahá’í’s and Jehovas Witnesses.
The Greenlandic language is a polysynthetic language and belongs to the Eskimo-Aleutic languages. This means that it differs strongly from the Indo-European languages like French, English and German. West Greenlandic is the official language but there are distinct dialects spoken in Eastern and Northern Greenland. Greenland is a bilingual country in which Greenlandic is the main language and Danish is the other. In official context both languages can be used.
The only way to travel to Greenland is by airplane, to one of the main gateways: Kangerlussuaq (Søndre Strønfjord) in the West or Narsarsuaq in the South both former American air bases. The flight time is approximately 4-5 hours. There are no roads between the towns on the coast so in order to get around locally you can travel with fixed wing planes, helicopters or by sea. From Nanortalik in the South to Sisimiut in the North-west you can sail the whole year, while travel on the distance from Sisimiut and north starts, at the earliest, in May because of the frozen sea. The ships sail to towns and settlements along the coast and they carry passengers as well as cargo.
Economy and Industry in Greenland
Overview over economical activities:
The 2013 export in Greenland amounts to app. € 366 mio. with the main part (88 %) being fish and shellfish, making the Greenlandic economy fragile to international price fluctuations. In 2013 almost 47% of Greenland’s export came from cold water shrimp, 26% from halibut and 15% from other fish (namely cod and crabs). In 2013, 2% of the export derived from mining containing mainly gold and olivine. Another important part of the Greenlandic economy is the annual block grant of app. € 470 mio. allocated to Greenland from the Danish State.
Fishing is the lifeline and primary industry of the Greenlandic economy. The most commercial resources are shrimps, Greenland halibut and recently the reintroduction of cod. The fleet consists of about 850 vessels of various sizes and there is an estimated figure of 5000 smaller boats. Greenland has the legislative competence for the fisheries sector and fishing is regulated by quotas and licence regulations on the basis of biological advice to ensure a sustainable use of the natural resources. The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is set in accordance with the biological advice from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources as well as NAFO, NEAFC and ICES. The private Polar Seafood Ltd. and the government owned Royal Greenland Ltd. are the two biggest companies and the have several factories and companies in different towns and in several countries in Europe. Greenland has individual fishery agreements with the EU, Faroe Islands, Norway and Russia.
Energy and minerals
It’s important for the Greenlandic economy to find alternative sources of income and attract foreign investment to supplement the traditional hunting and fishing industries. In this context effort has been put in to developing the sector of energy and mineral resources. As of 2014, a handful of promising mining prospects are prepared, set to open during the next five years, making Greenland one of the most interesting mining nations in the years to come.
More than 200 years of collection and study of minerals in Greenland has led to the discovery of gold, rubies, diamonds, coppers, olivine, marble and oil, and no less than app. 75 new mineral species are found. It is estimated that the future will bring a possibility of exploiting the reserves of diamonds, platinum, and last, but not least, oil and gas reserves.
In order to become less dependent on the import of oil, Greenland has utilized its hydropower potential by building hydropower plants in Nuuk, Sisimiut and Ilulissat, providing the towns with electricity.
For the last two decades focus has been put to the tourism industry in Greenland. You can now go on airway from Denmark, Iceland or Canada (during summer) to Greenland. Cheaper travel packages have been created and since the 1990’s the number of tourist has risen from 3.500 to app. 35.000 annually. The biggest advantage for Greenland is its beautiful and unspoiled nature which makes Greenland quite different and in its own way “exotic” from other travel destinations.
The future challenge for Greenland will be to get more tourists and at the same time make sure to keep the nature intact, which includes a greater awareness of environment and sustainability.
Hunting and agriculture
Until the beginning of the 20th century hunting for seal, whale and other mammals had been the most important source for survival of the Greenlandic people. Today app. 10 % of the workforce is directly or indirectly involved in the hunting industry.
The primary resources in coastal towns are seals and large whales (e.g. minke, fin whale and small whales (e.g. narwhale, white whale and harbour porpoise). Hunting for whales is regulated by quotas from the International Whaling Committee, IWC, and only persons with licence and approved equipment are allowed to hunt whales.
Several kinds of seabirds like guillemot, eider and others are hunted for the local market as well as the grouse, arctic hare, musk ox and reindeer. Seals are hunted for the meat which is an important part of people’s diet and the fur for is used for clothes and the national suit.
Self-Government, Parliament and Government
The Act on Greenland Self-Government was granted to Greenland on June 21, 2009 (Act no. 473 of 12 June 2009) and was an extension of powers enacted in the Home Rule act of 1979 (Act. No. 577 of 29 November 1978). Through the Home Rule and Self-Government Acts Greenland has the right to elect its own parliament and government, the latter having sovereignty and administration over the areas mentioned in the Self-Government Act such as education, health, fisheries, environment and climate. Some of the achievements of the Self-Government Act were the recognition of Kalaallit (Greenlanders) as people, in international law, the opportunity for Greenland to become an independent state, as well as the opportunity to take on the jurisdiction of more areas (such as natural resources and justice affairs).
The Greenlandic parliament is called “Inatsisartut”. It’s composed of 31 members who are elected for a 4-year period and convene for two periods a year (autumn and spring). The Inatsisartut approves the executive government “Naalakkersuisut”, which is responsible for the central administration headed by a Premier with a cabinet.
The sitting government elected in November of 2014 consist of a coalition between Siumut, Atassut and Demokraatit, with Mr. Kim Kielsen from Siumut as the incumbent Premier.
Greenland’s own flag received its official introduction on 21 of June 1985, which also is Greenland’s national day. The white half of the flag symbolizes the icecap, icebergs and ice floes, while the red half symbolizes the rising and setting sun, which gives the sea its beautiful red sheen.
Relationship to Denmark
Greenland is a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Greenland was first colonized with the arrival of the Danish/Norwegian missionary, Hans Egede, in 1721, and it was not until the Danish constitutional amendment of 1953 that Greenland became a more equal partner in the Danish realm. The influence of the Danish state in Greenland has decreased since 1979 when the Home Rule was introduced. With the inception of the Self-Government Act there is the possibility that Greenland will take over the jurisdiction on more areas, however these areas are still under Danish jurisdiction:
- Justice affairs, including police, criminal procedures and the courts of law
- Defence and National security
- Financial sectors and monetary system e.g. the currency used in Greenland is Danish Kroner DKK
- Civil right law e.g. family and succession, citizenship matters etc.
- Foreign affairs
Foreign- and security policy is a Danish jurisdiction according to the Constitution but with Self-Government, and the Greenlandic wish of handling as many Greenlandic affairs as possible, the Danish government involves the Greenlandic Home Rule in the administration of foreign affairs and security matters in relation to the issues of main interest to the Greenland.
However, within the framework of Self-Government and prior to that the Home Rule Act, Greenland is granted permission to have representations or missions in countries with special commercial interest for Greenland. Within this framework the Greenland Representation to the EU in Brussels was established in this context on June 1,1992.
The Danish Folketings adoption of an agreement with the Greenland Government, through Act no. 577 of June 24, 2005 “Concerning the conclusion of agreements under international law by the Government of Greenland”, provided full statutory powers to the Government of Greenland to conclude certain international agreements on behalf of the Kingdom of Denmark.
Despite of the legal context, Greenland has a firm tradition of participating in international affairs, both through its Nordic and arctic links through its economic and trade interests.
Greenland participates actively in Nordic co-operation, arctic co-operation, the UN, the WTO and the EU and engages in bilateral communication with various countries around the world. Greenland is also a member of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA).