Why Denmark owns Greenland

Published on in category Geography
Why Denmark owns Greenland

Greenland is about 50 times larger than Denmark, is de facto part of North America, and several states are closer to Greenland than Denmark. Nevertheless, Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. What is the history of this largest island in the world and why does it fall administratively under Denmark?

Despite its harsh climate, Greenland was inhabited by people from North America 4,500 years ago. In 980, Greenland was discovered and inhabited by Vikings, namely Erik the Red, who called the island Green Land to attract settlers to settle on the island. His son Leif Eriksson was even the first known European to enter North America, probably in present-day Newfoundland. America was thus discovered by Europeans almost 500 years before Columbus.[1]

In 1126, a Roman Catholic church was founded in Greenland, which fell under the Norwegian archdiocese. In 1261 the country joined the Kingdom of Norway and in 1380 the Norwegian-Danish Union was finally formed. From about 1300, the so-called Little Ice Age occurred, which lasted until about 1850. Living conditions in Greenland deteriorated significantly and the Northerners gradually became extinct or left. Several different theories of settlement extinction have been established by the scientific community. A report from 1540 states that only human remains were found on the site of a settlement. The original indigenous people, the Eskimos, were able to survive this period thanks to their lifestyle.[1]

The Kingdom of Denmark and Norway (1536-1814), despite losing contact with Greenland, still considered Greenland as its territory, believing that Nordic settlements in Greenland had existed throughout. In 1721, the kingdom sent a mission in the belief that it would find the settlers and bring them from the Catholic to the Lutheran faith. Search wasn't successful. In the following years, the missions passed on the Christian faith to the indigenous Eskimos, thanks in large part to the Moravian Unity of Brethren. From then until now, the vast majority of Greenland's population is Christian Lutheran.[1]

Around 1733, the Kingdom of Denmark and Norway re-inhabited the island and established its administration. As a result of the Treaty of Kiel after the defeat of the Napoleonic War, Denmark had to hand over Norwegian territory in 1814 to Sweden. The agreement further stated that the Norwegian dependent territories of Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands were not the subject of the agreement, and so those territories remained with Denmark.[2]

Denmark had a trade monopoly over Greenland, which was criticized by some other countries. As a result, Greenland was highly dependent on Denmark. In 1905, Norway gained independence and began to claim Greenland. However, the Permanent Court of International Justice ruled in favor of Denmark. During World War II, Denmark was under German rule. Greenland became independent for a while, and was supplied by the United States. Subsequently, during the Cold War, Greenland gained in importance among the Americans and they wanted to buy it from Denmark.[1]

In 1953, Greenland gained the status of an autonomous province and in the following years began to develop and modernize. In 1973, Denmark joined the European Common Market and thus automatically Greenland. The local government expressed its opposition and demanded greater autonomy, in particular, it feared overfishing by the other countries of the European Common Market. Greenland gained home rule in 1978 and left the European Common Market in 1985. In 2009, Danish was officially abolished as the official language, and more and more current steps are slowly leading to Greenland's complete independence.[1]