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Greenland’s desire for independence is a fight based on rhetoric and laws

The legacy of colonialism lingers, huge investments from China are a temptation, and influence with the United States is at stake when Denmark and Greenland struggle rhetorically over the control of Greenland’s underground riches.
Rasmus Kjærgaard Rasmussen
Rasmus Kjærgaard Rasmussen is currently working on a large research project that aims to map the power relationship between Greenland, Denmark and China, focusing on these actor’s core narratives. Photo: Mads Folmer.

Is China’s interest in the resources below the surface of Greenland a good or a bad thing? That depends on who you ask. The Greenlanders who are ready for independence view the huge investments as their path towards breaking free of the financial support Greenland receives from Denmark and thus an opportunity to leave the Danish Realm. However, the Act on Greenland Self-Government of 2009 still leaves Denmark in control of Greenland’s foreign affairs and security policy, and this can be a stumbling block for the ambitions of freedom.

“If Danish politicians assess that the selling of minerals is not only an export activity, but also a security issue, then Denmark is in charge. This is a legitimate enforcement of the Act on Greenland Self-Government, but it’s not that popular in Greenland. The last 10 years of a legal struggle concerning the export rights for uranium have demonstrated that,” says Rasmus Kjærgaard Rasmussen, researcher in security controversies and arctic issues at the Department of Communication and Arts at Roskilde University.

His narratological analysis of the controversy over uranium export between Nuuk and Copenhagen has demonstrated that both parties are playing both a legal and a rhetorical game. The research project is built on an analysis of a large amount of official documents from the governments of Greenland and Denmark in the period from the Act on Greenland Self-Government in 2008/2009 to 2016. Here strategies for the development of the Danish Realm and Greenland’s economy have been analysed in conjunction with legislative proposals and other plans for exploitation of Greenland’s raw materials and minerals.

“In some contexts, Denmark has an interest in positioning the Danish Realm as an arctic superpower. The Danish Realm, consisting of Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, together amounts to the third largest land mass in NATO. That narrative is a core part of Denmark’s foreign policy establishment in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who for a number of years have played the so-called ‘Greenland Card’ to gain influence in Washington. In the Danish version of the narrative, China is a threat to the Danish Realm and therefore the export of uranium and rare earth minerals (REE) is a top-level security policy issue,” explains Rasmus Kjærgaard Rasmussen.

Greenland - houses
A survey from 2016 showed that it was particularly the middle-aged Greenlanders who were pro-independence. Photo: Shutterstock, Vadim Nefedoff.
Greenland - houses and fjord
The Danish rhetoric is based on constitutional law considerations, while the rhetoric from Greenland is often part of a larger nationalistic narrative based on symbolic politics, says Rasmus Kjærgaard Rasmussen. Photo: Shutterstock, Jonas Tufvesson