An unexpected chain of events over the past several weeks has put independence for the Danish possession of Greenland back on the table and may determine the future of energy politics in the Arctic, and in the European Union (E.U.)
Aleqa Hammond, the accommodationist prime minister of Greenland, who is cold (pardon the expression) to the idea of independence, saw her political career implode in the last days of September after a financial scandal uncovered over 100,000 Danish krone spent on her and her family’s travel expenses and hotel mini-bar tabs. Hammond’s socialist pro-independence party Siumut (Inuktitut for “Forward”) had up to that point been sitting at the top of the heap. It garnered 43% of votes in the 2013 parliamentary elections and formed a coalition with the far-left separatist Inuit Party and with the premier unionist party, Attasut (“Solidarity,” also translatable as “Union”), each of those having pulled in just over 6%.
|Together for the time being: the flags of Greenland and Denmark|
|Sara Olsvig—Greenland’s next prime minister?|
A remaining questions is whether the current crisis will seem like a deep enough financial or corruption scandal that foreign investment will be affected. This is what many in the E.U. would like Greenlandic voters to think. This matters because the promise of foreign investment is one of the key planks in Inuit Ataqatigiit’s pro-independence platform. So how financial markets on the European continent react and how E.U. leaders react may determine how confident Greenlanders feel when they go to the polls on the 28th, and what kind of a mandate the new government will feel it has to push for separation.
There is quite a bit at stake. As northern latitudes warm and the Arctic Ocean becomes more and more of an open sea, the oil and, especially, natural-gas resources under the water will increasingly be the focus of a mad geopolitical scramble over the next century. Without energy, Greenland—currently dependent on fishing (hardly reliable), Danish aid (slightly humiliating), and tourism (really?)—would be a much less viable state. Russia controls by far the greatest part of the Arctic (see map above), owning nearly half of its circular coastline. Canada, the world’s second-largest country, has the next biggest piece, while the United States (by virtue of Alaska), Norway, and Denmark (by virtue of Greenland) have smaller pie slices of roughly equal size.
|E.U. member-states are shown in blue. Blue and blue-circled territories overseas|
are in the E.U. Overseas territories of E.U. member-states which lie outside the E.U. are in green.
|Russia has planted a flag under the sea at the North Pole ...|
|... but under international law, the reality is slightly more complicated.|
|Greenlanders say: we may want your investment, but don’t plant your flag just yet.|
|Eventually, Greenlanders will sort it all out.|
[You can read more about Greenland and other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar. The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]