Make most Danes want to visit Groenland

It is the largest island in the world and probably hides enormous treasures under its ice, and yet Greenland has been a place forgotten by the world for most of human history. That changed for the first time towards the end of the first millennium, when Erik the Red, among others, set off from Iceland with a bunch of Vikings to build settlements in Greenland. Soon nothing more was heard from his descendants, and it took more than 700 more years before the Danish-Norwegian priest Hans Egede came across the old legends. Egede wanted to go to this fabulous country, track down the great-grandchildren of the first settlers and preach the gospel to them.

With the permission of the Danish King Frederik IV, Hans Egede set sail with his family and 40 companions. That was on May 12, 1721, exactly 300 years ago. It was the beginning of the colonization of Greenland by Denmark.

At the beginning, this went very differently than planned: The Vikings had long since disappeared, instead the pious missionary met the Inuit people. Natives who appeared friendly and humorous to the priest, but also "stupid" and "lazy" and urgently in need of "civilizing their souls". Egede rewrote the Gospel wherever it seemed necessary, and so the first Inuit soon asked the Lord: "Give us today our daily seal."

Egedes enterprise brought Christianity to the Inuit, a little later also the smallpox, and finally the Danish colonial rule with the usual addition of the cultural uprooting of the colonized. No wonder that Hans Egede's legacy arouses mixed feelings today, especially among the 90 percent of Greenlanders who belong to the Inuit people. The overwhelming majority of the people profess the Christian faith; But very few feel like celebrating the anniversary.

Remarkably, independence from Denmark is not really the number one topic in this anniversary year either. Greenland has not been a colony since 1953; Greenland - like the Faroe Islands - is an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of Denmark and has been able to determine its internal affairs alone since 1979.

There are other problems. "The Greenlanders generally agree that before independence they have to get the economy going first," says Ulrik Pram, Greenland expert at the Danish Institute for International Studies. The newly elected government under the leadership of the left IA (Inuit Ataqatigiit) and its 34-year-old chairman MĂște Bourop Egede wants to address social inequality, the housing shortage, the low level of education and the environment.

"Climate change is practically free advertising for us."

That is not to say that no one would talk about independence. Even the IA's small coalition partner, the populist Naleraq party, does most of this and now occupies two out of ten cabinet posts. When the world and almost all of Greenland shook their heads in the summer of 2019 at US President Donald Trump and his attempt to buy Greenland from the Danes, Naleraq strategist Pele Broberg was one of the few who cheered: At last there was an alternative the Danish subsidies that Greenland is still dependent on today, he said. Coincidentally, this Pele Broberg is now not only Industry Minister but also Foreign Minister in the new cabinet in Nuuk. However, the broad lines of Greenland's foreign policy as well as defense are up to this day Denmark's business.

But if Trump's move showed one thing, it is this: Greenland suddenly has completely new opportunities. Suddenly the nation with 56,000 inhabitants sees itself being courted and eyed by the great powers of the world: USA, China, Russia. The fact that the ice in the Arctic is melting at record speed even induces some Greenlanders to be grateful: "The faster the glaciers melt, the more attention our country gets," said the former Minister of Industry and Natural Resources, Jens-Erik Kirkegaard. "Climate change is practically free advertising for us."

It is the melting ice that opens shipping connections in the Arctic Ocean and makes the region interesting for business and the military. And it is the melting ice that exposes raw materials on Greenland. Many believe that if there is a way to finally lay the economic basis for independence, it will go beyond fishing and tourism by mining the minerals in the island's soil.

And suddenly these raw materials are also at the center of the struggle of the great powers in the Arctic. So far, the global supply chains for rare earths - valuable metals indispensable for the production of smartphones and wind turbines as well as for electric cars and warplanes - have been dominated by China. The US has long been looking for a way to break this dominance.

The government is behind the mining industry

And the election campaign in Greenland was also decided by a single theme: the battle for the Kuannersuit mine in the south of the country. One of the largest deposits of rare earths in the world is located there - the Australian company Greenland Minerals received the license years ago, and ten percent of this company belongs to a state-affiliated Chinese company: Shenghe Resources. "Geostrategically, Greenland is very close to the West," says Greenland expert Pram. But in principle, Greenland politicians do not see any problems in Chinese investment. "And some people might think you can use China to get something from the US."

Prime Minister MĂște Bourop Egede and his IA won the election with the promise to stop the mine in Kuannersuit. It had nothing to do with China, but it did have to do with the uranium deposits that lie underground at the site together with the rare earths. The opponents fear radioactive contamination. The new raw materials minister, Naaja Nathanielsen, said last week that her party wanted to reintroduce a zero tolerance rule, which forbids the mining of radioactive materials on Greenland. That would be the end of the Kuannersuit project. At the same time, the minister stressed that her government was otherwise behind the mining industry in all projects without uranium and was looking forward to investors. Greenland researcher Pram sees this as an opportunity for Europe and the USA to offer "green alternatives".

While the new Egede - the youngest Prime Minister Greenland has ever had - is celebrated by his supporters for his policy change in the mining project, the old Egede - the missionary and colonizer - has to endure a lot: the statue of Hans Egedes, which overlooks the old port of the capital Nuuk stands was smeared with a "decolonizing" graffito last summer, and the planned 300th anniversary celebration for his landing on Greenland in the summer was canceled by the municipality to which the capital Nuuk belongs. "We'd rather spend the money beautifying our city and then celebrate the 300th anniversary of Nuuk's founding," said Mayor Charlotte Ludvigsen. So it is better to celebrate safely, in 2028 then.