Twenty five centuries of settlement by Inuit people from the north and Scandinavians from the south
Perhaps one of the most inhospitable countries in the world Greenland has now achieved Home Rule and is increasingly accessible to visitors from elsewhere.
Inuit from the
By about 1200 the Thule hunters were well established along the coasts of north Greenland. However global cooling led to migration south along both the east and west coasts. By the time the two coastal movements met at the south of Greenland in the 1800s their languages had changed to such an extent that they were virtually different languages.
from the south
In 985 Erik returned to Iceland and with glowing reports of a fair country called 'Greenland' encouraged settlers to return with him. The settlement in the south and north along the milder west coast was successful and some 300 farms were estblished. Greenlanders petitioned the Norwegian king to establish a bishopric in Greenland, a bad move as the church imposed high taxes and became the major landowner. The country was annexed by Norway in 1261.
of the Norse
whalers and the Danes
In 1605 Denmark claimed Greenland but did not begin to colonise it until 1721. As well as trade the intention was to impose Christianity and its values on the Inuit, a mission which did harm to the social structures of the Greenlanders. In 1774 Denmark imposed a trade monopoly with the country being closed to foreign vessels until the 1940s. The increase in trade encouraged the Inuit to be less dependent on nomadic hunting and many began to settle near trading posts.
In 1953 Denmark offered Greenlanders Danish citizenship and the country became a county of Denmark. In the 1960s the 'G60' policy saw people moved from unpleasant turf houses to comfortable tenement blocks. Many smaller villages were regarded as being no longer viable and their occupants relocated. Whilst all this was well-intentioned (and indeed desirable in some respects) the overnight change from nomadic hunter to flat-dwelling factory worker was too rapid and major social problems resulted. These were compounded about 20 years later when a sudden decline in cod led to factory closures and unemployment.
In 1972 Denmark voted to join the EEC, although in Greenland the people resoundingly voted 'no'. Their fears were realised when European trawlers began to fish extensively in Greenland waters. Faroe, another Danish territory, had enjoyed Home Rule since 1946 and had not become part of the EEC. Greenland wished to follow its example. In 1979 Greenland gained its own Home Rule Government. It withdrew from the EEC in 1985 but remains part of Denmark. As part of the social unrest in the 1980s there were feelings against the Danes and isolated instances of violence for a while.
Greenland, like Faroe, aspires to independence but the reality is that neither country is economically viable without heavy subsidies from the Danish government and those aspirations are unlikely to be realised in the forseeable future.