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Ny storfilm løfter det grønlandske krav om afkolonisering til nye højder

marts 23, 2023 • Af
Aaju Peter med cigaret og instruktøren bag Twice Colonized, Lin Alluna (DK) 

 

Lad os antage, at et flertal af vælgerne i Danmark fortsat deler den opfattelse, at Danmark i Grønland i det store hele har handlet “i den bedste mening” og “til gavn for Grønland”. Fortællingen modsiges ihærdigt af mange grønlændere, forskning, litteratur og medier, men den har mere end 100 år bag sig og stadig godt fat. Denne danske konsensus om historiens rette fortolkning har løbende understøttet danske regeringers håndtering af relationen til Grønland, og et flertal på Christiansborg har som oftest bakket op, også når samarbejdet ikke har udviklet sig til Grønlands tilfredshed.

Men måske er forandring på vej – som i Canada, Sverige, Norge og Finland, hvor forholdet til de oprindelige folkeslag i Arktis også er til fornyet bearbejdning.

Onsdag i sidste uge fik den danske fortælling om relationen til Grønland eksempelvis nyt unikt modspil af grønlandske Aaju Peter, 62, og den ny sejrrige dokumentarfilm Twice Colonized. Her leveres et omgående forståeligt indblik i den grønlandske vrede og det intense ønske om forandring.

Filmen blev modtaget med stående ovationer i en udsolgt DR-koncertsal – udvalgt, som den var, blandt hundredvis af konkurrerende værker som åbningsfilm ved CPH:DOX, en af Europas største festivaler for dokumentarfilm.

Filmens nordamerikanske premiere fandt sted på Sundance Film Festival i januar, en af de mest prestigiøse i USA. Filmen vises nu i en stribe biografer; senere på DR.

Afkolonisering

Et interessant perspektiv åbner sig: Hvad sker der, hvis den danske offentlighed for alvor får dybere forståelse for de psykiske ar, vreden og traumerne, som i årtier har understøttet selvstændighedstrangen og senest “decolonize”-bevægelsen i Grønland?

Ønsket om et opgør med fortiden, forsoning og mental afkolonisering af både danskere og grønlændere har endnu ikke noget stort følge i Danmark, og i det politiske kan det på samme måde ind imellem være vanskeligt at spore bredere forståelse, når den grønlandske utilfredshed med rigsfællesskabet får luft i den daglige mellemrigspolitik.

Et dugfrisk eksempel: Udenrigsministeriet har for nylig igen udpeget en dansk diplomat som ny arktisk ambassadør for kongeriget. Også i de kommende år vil det altså være en dansker, ikke en grønlænder, der på rigets vegne leder forhandlingerne med USA, Canada, Norge og alle de andre arktiske stater om udviklingen i Arktis.

Sådan har det været siden den første arktiske ambassadør blev udnævnt i 2012 – til udtalt utilfredshed i Nuuk, og nu gentager mønstret sig. Den nye udnævnelse har anfægtet blandt andet MF’er Aki-Matilda Høegh-Dam (S) og Kuno Fencker, medlem af Inatsisartut, det grønlandske parlament (S).

Som man kunne læse her på Altinget forleden, mener de to politikere, at posten som arktisk ambassadør burde varetages af en grønlænder.

At have kendskab til regionen, sproget og kulturerne i Arktis må være en vigtig kvalificerende kompetence, mener de, men fra Christiansborg afvises de af en stribe partier for at se stort på centraladministrationens hævdvundne fokus på merit og kompetence; SF og Dansk Folkeparti mener, at de to har et uacceptabelt racehensyn for øje.

En sådan afvisning var med stor sandsynlighed ikke blevet accepteret i DR’s koncertsal den aften, publikum rejste sig for at klappe af Aaju Peter og Twice Colonized. I denne lomme af Danmark herskede en ganske anden grad af forståelse for nødvendigheden af afkolonisering, genoprejsning, øget repræsentation og magt til og i Grønland.

Filmen forbinder med kompetente greb seerens eget følelsesregister direkte med Aaju Peters smerte og vrede. Her kræves ingen akademiske forkundskaber eller politisk erfaring for at forstå, at koloniseringen af Grønland og dens nutidige senfølger har skadet et i øvrigt begavet, musisk, empatisk og engageret menneske.

Som Weekendavisens Tine Eiby skrev efter at have set filmen og talt med Aaju Peter: “Jeg forstår måske bedre end nogensinde, hvor meget skade Danmark og andre vestlige lande har påført inuit, hvad enten vi betragter os som koloniherrer i klassisk forstand eller ej.”

Vold og sult

Twice Colonized tegner et dragende portræt af Aaju Peter og hendes indsats for inuitter og andre oprindelige folk, deres rettigheder og levevilkår i Grønland, Nunavut og alle andre steder. Aaju Peters hører derfor direkte sammen med de kommende års diskussioner mellem Danmark og Grønland.

Den helt store udredning af Danmarks gerninger i Grønland siden Anden Verdenskrig er for længst aftalt mellem Mette Frederiksen og formanden for Naalakkersuisut, Mute B. Egede, men erfaringer ikke mindst fra Canada viser, at udredninger ikke gør det alene.

Går det som i Canada, hvor en omfattende forsoningsproces har været i gang i 15 år, vil vi alle blive bedt om at deltage, gå i tænkeboks om vores egen fortid og historieforståelse.

Her kan man udmærket begynde med Twice Colonize, hvor der er bud både til fortid og fremtid: Aaju Peter blev født i Grønland til en barndom med vold, alkohol og sult; affaldet på dumpen var en del af kosten. Hun var hurtig i skolen og blev som mange andre som 11-årig rykket til Danmark for at lære dansk.

Hun flyttede fra den ene plejefamilie til den næste, til hun var 18. Da hun returnerede til Grønland, havde hun mistet sit sprog og fik aldrig for alvor genoprettet forholdet til sin familie.

Hun flyttede til Nunavut i Canada med en kæreste derfra, tog en jurauddannelse, fik fem børn, blev skilt. Hun dannede nyt par med en hvid, canadisk kæreste, alkoholen trængte sig på; der var kærlighed, men også vold og tvang.

Da de fem års optagelser til Twice Colonized tager fart, er hun rykket fra kæresten, hun er ædru, men får så af politiet at vide, at hendes alt for unge søn har begået selvmord. Hun knækker igen, men rejser sig af asken; ikke mindst for børnebørnenes skyld.

Aaju Peter – foto fra filmen Twice Colonized

Forsoning

Aaju Peter er aktivist, et kraftvarmeværk af vrede og handlekraft med et tilsyneladende ukueligt håb og uudslukkelig trang til at få så mange som muligt af alle slags engageret i afkoloniseringen i Grønland og Canada.

Hun har arbejdet for inuitternes ret til at jage sæler i årtier og modtog i 2012 the Order of Canada. I Nunavut underviser hun de lokale i Inuktitut; mange taler ikke sproget længere eller fik det ikke lært fra barnsben. Hun arbejder for oprindelige folks rettigheder i Grønland, Nunavut, alle steder.

“Min kamp startede de jeg var 18. Jeg havde fået nok af kun at være dansk, kun tale dansk, og kun gøre alt, hvad danskerne ville have, at jeg gjorde. Jeg var så pissed off, at jeg skiftede navn. jeg ville ikke have noget som helst at gøre med dansk eller Danmark mere,” fortalte hun mig under en times samtale før filmpremieren – på engelsk.

Hun giver gerne interview; hun er ved at være et ikon, på forsiden af avisen Sermitsiaq i Grønland i sidste uge. Hun var blandt de første til at genopfinde de arktiske tatoveringer, der nu kendes også fra deltagere i den såkaldte “decolonize”-bevægelse i Grønland, hvor globale identitetspolitiske strømninger også afspejles.

“Hvis du vil forstå, hvad kolonisering og det at blive koloniseret betyder, er det, når din selvstændighed bliver taget fra dig af en fremmed magt, et fremmed sprog, og når fremmede kulturer og normer tvinges ned over dig,” siger hun.

Hun bruger sine erfaringer til at skabe dialog og forandringer, ikke yderligere vrede og raseri. Hun anser koloniseringen for at være årsag til store dele af de sociale afgrunde i Grønland og Nunavut; fattigdom, nye såvel som gamle traumer, inklusive de mange selvmord.

Hun afsøger gerne fortiden, hun maler arven i de mørkeste farver, men hun anbefaler parterapi til Danmark og Grønland. Dialog, ikke konfrontation:

“I Canada er nøgleordet forsoning. Vi er nødt til at gøre det på en venlig og åben facon. Der har været megen smerte, og vi gør os mange antagelser, men vi er nødt til at lytte til hinanden, ikke gøre det personligt: ‘Det var din fejl’, ‘du gjorde dit og du gjorde dat’. Nej, det duer ikke. Vi har brug for venlighed, ydmyghed og tålmodighed. Venlighed og forståelse er mit mål,” siger hun.

“Twice Colonized” (92 min.) En film af Lin Alluna (DK), skrevet og levet, som PR-materialet siger, af Aaju Peter. Produceret af filmselskaber i Grønland og Nunavut: ÁNORÂK FILM, RED MARROW MEDIA, EYESTEELFILM and REEL PICTURES.

Denne text blev først publiceret på Altinget/Arktis 23. marts 2023


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A new documentary is a cry for decolonization across the Arctic

marts 22, 2023 • Af

A still image from the new documentary film “Twice Colonized.” (David Bauer)

If you have been wondering what it feels to be colonized, to find that your land, your people, your body and mind have all been subjected to the will and whims of a foreign colonizer, Aaju Peter and the new documentary, Twice Colonized, in which she is portrayed, will most likely help.

Peter, who is Inuit, is trained as lawyer, and works as a human rights activist. She’s a powerhouse of anger, willpower and a the desire to raise others into alacrity and action. She has campaigned for decades for the rights of Indigenous peoples of the Arctic to hunt seals and received, in 2012, the Order of Canada. Today she is advocating the establishment of a formal, consultative Indigenous Forum within the European Union. In Iqaluit, Nunavut, where she lives, she teaches Inuktitut, the local Inuit language, to those who have lost it or never had it. She struggles for the cultural rights, land rights and all other rights of indigenous peoples whether in Greenland, where she was born, in Nunavut or elsewhere.

The loss

During the five years it took to shoot “Twice Colonized” Aaju Peter lost her young son to what appears to be suicide; a mindnumbing tragedy, a life ended far too early by a fall from the 10th floor.

You may, as I did, misunderstand the film as saying that it was this unbearable loss that propelled Peter to pursue, as she does, every available opportunity to take back her powers, her body and soul and to urge all of us — the colonizers as well as the colonized — to decolonize ourselves so that our children and grandchildren may hopefully live free from colonialisms restraints.

It is a tempting interpretation, but also, as I learn when we meet, a far too easy one.

“My fight started when I was 18. I had had enough of only being Danish, of only speaking Danish, of only doing everything the Danes wanted. I was so pissed off, I changed my name. I didn’t want anything to do with Danish or Denmark or anything,” Peter tells me.

She is in Copenhagen for the opening of Copenhagen Dox, one of Europe’s largest festivals for documentaries, where Twice Colonized featured as the lead show and received standing ovations. The film premiered in North America in January at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and will continue to festivals in Canada and elsewhere.

The film “Twice Colonized” documents the decolonizing work of Aaju Peter, an Inuit lawyer from Greenland who lives in Nunavut. (Angela Gzowski)

It is all about colonialism and how it affects the individual:

“Some white people say to me, ’hey, but you got something good out of it. You have a good education and all these nice experiences.’ And okay, I say, that’s probably fine from where you’re standing, but I’m telling my story and how it affected me,” Peter tells me.

“I was born into a Danish colony, even though Denmark didn’t want to call it a colony. And it’s not only the land that is colonized. It’s the person, the people and their minds.”

At the age of 11 she did well in school and was put on a plane from Greenland to Denmark, as many other young Greenlandic children at the time. The idea, very much a colonial concept, was that the children would learn Danish, be cultivated, educated and returned to Greenland to lead their nation into a brighter future. To Peter, who stayed in Denmark until she was 18, the passage turned into debilitating loss:

“I had to learn a new way of thinking, a new way of expressing anything. A different culture, different people, different heritage. That’s how I ended up speaking Danish and when I went back to Greenland, I couldn’t speak my own language. My mind and my thinking was so colonized,” she says.

She found herself unable to reconnect meaningfully with her family and community. Instead, she left. She met an Inuit from Nunavut and followed him to Iqaluit, which seemed as far away from Denmark as she could get.

“I moved to the Canadian Arctic which was colonized by the Canadian state, so now I was twice colonized. That’s where the title came from,” she says.

From the screen we learn that Peter later partnered with Marcus, a white Canadian and then broke up with him again. The film evokes much love and longing, but also obnoxious abuse and pain. The viewer never meets Marcus in the flesh, only as a manipulative and accusing voice on Peter’s mobile phone.

“I had to learn English and I took my law degree in English. That became my third identity, and then I had to deal with the English-speaking state and live with southern white people, which became a fourth form of identity. So I am a living, breathing quadrilingual and quadricultural person. If you are looking for the meaning of colonization and being colonized it is when all your autonomy is taken from you by a foreign state, a foreign language, and when foreign cultures and customs are imposed on you,” she says.

The demons

By the film’s promotion material we are told that Peter is “on a personal journey to confront the demons of her past,” but she is surely also very much concerned with the present. On screen she dances riotously to rock music, she cries and laughs, obviously determined to live, feel, speak, journey and act as she must. At one point in the film, she seems to collar any demons she might still be harboring and expertly bends them to her own devices: “Your experience is your power,” she exclaims.

Peter wants to turn also the more painful elements of her past into dialogue and change, not into additional anger or rage. She points at colonialism as the source of so many current ills, including the many suicides in Nunavut and in Greenland, but she urges dialogue, not conflict or confrontation. She wants to assist others who feel trapped, as she has felt trapped, by colonialism past and present. She strives to include, not exclude, as many as possible in the decolonization process:

“In Canada the buzzword is reconciliation. We have to do it in a kind and open way. Be kind to each other. There was a lot of hurt and there are so many assumptions. And we don’t want that. We have to listen to each other, not make it personal: ‘It was your fault’ or ‘you did this and you did that’. No, that’s out, that is not permissible. We need kindness, humility and patience. Kindness and understanding is my goal,” she tells me.

On screen she coins a catch-all: “It’s not about why it happened, it is about how we make it stop.” Not that she wants to obliterate the past or paint it in rosier colors; on the contrary. In the film she journeys to Denmark to revisit her past and she travels with her brother to Nanortalik in southern Greenland; a painful recollection of a rough childhood and an angry father. Hunger was close and discarded fruits from the dump part of the diet. She seeks to acknowledge the past, but as a window to a better future:

“I think many of us just stop there because the ‘how-to-stop-it’ is just too much work. We see suicide happening all over. We see homelessness everywhere. We see abuse. We see so many injustices in our everyday life. But do we do something about it? No, we go, ‘oh, I’m too busy’,” she says.

On screen she writes the first sentence of a book: “Is it possible to change the world and mend your own wounds at the same time?”

She travels extensively, and seeks out any and all that might inspire her or be inspired themselves. She calls on other Inuit in particular, but also on many others, including a Sámi community in northern Sweden. She embraces the young, the old, politicians, students and all in between:

“It is really up to you. It’s up to us to do something. If we all decided to put in one, five or ten percent of our everyday life to do something with issues that we care about we could move mountains,” she says.

“That’s what I would like to see. It’s not good enough to just say something. There’s way too many people who just say something and don’t go past that.”

“Twice Colonized” (92 min.) by Lin Alluna (Denmark), written and lived by Aaju Peter. “Twice Colonized” was filmed in Nunavut, Canada, Greenland, Denmark, Brussels,  New York and in a Sámi community in northern Sweden. Produced by Emile Hertling Péronard, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Bob Moore and Stacey Aglok Macdonald, a team bridging both Greenland and Nunavut. ÁNORÂK FILM, RED MARROW MEDIA, EYESTEELFILM and REEL PICTURES.

This text was first published on ArcticToday.com on March 22, 2023


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Russia gets approval for much of its Arctic Ocean seabed claim

marts 1, 2023 • Af
A map of the Arctic Ocean shows the approximate extent of the area where the UN CLCS approved the data associated with Russia’s claim (yellow) and for which it requested more information (brown). This coverage of the CLCS’s approval – which appeared in Weekendavisen in Denmark and on ArcticToday.com in the US – became the first media coverage of the event in the world. (Andreas Peretti / Weekendavisen / DK)

After more than 20 years of extensive diplomacy and expeditions with icebreakers, research vessels and submarines under the polar sea ice, Russia has received approving recommendations of the majority of its claim to the rights to the seabed in the central parts of the Arctic Ocean from the UN’s Commission for the Limitation of the Continental Shelf, the CLCS.

The CLCS, a body under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea and the prime international authority on the rights of coastal states to the seabed beyond their maritime borders, reached that conclusion on February 6 in New York. Russia’s war in Ukraine has not halted the processing of its claim.

We do not know all the details, but the CLCS has released a 63-page summary. A qualified estimate based on the accompanying maps indicates that Russia has got the CLCS’ approval — or “recommendations” — of data and measurements in support of a claim for approximately 1.7 million square kilometers of seabed in the central parts of the Arctic Ocean. This is an area the size of France, Italy, Germany and Spain combined.

The CLCS’s recommendations of the Russian data and methodology are not the final words in the international discussion on the rights to the Arctic seabed, but the CLCS has now validated the majority of Russia’s claim.

The Russian claim — or “submission” in CLCS terminology — stretches from Russia’s exclusive economic zone in the waters north of Russia across the North Pole until it reaches the exclusive economic zones of Canada and Greenland, which is part of the Danish kingdom.

In the seas north of the Bering Strait and Alaska Russia’s claim stops at a straight line defined by a separate agreement with the U.S. from 1990 which delimits the territorial sea and continental shelf between the two nations.

Only a smaller portion of Russia’s claim, approximately midway between the North Pole and the Russian islands of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zelma (see map above) was not, at the time of the CLCS final considerations, sufficiently documented in the eyes of the commission. Instead, the CLCS invited Russia to provide additional information, which Russia then did in a partially revised submission on February 14. The CLCS’s processing of this new information is now pending.

Strength and wealth

Russia has not issued any public statement in response to the recommendations from the CLCS, possibly because of the last outstanding issues, but the commission’s conclusions have long been anticipated. For more than two decades the government of president Putin has illustrated a strong interest in these developments.

Through its accumulated claims for some 75 percent of the seabed in the international parts of the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole and its powerful mythology, Moscow has signaled its perceived strength and robustness to the Russian public and to the world. Several previous leaders of Russia and the Soviet Union have used the conquest of the Russian Arctic for similar projections of power and strength.

Only four days before the announcement of the CLCS’s recommendations of Russia’s claim, Russian President Vladimir Putin headed a discussion within Russia’s Security Council on the Arctic seabed.Exports of oil and gas from land based or offshore facilities in the Russian half of the Arctic already play a significant role in the Russian economy and for its ability to sustain its military invasion of Ukraine. The vision of still more riches from new parts of the Arctic seabed may possibly help bolster additional faith in the future of the Russia’s government, even if Western geologists have largely dismissed the idea of commercially viable oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean other than in the more shallow waters in the existing exclusive economic zones of Russia and other Arctic states.

Ministers from Putin’s government have attended several of the 30 some meetings held by CLCS and its relevant subcommittee in New York to discuss Russia’s claim.

Russia submits claim on the North Pole to UN – but oil aspirations seem dead in the water - Bellona.org

 

Meanwhile, parachuting Russian troops have practiced at the North Pole and in 2007 president Putin issued medals when two small Russian submarines planted a Russian’s flag on the seabed at the North Pole some 4,300 meters below the surface. In the run-up to the winter Olympic Games in Russia in 2014, a Russian vessel brought  runners and the Olympic Torch Relay to the North Pole, and orthodox priests have also blessed Russia’s Arctic endeavors at the North Pole.

It seems likely, therefore, that Moscow will celebrate the recommendations of the CLCS, and they will most likely be seen as a substantial victory for Russian science and technology.

As the Danish geophysicist Christian Marcussen, a former senior advisor of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland and Project Leader of the Greenland parts of the kingdom of Denmark’s continental shelf project from 2003 to 2015, told ArcticToday: “If I had used decades on this case for Russia, I would call this a really impressive result of my life’s work”.

The contest continues

The CLCS’ recommendations of Russia’s claim should not be misread, however. The broad partial approval of Russia’s claim does not mean that Russia has now won the rights to the disputed parts of the Arctic seabed.

The Kingdom of Denmark (on behalf of Greenland) and Canada have also filed substantial claims with the CLCS and these are still waiting for CLCS evaluation.

Norway has filed claims in other parts of the Arctic Ocean and the U.S. reportedly has prepared, but not yet submitted to the CLCS, claims reaching from the waters north of Alaska towards the North Pole.

The claims of Canada and the Denmark/Greenland both overlap substantially with Russia’s and the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea stipulates that in such cases any disagreement about the final borders will have to be settled by the states themselves.

The CLCS will evaluate whether the claims of each state is supported by sufficient data and correct measurements but the CLCS will not serve as arbitrator, if any other state — say Canada —  provides data to prove that the seabed in question connects to its continental shelf in the same way it connects to Russia’s.

“The CLCS in its summary explicitly explains that the CLCS will not determine how the pie should finally be delimited. It does so precisely to avoid misunderstandings,” Marcussen told ArcticToday.

Large overlaps

The Danish Kingdom’s claim to the seabed in the Arctic Ocean amounts to some 895,000 square kilometers. According to the Institute for Border Research at the University of Durham in Great Britain it overlaps with Russia’s claim by some 800,000 square kilometers. Canada’s total claim in the Arctic Ocean amounts to some 2.03 million square kilometers out of which some 1.5 million overlap with the Russian claim.

With the CLCS’ recommendations of Russia’s claim now at hand it seems more likely than ever that Danish, Greenlandic and Canadian diplomats will eventually meet with Russian counterparts to negotiate over very large tracts of seabed.

Previously, some observers have doubted whether the governments involved had sufficient data to substantiate the far reaches of their claims, but this doubt should now be waning.

The CLCS in its evaluation of Russia’s claim seem to accept largely Russia’s use of subsea mountain ranges in the Arctic Ocean as a departure point for its claim, something that has not previously been confirmed. This makes it more likely that  large parts of the claims by Denmark/Greenland and Canada will also meet the approval of CLCS.

The CLCS’ decision has reportedly been reached by consensus. To Bjørn Kunoy, a professor of international law and special legal counsel to the foreign service of the Faroe Islands, who has advised Greenland and other states in similar cases, this is noteworthy.

“The conclusions are strengthened by the consensus,” Kunoy told ArcticToday. This will benefit, he finds, all involved as it makes unlikely future challenges to the conclusions.

Kunoy also points towards the time frames involved. Most observers expect that the CLCS will find time to deal with the claim of the Danish Kingdom only by 2032 or later and that Canada will have to wait even longer. Other nations have filed earlier submissions to the CLCS and will be dealt with first.

In the interim, all parties including Russia will have to wait. Despite their largely approving nature, the CLCS’s recommendations of Russia’s claim does not give Russia license to operate on the disputed seabed.

”The point of fact that the submissions of the other contender states will only be considered at a later stage does not in any way challenge their entitlements, also where these will overlap with the area that falls within the entitlement of Russia,” Kunoy explains.

Some observers have speculated that Russia in the coming years of waiting may get so accustomed to regard the dispute as settled in its favor that the final negotiations on the subsea borders will be more difficult.

In the meantime, there are no known indications that Russia will abandon its adherence to the UN rules for peaceful delimitation of the Arctic seabed. Since 2001, Russia has followed the relevant regulations as stipulated by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. Moscow has accepted on an ongoing basis the CLCS’ admission of claims to the Arctic seabed by other states and that the CLCS will eventually deal with these as it has now dealt with Russia’s.

As this article was published on ArcticToday.com  27 February 2023 it marked the first media coverage in the world of the CLCS’ decision. 


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Grønlands forfatningsudkast bliver det første detaljerede bud på et uafhængigt Grønland

februar 7, 2023 • Af

Grønlands første og hidtil eneste Selvstændighedsminister Suka K. Frederiksen (tv) med den første formand for Grønlandsforfatningskommission Vivian Motzfeldt i 2017 (Foto: Grønlands Selvstyre).

Det begyndte i Nuuk en grå lørdag i november 2016.

Mødet var hasteindkaldt, publikumsrækkerne pakket til sidste stol. Udenfor i mørket foran Inatsisartut, det grønlandske parlament, lå bunker af våd sne, men stemningen i parlamentssalen var glædesfuld og varm.

Det hele kulminerede, da de fleste af parlamentsmedlemmerne til sidst spontant sprang op og klappede.Efter mere end ti års tilløb havde et flertal stemt i flok: Grønland skulle have sin egen forfatning. Under forhandlingerne havde den politiske veteran, tidligere landsstyreformand Lars-Emil Johansen ligefrem læst højt af ‘Sinnattugaq’, ‘En grønlænders drøm’ af Mathias Storch, Grønlands første roman fra 1914:

“Døren er nu åben, træd indenfor og begynd arbejdet. Den, der arbejder, får sin løn med Guds nåde.”Kritikerne advarede om, at det gik for hurtigt. Detaljerne var ikke på plads, sagde de, men det stoppede ikke processen. En måned forinden havde en ny koalitionsregering i Nuuk forklaret pointen i sit regeringsgrundlag:“Grønland er uigenkaldeligt på vej mod selvstændighed, og denne proces kræver ikke alene politisk stabilitet, men også national samling. Parterne er enige om at fremføre forslag til en ny forfatning ved udgangen af denne valgperiode.“

Helt så hurtigt gik det ikke, men nu sker det angiveligt: Naalakkersuisut, det grønlandske landsstyre, har meddelt, at den grønlandske forfatningskommission, nedsat i 2017, sigter efter at levere et udkast til Grønlands fremtidige forfatning 1. april i år.

Går det som planlagt, kan vælgerne i Grønland og alle andre se frem til det første konkrete og samlede bud på, hvilken slags land der sigtes mod, når man i Grønland taler om uafhængighed, løsrivelse og statsdannelse.

Hvem vil være de naturlige statsborgere i det frie Grønland? Hvilken relation vil Grønland have til Danmark? Hvad med sproget? Vil private kunne eje land, eller vil alt land stadig tilhøre fællesskabet? Får naturen særlig status? Hvordan skal landet regeres, forsvares og forvaltes?

Delte meninger i Grønland

Kritikere i Grønland, herunder Grønlands gamle liberale parti Atassut, har stemplet forfatningsprocessen som dyr og overflødig. Atassut ser gerne, at rigsfællesskabet med Danmark fortsætter, og partiet trak sig helt ud af forfatningsarbejdet i 2021. Andre hylder til gengæld forfatningsprojektet som helt centralt for afklaring af Grønlands egne mål og værdier.

Erik Jensen, formand for Siumut, Grønlands for tiden næststørste parti, og viceformand for Grønlands regerende koalition, lød begejstret, da jeg mødte ham til Naalakkersuisuts nytårskur i København i forrige uge:

“Det gælder om at få befolkningen inddraget og debatten i gang om, hvordan landet skal styres fremadrettet. Vores partis program er jo, at vi skal blive selvstændige og herrer i eget hus. Det er den store ambition og en del af målsætningen med det her. Vi har store udfordringer i Grønland, og vi skal træffe de rette beslutninger på det rette tidspunkt, men vi tænker langsigtet,” sagde han.

Arbejdet med den nye forfatning

Stort set intet om indholdet af Forfatningsudkastet er endnu sluppet ud. Arbejdet er i perioder gået rigtigt stærkt, det er alt, vi ved. Først når udkastet formelt er overdraget til Naalakkersuisut, vil offentligheden blive inddraget, og forfatningsudkastet sat til debat i Inatsisartut.

Hvad der herefter skal ske, er ikke klart, men at dømme ud fra den hidtidige politiske debat i Grønland, er det ikke de ledende politikeres plan, at en færdig grønlandsk forfatning nu snarest skal til folkeafstemning, vedtages og sættes i kraft.

På Færøerne rumlede Lagtinget i årene frem mod 2018 med planer om en færøsk forfatning, der skulle fungere i parallelløb med den danske grundlov. Den daværende Lars Løkke-regering mente længe, at det ville være i strid med grundloven. Flere udkast måtte revideres før de danske jurister var tilfredse, nye vanskeligheder opstod i Thorshavn, og Færøerne har stadig ingen egen forfatning.

I Grønland kender man selvsagt de færøske vanskeligheder, og debatten hidtil tyder ikke på, at en fiks og færdig, vedtaget og ikraftsat grønlandsk forfatning nu vil være sigtet på den korte bane. Et forfatningsudkast vil muligvis inspirere til udvalgte forandringer i forholdet til Danmark, men næppe til et parløb eller opgør med den danske grundlov i nærmeste fremtid.

Det nye vil være, at Grønland nu, hvis alt går som planlagt, i fremtiden vil have egen forfatning mere eller mindre klar til ikrafttrædelse den dag, oprettelse af en uafhængig grønlandsk stat måtte blive aktuel. Det er tilhængernes håb, at det vil styrke uafhængighedsprocessen.

Et lovgrundlag i tråd med grønlandske værdier

På Christiansborg vil forfatningsudkastet næppe skabe tumult. Siden Selvstyrets indførelse i 2009 har det stået Grønland “frit for at indlede en forfatningsforberedende proces,” som det hedder i Selvstyrelovens bemærkninger. Tunge problemer opstår først, hvis forfatningsudkastet ophøjes til lov, og den danske grundlov udfordres. Det er der som nævnt næppe udsigt til, uanset at mange i Grønland har et problem med grundloven.

Rigets reviderede grundlov fra 1953, der afsluttede kolonitiden og gjorde Grønland til en del af Danmark og grønlænderne til danske statsborgere, blev født ved folkeafstemning i Danmark, men uden folkeafstemning i Grønland.

Siden har utilfredsheden gæret, og i 2004 var den daværende formand for partiet Inuit Ataqatigiit Josef ‘Tuusi’ Motzfeldt blandt de første til at formulere ønsket om en grønlandsk forfatning:

“Det grønlandske sprog, vor identitet, rådighedsret til landet og vor kultur nyder ikke direkte beskyttelse i den danske grundlov. Det grønlandske folk skal derfor have egen grundlov frem for et forfatningsmæssigt lovgrundlag, som vi føler at have til låns fra Danmark. En grundlov for os som giver udtryk for det grønlandske folks identitet – såvel indadtil som udadtil,” skrev han.

Knaster i kommissionsarbejdet

Forfatningskommissionen består af folkevalgte politikere, der har trukket på nogle få akademiske eksperter, herunder den islandske ombudsmand (Island, der fik egen grundlov i 1874, løsrev sig endeligt fra Danmark under 2. verdenskrig og betragtes på mange måder som foregangsland i Grønland).

Forfatningsprojektet har undervejs været plaget af kontroverser og regerings- og personudskift. Af de oprindelige syv kommissionsmedlemmer er der ingen tilbage, og sekretariatet er tilsvarende forvandlet. Mandatet fra 2017 måtte skrives om, og et kontroversielt forslag om løn og embedsbolig til formanden fik for en tid arbejdet til at grundstøde. I januar 2022 blev den tidligere formand for Naalakkersuisut Kuupik Kleist udpeget til formand for Forfatningskommissionen, men han trak sig efter mindre end fire måneder, angiveligt i frustration over manglende fremdrift.

Kuupik Kleist, tidl. formand for Naalakkersuisut, trak sig fra formandsstolen i forfatningskommissionen efter knap fire måneder. Foto: Marc Jacobsen

I sidste uge kunne nyhedsmediet Sermitsiaq.ag så fortælle, at Naalakkersusisut har mistanke om misforvaltning af Forfatningskommissionens finanser, og en revisionsundersøgelse vil nu løbe parallelt med kommissionens afsluttende arbejde.

Forfatningskommissionen har arbejdet på grønlandsk (med tolk til den islandske rådgiver), men forfatningsudkastet og den medfølgende betænkning udkommer ifølge sekretariatet i Nuuk på både grønlandsk og dansk.

Forfatningskommissionen har før overskredet en deadline, men denne gang er givetvis anderledes. Naalakkersuisut har ikke afsat penge til mere arbejde i Forfatningskommissionen på Finansloven for 2023. Slutspurten gennemføres på resterne fra 2022.

Denne text blev offentliggjort første gang på Altinget / Arktis 30. januar 2023


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Canada extends its Arctic Ocean seabed claim all the way to Russian waters

januar 25, 2023 • Af

A map from Canada’s addendum to its Arctic Ocean seabed claim shows the updated boundaries.
Canada’s claim now extends all the way to Russia’s territorial waters

In an addendum filed in late December 2022, Canada substantially expanded its claim to the Arctic Ocean seabed. Canada’s claim now reaches in several places all the way to Russia’s exclusive economic zone.

The changes to the claim were delivered as a 54-page note, or addendum, to the UN’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The extension is now added to Canada’s original claim from May 2019.

Three accompanying maps show how Canada’s full claim now stretches along the length of the Lomonosov Ridge, a steep sub-sea mountain range to the west of the North Pole, to the limits of Russia’s exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles from Russia’s coastline. A conservative estimate based on the three maps included indicates that Canada has extended its claim by some 600,000 to 700,000 square kilometers.

The Canadian claim is filed at a time when relations with Russia in the Arctic are severely strained because of Russia’s war on Ukraine. All collaboration with Russia within the Arctic Council, the main inter-governmental body in the Arctic region, is currently paused with no prospect of resuming soon.

Consultations with Russia

The original Canadian claim or submission from 2019 already overlapped with Russia’s claim to the seabed and also with a joint Greenlandic-Danish claim. The Canadian addendum filed with the CLCS on December 19 does not specify how large the overlaps are now, but the accompanying maps indicate that they have grown substantially.

The Canadian extension follows a claim by Denmark-Greenland from 2014 that stretches from Greenlandic waters to Russia’s exclusive economic zone and several extensions of Russia’s original claim from 2001. Russia has claimed in total some 75 percent of the seabed in the central parts of the Arctic Ocean — all according to regulations stipulated by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, which regulates the delineation of the seabed in international waters.

Claims to the CLCS may provide the claimant government with exclusive rights to exploit any resources on or under the seabed, but not any substantial privileges in the water column or above it.

Regular meetings between Canada, Russia and Denmark/Greenland at scientific as well as diplomatic level have been held to prevent any conflict, and Canada in its note of December 19 explains that “regular consultations” have been held with Russia during its preparation.

Some western analysts have worried that Russia, which planted in 2007 a much publicized flag on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, might abandon its adherence to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, but no significant moves by Russia to do so have been publicly recorded.

The claims of the three nations will be evaluated by the CLCS’s international panel of experts. The CLCS will evaluate to what extent scientific data submitted by the three nations are sufficient to prove that their continental shelves extend into the Arctic Ocean to the degree their governments claim. The CLCS, however, is not mandated to decide on the final delineation of the seabed. According to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, the final delineation of the seabed — including that around the North Pole — should eventually be decided through negotiations among the nations involved.

The CLCS’s evaluation of the claims of all the three nations involved is expected to be finished only in a decade or more. An evaluation by the CLCS of Russia’s claims is expected in 2024, but due to a long queue of other claims from other parts of the world, an evaluation of the Danish-Greenlandic claim is expected only in eight to 10 years from now and an evaluation of Canada’s claim even later.

First published on ArcticToday.com 21. December 2022. 


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Greenland drops cooperation with Russia on fish while the Faroe Island continue controversial quota swaps

december 14, 2022 • Af
Fishing vessels are seen in the port of Nuuk in a 2019 file photo. (Krestia DeGeorge)

Tuesday last week, as discreetly as possible, Greenland delivered a highly unusual message to Moscow.

Greenland will not use its fisheries agreement with Russia to fish for cod and other fish in the Barents Sea  in 2023 and no Russian fishing vessels will have access to the usual quotas of halibut and other fish in Greenland’s waters.

It’s the first time since 1992 — when Greenland and Russia signed a formal deal to swap fishing quotas — that this deal will not lead to talks and a new agreement on quota-swapping for the coming year.

The message to Moscow does not contain, as far as information from the authorities in Nuuk goes, any wording on or protest against Russia’s war in Ukraine. Asked for details, the Department of Fisheries and Hunting of Greenland’s government in Nuuk offers as an explanation only that the fish stocks in Greenland’s water are presently not sufficient to allow for the usual quota swapping with Russia.

There are, however, indications that a silent protest against Russia’s war in Ukraine may be involved.

Greenland’s distinct denouncement of Russia’s war has been communicated on several other occasions.

On February 25, just a day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Greenland Premier Muté B. Egede issued a blunt press statement: “I forcefully condemn Russia’s acts against the Ukrainian people. They are senseless and for that reason we want to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Ukraine with our adherence to the international sanctions on Russia,” he said (my translation).

Greenland Prime Minister Muté B. Egede speaks at an event at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. on June 15, 2022. (Melody Schreiber)

In the same move, Greenland’s large publicly owned fishing-enterprise Royal Greenland was ordered to deactivate its activities in Russia, and its CEO Mikael Thinghuus promptly followed up: “Individual needs have to bow to the greater good, and commercial pain is nothing compared to the pain the Ukrainian population is suffering,” he told Sermitsiaq.ag, Greenland’s leading news site.

Royal Greenland has since put up for sale its share of Agama Royal Greenland, a packing business in Russia, which for 25 years has packed and sold Greenland fish and shrimp in Russia. Polar Seafood, Greenland’s largest private fishing company, has also sold off its interests in Russia. Prior to the war in Ukraine, exports to Russia accounted for some 13 percent of Greenland’s total exports.

In October, Egede made clear his continued opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in front of some 2,000 international attendees at the annual Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavik: “The government of Greenland condemns the brutal war on Ukraine and Russia’s disregard for international law and order. We clearly stand with the western alliance in this question. Greenland will impose the EU sanctions towards Russia and Russian entities. This is the first time in history that Greenland takes a step like this,” he said.

The message to Moscow leaves open Greenland’s options for a resumption of the quota-swapping in 2024, but for now Greenland cannot easily be blamed for cooperating with Russia on fish.

Discretion

The decision to abstain from quota swapping in 2023 was taken after a closed meeting of Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s government. No public announcement or statements were made at the time and no later quotable comments from members of the government have so far been available.

Discretion has seemingly been of the highest priority. Last week, when I contacted key members of Inatsisartut, Greenland’s parliament, for comments, they were unaware of their government’s decision to abstain from the quote swapping in 2023.

There might be several reasons behind this decisive silence.

Greenland will have, for one, an interest in preserving a workable relationship with Russia within the ongoing multilateral and difficult negotiations on fishing quotas in the greater North Atlantic. In these negotiations, representatives from Greenland, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and others are face-to-face with Russian counterparts in negotiations over fish that are of serious economic importance to all involved.

Also, Greenland will have no desire to completely give up its bilateral quota swapping deal with Russia from 1992, hoping as many others that cooperation with Russia will in time be possible again. By sticking in its message to Moscow from last week to words and arguments only related to the sustainability of its fish stocks Greenland commits no breach of the original deal from 1992. This will leave Greenland free to resume swapping from 2024, if Nuuk should wish to.

Although Greenland’s fishing fleet includes a number of large, ocean-going trawlers, such as “Polar Amaroq”, seen here, most fishing is done by smaller boats, and the country sells the rights to the fish it cannot catch to other countries and the EU. (Polar Seafood)

Finally, Greenland, which has reportedly been communicating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen before sending its message to Moscow, may be trying to avoid also breaching the complicated rules of engagement within the Kingdom of Denmark.

As part of the Danish realm, Greenland and the Faroe Island are not mandated to take steps with military or security implications against any foreign nation. Under normal circumstances a refusal to swap fishing quotas with Russia for a single year would probably be seen as well within Greenland’s powers to manage its own fishing affairs, but after Russia’s war on Ukraine — and if the message to Moscow had been delivered as a blunt and publicly advertised denunciation of Russia — critics in Denmark might have questioned whether Greenland was suddenly conducting security politics outside its formal powers.

Avoiding critics

Greenland is now likely to escape the kind of international condemnation that is presently raining down on Norway and the Faroe Islands. Both nations have been open in their criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine, but they also continue their fisheries cooperation with Moscow. This has put the two under heavy flak from the EU in Brussels, where critics say that their continued cooperation on fish are undermining the common European front against Putin’s Russia.

In economic terms, Greenland’s decision to skip quota swapping with Russia in 2023 will most likely have only scant local economic impact. The government in Nuuk will probably have little or perhaps no need to compensate the fishing industry for its loss of quotas in the Barents Sea.

Because of the halt to the quota swapping for 2023, Greenland stands to lose access to some 3,000 tons Russian fish — primarily cod. These fish will not be available to Greenland’s fishing industry, but the two fishing companies involved, Royal Greenland and Polar Seafood, are likely to be given instead access to halibut and other fish in Greenland, which Russian consumers would otherwise have eaten. The trawlers involved can apparently be used for both types of fisheries without, as I understand it, major technical alterations.

The Faroese continue

In contrast, in the Faroe Islands, cooperation with Russia remains a heated and very public issue and it has drawn heavy international attention since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

At the time, the Faroese chose not only to continue their quota swapping with Russia but also to boost their exports of fish from aquaculture, salmon in particular, to the Russian market.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the private enterprises that make up the Faroe Islands aquaculture industry have stopped at their own volition basically all exports to Russia, but the quota swapping with Russia has continued to underpin the sea-borne fishing industry.

Critics claim that the Faroese work against the spirit of western attempts to sanction Russia for its war in Ukraine. The Faroese leaders argue that the export of fish to Russia is not covered by the western sanctions and that a break with Russia on fisheries would endanger Russia’s commitment to sustainable fishing in the entire North Atlantic — an argument also used by Norway in defense of its continued cooperation with Russia.

The turnabout

To learn more, I asked last week for a lift with Høgni Hoydal, the Faroe Islands’ former minister of fisheries. He is also the leader of Tjóðveldi, a left-leaning political party aiming for severance of the islands’ constitutional bonds to Denmark.

We drove to Klaksvik, the Faroe Islands’ second largest town, for the final televised debate before the general elections that took place in the Faroe Islands on December 8.

I knew that Hoydal had argued fervently for a total stop to cooperation with Russia. In his car he repeated his stand: “We cannot continue close cooperation with a country that attacks another country’s civilians, independence and self determination. That is our final moral conclusion,” he told me.

Høgni Hoydal, former minister of fisheries of the Faroe Islands and head of islands’ main independence party, Tjóðveldi. Hoydal argues for a total stop for cooperation with Russia but chose to support a swap of fishing quotas now agreed with Russia for 2023. (Martin Breum)

I asked why then — in the middle of the electoral campaign — he had given his support so that on November 25 the Faroe Island’s government could agree with Moscow to renew its quota swapping deal with Russia for 2023.

Hoydal and Javnaðarflokkurin, a social democratic party which had also argued for a stop to cooperation with Russia, were accused of cheap sucking up to voters from the Faroe Islands’ fishing communities, but Hoydal waved off the accusations:

“When elections were called, we were faced with another moral obligation, namely that towards the least fortunate on the Faroe Islands. To break with Russia would have in the short term enormous impact on the many families whose income depends on the cod from the Barents Sea,” he said.

He argued that duly prepared compensations to those who would lose their fishing quotas or their salary must be in place before any rupture to the deal with Russia.

“That was why we had to support the extension of the fisheries arrangement and then form a new government that can discontinue the arrangement in an orderly fashion,” he said.

Still in the car, he explained that the Faroese trawlers that are equipped to catch Russian cod in the Barents Sea cannot easily be adapted to catch the kind of fish sought by Russian vessels in Faroese waters. Unlike in Greenland, he said, difficult and expensive transitions would be needed if such transition was to be made.

In 2023, Faroese fishing vessels will have access to some 18,000 tons of Russian fish, while Russian vessels will catch fish of roughly the same value in Faroese waters. They will also reload and service their ships in Faroese harbors.

As I write, the elections in the Faroe Island are over, but the Faroe Islands still have no new government. Most likely, the leader of the social democrats, Aksel Johansen, will be the next premier of the Faroe Island.

If so, his promise to not enter into any quota swapping with Russia for 2024 unless the war in Ukraine is over will follow him into office.

Meanwhile, I learned that dissatisfaction is growing among ordinary Faroese:

“The Faroe Islands are changing. Still more people feel bad when all that seems to matter is money. Some still say that we are a very small country and that it makes no difference what we do, but most people find today that as Faroese we also have to be decent people,” said Hallbera West, an assistant professor of political science at the University of the Faroe Islands.

This text was first published on ArcticToday.com 14. December 2022.


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Putins krig skader klimaforskningen i Arktis

december 1, 2022 • Af
Præsident Putins krig i Ukraine gør skade på det avancerede internationale modelarbejde, der skal forudsige klimaets udvikling. Forskerne bag klimamodellerne må nu undvære centrale data fra Ruslands kolossale arktiske provinser, hvor temperaturen ligesom i andre dele af Arktis stiger fire gange så hurtigt som i resten af verden.
Uden en støt strøm af data og forskning fra denne del af Arktis, vil resten af verden miste vigtig viden om klimakrisens natur og forventlige udvikling.Danmark, USA, EU og resten af den vestlige verden har stoppet stort set alt samarbejde med russiske forskningsinstitutioner, og danske, tyske og andre udenlandske forskere, der tidligere har hentet data om atmosfæren, polarisen og permafrosten i det russiske Arktis, kan ikke længere rejse ind i Rusland.

prof. Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, der forsker i permafrost, forudser langvarige skader på klimaforskningen. Foto: UNIS, Svalbard

En af Danmarks fremmeste forskere i permafrost, professor Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, der til dagligt arbejder på UNIS, Universitetssenteret på Svalbard, fortalte mig om det voksende dilemma i sidste uge på det årlige træf for danske, grønlandske og færøske polarforskere på Hindsgavl Slot udenfor Middelfart:

“Det er halvdelen af Arktis, der ikke leverer data. Vi har ikke adgang til, hvad der egentlig foregår. Vi har brug for hele Arktis, når man for eksempel skal verificere sine modeller. Der er rigtigt mange russiske og andre forskere, der har brugt tid på at opbygge målinger af eksempelvis permafrost i Sibirien, hvor den tykkeste permafrost i verden findes, men de data har vi ikke adgang til længere. Der opstår en større usikkerhed om, hvorvidt man modellerer korrekt. Det bliver en joker i det arbejde, man laver,” siger hun.

Arktis på pause

Problemerne begyndte i marts, da den danske regering sammen med de øvrige seks vestlige regeringer i Arktisk Råd satte alt samarbejde med Rusland i Arktisk Råd på pause – inklusive de mange forskningsprogrammer, der udgør kernen af rådets arbejde. Samtidig har EU stoppet al kontakt med Rusland i EU-finansierede forskningsprogrammer.

Pausen i Arktis Råds samarbejde med Rusland har ingen fast udløbsdato, og politikerne bag beslutningen har ikke angivet faste kriterier for, hvornår den kan ophæves.

I forskningsmiljøerne kalkuleres der derfor med potentielt ganske langvarige, negative effekter.

“Indtil videre tænker vi ikke så meget over det, fordi vi tidligere har haft en hvis adgang til data fra Rusland. Men hvad så med fremtiden? Hvis jeg må være lidt sortsynet, så kan det jo godt tage en generation, før vi har gang i de her ting igen,” siger Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen.

Også i diplomatiet frygter man et langvarigt hul i samarbejdet. Selv garvede diplomater taler nu om udsigt til “sameksistens” i stedet for “samarbejde” med Rusland i Arktis.

Til den årlige Arctic Circle konference, der samlede mere en 2000 deltagere i Reykjavik i oktober, fortalte David Balton, der leder præsident Bidens Arctic Executive Steering Committee, at man efter Ruslands invasion i Ukraine seriøst overvejede at droppe målsætningen om “samarbejde med alle” i USA’s seneste arktiske strategi, der blev offentliggjort fra 7. oktober.

Nordisk formandskab

David Balton advarede også om, at alle kontakter med vestlige forskere kan være farlige for de russiske forskere; en advarsel, der blev gentaget i Middelfart i sidste uge.

Mere optimistiske forskere, diplomater og politikere som Aaja Chemnitz, folketingsmedlem for Inuit Ataqatigiit, øjner dog et vist håb i det faktum, at Norge i maj 2023 afløser Rusland som formand for Arktisk Råd, og at det fra 2025 er Danmarks og dernæst Sveriges tur, i alt seks år med nordisk formandskab og muligheder for samordning.

Aaja Chemnitz, der også er præsident for Arctic Parliamentarians, et samarbejdsorgan for politikere fra de otte arktiske nationer, håber, at en langsom opblødning i forholdet til Rusland i Arktis kan begynde i efteråret 2023: “For langt de fleste aktører i Arktis er krigen i Ukraine afgørende for, om man vil samarbejde med Rusland eller ej. Men jeg tror, at Norge fra maj næste år vil begynde at rykke ved nogle ting. Vi er nødt til at have en diskussion om, hvad vi vil forsøge at opnå i Arktisk Råd, hvis krigen i Ukraine trækker ud i flere år – måske et helt årti,” fortalte hun mig i Middelfart.

Forskningen i Arktis kan måske blive noget af det første, man kan samarbejder med Rusland om igen: “Jeg håber, at vi med udsigt til seks års nordisk formandskab kan få en diskussion om, hvorvidt vi måske på et tidspunkt kan få et samarbejde med enkelte  aktører i Rusland på forskningsområdet,” siger hun. Her er der historisk præcedens.

Under Den Kolde Krig bidrog USA, Kina, Rusland og Canada til opblødning af de hårde politiske fronter netop ved at samarbejde om forskning i permafrost i International Permafrost Association: “Man besøgte og lærte om permafrost hos hinanden, og det var klart noget man gjorde også for at skubbe til en bredere udvikling”, fortæller Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, der var IPA’s præsident fra 2016 til 2020. The International Permafrost Association blev stiftet i 1983 og bidrager stadig til forskningsdiplomatiet.

Ny dansk plan

Universiteterne stillede sammen med DMI og en række andre institutioner inden udskrivelsen af Folketingsvalget via Forum for Arktisk Forskning et forslag til forsknings- og uddannelsesminister Jesper Petersen om en ekstraordinær femårig polarforsknings-indsats til 300 millioner kroner. De håber, at en ny regering vil behandle forslaget i starten af 2023, hvor en forsinket finanslov for 2023 formentlig skal forhandles på plads.

Polarforskerne i Grønland, Færøerne og Danmark lagde i 2020 tilsammen 662 årsværk – heraf 107 i Grønland og 42 på Færøerne. De 300 millioner skal øge polarforskningen efter strategisk udvalgte mål.

Jesper Petersen foreslog inden valget, at en del af pengene måske kunne findes blandt de ekstra milliarder til forsvaret, som et flertal på Christiansborg allerede er enige om.

Forsvaret støtter i forvejen forskningen i Arktis med skibstransport og anden logistik, og Forsvaret er selv i stigende grad afhængig af ny viden om polarisen, storme og andre klimafænomener.

International bekymring

Forskerne skal navigere i et stadig mere spændingsfyldt Arktis, men det bliver uden Rusland; på det punkt er alle forskere i Vesten i samme båd: Professor Donie Bret-Harte, videnskabelig leder af USA’s største arktiske forskningsstation, Toolik Field Station i Alaska, fortalte mig nogle uger forud for mødet i Middelfart, hvordan de russiske forskere også har problemer, fordi de må undvære pengene fra international forskningsprogrammer: “Pausen i samarbejdet har gjort det meget vanskeligere for mange russiske forskere at arbejde, fordi deres adgang til finansiering er svundet ind. Jeg tror, at der vil opstå et stort hul i vores viden,” sagde hun under et møde på Island i INTERACT, et pan-arktisk netværk af arktiske forskningsstationer, der nu må undvære de russiske medlemmer.

Hun advarede ligesom David Balton fra præsident Bidens Arktis-råd om de risici, enhver kontakt med vesten betyder for russiske forskere, og hun forudså en lang skadesperiode: “Jo længere pausen varer, jo sværere vil det blive at få tingene i gang igen bagefter,” sagde hun.

Selv holder hun dog personlige, private relationer ved lige: “Jeg mener, at sanktionerne mod Rusland er helt på sin plads, og jeg efterlever dem gerne. Men jeg føler stærkt, at den indsats, der gøres på individuelt plan for at fastholde samarbejder, ikke bør stoppes. Putins forsøg på at isolere hans folk; det mener jeg ikke, at vi skal hjælpe ham med.”

En af hendes kolleger, den britiske professor Terry Callaghan, der i mere end 50 år har drevet polarforskning ofte i samarbejde med russiske kolleger anser adgang til det russiske Arktis for helt uundværlig, og en hvis grad af kontakt bør opretholdes på privat niveau på trods af krigen i Ukraine: “Det landområder, der er centrale for at forstå at forstå de feedback-mekanismer, som afgør, hvad der sker med klimaet og biodiversiteten på resten af kloden. Vi kan se på satellitbilleder, hvad der sker på jordens overflade, men vi kan ikke forstå, hvorfor forandringerne finder sted. Vi er nødt til at have folk på pletten,” fortalte han.

“Det har taget mere end 30 år at opbygge tillid og samarbejde, siden Sovjetunionen faldt sammen. Hvis først den tillid ødelægges, bliver det ikke nogen hurtig proces at bygge den op igen. Vi er nødt til at bevare nogle broer. Hvis ikke vi har nogen overhovedet, vil det være en katastrofe for fremtiden,” siger han

Artiklen blev første gang bragt på Altinget/Arktis 1. december 2022


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The Danish Kingdom’s Arctic votes are suddenly decisive, forcing postcolonial dilemmas to surface

november 12, 2022 • Af

Not since Donald Trump’s flamboyant 2019 vision of a U.S. takeover of Greenland, the world’s largest island, has the Kingdom of Denmark’s unique postcolonial construct demanded so much attention of the Danes themselves.

In 2019, the strength of the union between Denmark and Greenland was tested by the sudden move by then-President Trump. Now, after general elections that were held in Denmark on November 1, the kingdom’s internal relations have once again come under renewed scrutiny.

 

Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam (right) and Aaja Chemnitz, the two parliamentarians from Greenland now hold decisive powers. Photo: Leiff Josefsen

Since the election, three North Atlantic members of the Danish parliament — two from Greenland, a former Danish colony, and one from the Faroe Islands, a semi-autonomous group of 18 islands in the North Atlantic — have held the power to decide who will lead the government in Copenhagen for the next four years.

I can assure you that this is not a common situation in Copenhagen, the Kingdom’s capital, from where I write, and on the fringes of the furor that this situation has provoked in some quarters, thoughts of possible changes to our constitution are now being aired.

Arctic power

Although the situation is unusual, everything is happening according to carefully elaborated rules and procedures constructed to keep the Danish Kingdom inclusive and operating like a well-oiled machine. Even if there is more than 3,500 kilometers separating Copenhagen from Nuuk, Greenland is still — like the Faroe Islands — a part of the kingdom (unlike Iceland, which severed its last formal ties to the Danish king in 1943 and became a fully independent sovereign republic).

As we digest the peculiar details of the present, many Danes have been forced to revisit our old relations to the Faroe Islands and Greenland and to recount why it is that a tiny number of votes, cast by people who live far away in the Arctic and who speak their own separate languages, can suddenly hold such sway over our national politics.

The basic question, of course is whether it is still fair and good that the peoples of Greenland and the Faroe Islands have such powers?

Are the old rules and procedures, established in another era, still legitimate and sufficiently reflective of our values and ideals?

As one of our former prime ministers, the liberal Lars Løkke Rasmussen quipped on television in the late hours of the election night as he licked his electoral wounds:

“If you look at Denmark — not the Danish realm, but Denmark — there is no red majority. Only because of the way the votes fall in Greenland is there a red majority,” he said.

Others followed suit. Nobody questioned openly the electoral system that  allows the North Atlantic members of the Danish parliament their powers, but the electoral campaign had already revealed how Danish politicians will at times lack respect for their North Atlantic counterparts.

One contender for the office of the prime minister, the conservative leader Søren Pape Poulsen, was quoted during the campaign as remarking that “Greenland is just Africa on ice,” a slur allegedly aired during a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen. Poulsen had to apologize to the people of Greenland on prime time TV while a roar of dissatisfaction made its way from Nuuk.

Laws and tradition

Many Danes would be unable to remember the full explanation as to why voters in the Faroe Islands and in Greenland can suddenly wield such influence over the political process in Denmark.

As our constitution was put in place in 1849, the Faroese were considered part and parcel of Denmark’s cultural and historic realm. There were less than 10,000 people living on the islands at the time. Moreover, the islands were steered by Danish officials, the islanders spoke (and still speak) a Nordic language, and as a new parliamentary system was established on the basis of the Kingdom’s new constitution, the Faroese were guaranteed the right to elect two members of parliament.

In 1953, following a national referendum in Denmark (but not in Greenland), the constitution was revised and an end was put to Greenland’s colonial status. Greenland was turned instead into a fully integrated part of the Danish Kingdom and those who lived in Greenland became, like the Faroese, Danish citizens.

As all legislation pertaining to Greenland came from Denmark, Greenland was accorded the same right to elect two members of parliament.

The four North Atlantic members have since been counted as fully mandated members of parliament in Copenhagen. They carry exactly as much or as little political weight and influence as the 175 other members of parliament — and this is all stipulated by the constitution.

Most of the year, the efforts of these four members of parliament raise few alarms. The media, the public and most Danish politicians seldomly concern themselves with the affairs of Greenland or the Faroe Islands, but then — boom — suddenly, as in these days, the four extra votes may become crucially important as a majority in the Folketing, Denmark’s parliament, is needed to form a new government.

Tiny votes

This is then the resulting state of affairs: As I write this on Tuesday, a struggle for the central hold on political power in Denmark hinges on three politicians from Greenland and the Faroe Islands, who have chosen to support the efforts of Mette Frederiksen to form a new government.

Behind them stand relatively small numbers of voters. The two from Greenland received 4,289 (Aaja Chemnitz) and 6,655 votes (Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam). That is, from a Danish perspective, not a lot of people, and as the media in Denmark have been careful to report, more than half of the electorate in Greenland did not even take part in the elections. Most people in Greenland seem to care more about who holds power in Inatsisartut or Naalakkersuisut, the parliament and government in Greenland, respectively.

Sjurdur Skaale finds the power he suddenly holds over DAnish politics unreasonable

Sjúrður Skaale, the Faroese, won 3,804 votes at the polls in the Faroe Islands. In total, less than 15,000 voters invested in these three politicians, but if only one of them changes his or her mind tomorrow, the political situation in Copenhagen will be turned on its head. Somebody other than Frederiksen will win the power to lead negotiations to form the next government.

Unreasonable?

While we wait for the results, Frederiksen, a Social Democrat and acting prime minister, has won the mandate to lead the negotiations.

At the elections, her Social Democratic party and the center-left parties that support her won exactly 90 seats or a marginal majority of the 179 seats in parliament, but only if you include the three members from the North Atlantic who have chosen to support her.

We have to look back to a general election in 1998 to find a similar situation. The Danish prime minister of those days won another four years in office only through the support of a single politician from the Faroe Islands. The balance tipped when the Faroese support was declared on TV late into election night.

To top up the current turmoil, Sjurdur Skaale, the Faroese Social Democrat now re-elected into key position, argues that his own immediate hold on power is both undemocratic and illegitimate.

In and op-ed for JyllandsPosten, one of Denmark’s main media outles, he wrote last week:

“When a legitimate, democratic election leads to a result that is unfair and illegitimate, there is something wrong with the very system.”

“When many now find it problematic that I and the two Greenlandic members of parliament decide who will be prime minister, it confirms this very grave condition: The constitutional provisions for the four North Atlantic members might undermine Danish democracy.”

Outdated constitution

Skaale’s main point is that the Faroe Islands of today is a very different nation from the Faroe Islands of 1851, when the first Faroese politicians took their seats in the newly established parliament in Copenhagen.

In those days, the legislators in Copenhagen coined basically all legislation pertaining to the Faroe Island, and most people found it natural that Faroese politicians took part in the legislative process.

Today, as Sjurdur Skaale is at pains to explain, the kingdom works in radically different ways.

“The political development has led us far beyond the legal boundaries of the constitution. If the constitution is a size 42 shoe, the Danish realm is a size 47 foot,” Skaale writes.

Today, most legislation for the Faroe Island is designed and decided on by Lagtinget, the Faroese parliament, and Landsstyret, the Faroese government in Torshavn, just as most legislation in Greenland is designed and decided by Inatsisartut, Greenland’s parliament, and Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s government in Nuuk. The role of Folketinget has been greatly reduced.

“I now hold a seat in a parliament that does not legislate for the voters who have elected me,” Skaale wrote. He also finds it wrong that he can influence Danish legislation that will put burdens on Danes in Denmark, even if the Danish electorate cannot pay him back:

“Through the fiscal bill I can lay burdens on citizens who cannot punish me at the next elections. They cannot reach me. I am elected in another country,” he wrote.

Skaale has advocated an update to the Danish constitution for some time, but he has been unable to raise any sizeable support in Copenhagen and there is little support for his view in Greenland: “I see no reason to devalue the worth of our mandate. It is described in the constitution,” Aaja Chemnitz, one of the two re-elected members from Greenland told me a few days ago. She is currently using her suddenly swollen influence to push for, for instance, quick implementation of the largest ever investigation into possible Danish wrong-doings in Greenland, a project that was agreed prior to the elections.

Last year, when Skaale tried to win support for his views in Folketinget, Prime Minister Frederiksen answered with a dismissal:

“The four North Atlantic members of Folketinget bring something very, very important — a focus on the conditions that pertain in particular to the Faroe Islands and Greenland, but also to the combined efforts of the realm. I have no problems with or and suggestions for changes to the conditions under which we work.”

 

First published at ArcticToday.com 8 November 2022

 

 


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Uncertainty reigns over the future of Arctic cooperation with Russia

november 4, 2022 • Af

The very first sentence in the new U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic Region almost didn’t make it into print.

The top sentence is meant to underscore the overarching desire of the U.S. to cooperate with the other seven nations in the Arctic: “The United States seeks an Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative.”

This pivotal wording was at the top of a final draft, when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and new discussions erupted in the U.S. administration:

“Following the invasion of Ukraine, the question arose: Do we really imagine an Arctic that is both peaceful and cooperative? But at the end of the day we decided that the answer is yes. We still do have that vision. It is still our goal and ambition, even if it is harder to achieve now,” Ambassador David Balton, executive director of the Arctic Executive Steering Committee in Washington, told me last week at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Ambassador David Balton, head of the US Arctic Executive Steering Commitee

“I think we all benefited from the peaceful and cooperative environment in the Arctic that we have had the luxury of experiencing since the end of the Cold War but which is now under threat“ he said.

 

I asked if he really believes that a resumption of cooperation with Russia in the Arctic will be possible in the foreseeable future. “I have to think so,” he said.

Russia conundrum

The Russia conundrum permeated this year’s Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland, involving some 2,000 attendees, including heads of states, the Crown Prince of Norway, Canada’s Governor General, ministers, ambassadors and scientists — but very few Russians and none affiliated with the Moscow government (or at least nobody known to be).

The seven western Arctic governments would like in principle to shun Russia; freeze cooperation, isolate President Vladimir Putin’s nation as a means of showing solidarity with Ukraine and punishing Russia’s violations of international law, human rights and other basic rules of civil conduct in Ukraine.

At the same time, however, several Arctic actors speaking from the assembly’s podiums or in private appeared painfully aware that a complete stop to cooperation with Russia in the Arctic would cause a host of problems and that some of the early restrictive measures, imposed soon after Russia’s invasion into Ukraine in February, may have to be relaxed.

Read more:

Russia’s Arctic provinces constitute half the landmass of the Arctic region and vast portions of the Arctic seas are within Russia’s exclusive economic zone or territorial boundaries. Also, non-Arctic nations like China and India are continuing cooperation with Russia in the Arctic.

“The Arctic cannot — we cannot afford long-lasting costs for suspension or paralysis,” China’s special envoy to the Arctic, Gao Feng said at the assembly.

Gao Feng, China’s special envoy for Arctic affairs, speaks at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland, on October 15, 2022. (Melody Schreiber)

Mead Treadwell, a U.S. business investor, former chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and former lieutenant general of Alaska, shared with me his thoughts, based on decades of cooperation with Russian partners:

“We cannot pretend that Russia does not exist just because we disagree with them. They have an agenda in the Arctic; they have allies like China. There are engineering firms not subject to sanctions who will work for them and countries like India who depend on them. To say ‘Russia is off, let us not pay attention to Russia’ is like saying we will not pay attention to the Arctic, the environment, shipping or the Indigenous peoples,” he said.

“It is important that we maintain contact. Since this horror in Ukraine started I have gotten messages from Russians friends who care about the future of the Arctic, who are sad for their country. Some even outwardly protesting. Without those networks, we only have spy satellites to tell us what goes on in Russia, and that is not good enough. It is important for our own security and for all that we are working on in the Arctic — environmental protection, safe oceans and so on. We need the personal connections so that we can hopefully get the governmental contacts back up at some point,” he said.

Much continues

Norway, while tough on sanctions on Russia and military support for Ukraine, continues its more than 50 years of cooperation with Russia on fish stock management in the Barents Sea. Like the Faroe Islands — a part of the Danish Kingdom — Norway also continues to service Russian fishing vessels in designated ports and Norwegian scientists are encouraged to continue private cooperation with Russian colleagues.

Other arrangements like search and rescue agreements with Russia are still operational in different parts of the Arctic, as a halt to such cooperation would potentially leave also seafarers of western Arctic countries to drown, should they need help from a Russian vessel.

Intergovernmental negotiations on fishing in the central part of the Arctic Ocean continues with Russia included; so do talks on the legal rights to the seabed in the Arctic Ocean and other formal processes.

Some weather services, civil nuclear disaster preparedness, coast guard operations, search and rescue and other essential functions depend to varying degrees on cooperation with Russia. The same goes for globally significant Arctic climate science programs, sea ice monitoring, atmospheric research, permafrost observation, biodiversity studies and others.

How long a pause?

The seven western governments in the Arctic have put cooperation with Russia in the Arctic Council, including large and long term science projects, on “pause” — no official contact is allowed with Russian partners — and at the Arctic Circle Assembly several observers agreed that the pause might last for years or even decades.

Numerous science projects involving Russian scientists are halted. Photo: World Meteorological Institute

The urgent question facing a multitude of military bodies, government agencies, institutions of learning and science, private enterprises and non-governmental actors is how to maintain operations in the Arctic if formal cooperation with Russia remains down for years.

[Ukraine conflict hurts Russian science, as West pulls funding]

A multitude of dilemmas are still unresolved: Can some work involving Russians be maintained? Can contacts with official Russian non-military agencies on fisheries, the environment, sports or culture be sustained? Are all types of official research programs involving Russian scientists prohibited? Can U.S., Canadian or European Union grants somehow still be spent on projects involving Russians, even if contacts with official Russian institutions are halted? Can artists collaborate across Russia’s borders? Can they do so on government grants? Can the flow of data on climate change and biodiversity in Russia be maintained through official channels — or privately? What to do with Russians on temporary work stays in the West? Are Zoom meetings with Russians acceptable? Are physical meetings with Russians possible outside Russia? Can money transfers be made to struggling Russian colleagues?

Coexistence?

Evan Bloom, senior fellow at the Wilson Center Polar Institute in Washington and a former Director of Ocean and Polar Affairs of the U.S. State Department foresaw a period of “operational coexistence” rather than cooperation with Russia, but what that means in practice remains murky:

“Russia is key to the Arctic. Russia makes up half of the Arctic and it is not clear what coexistence means in their absence,” he told a sizable group of spectators in Reykjavik.

The Arctic Council has allowed more than 70 joint projects not involving Russians to resume operations while Arctic Council projects and all EU projects with Russian participation remain frozen, including large multi-year programs of climate science and biodiversity.

I asked Evan Bloom if he expected western Arctic governments to partially relax the Arctic Council’s pause to allow projects of particular significance to continue:

“It is very hard at this point for governments to say ‘yes it is possible to work with Russian government institutions or Russians in general,”’ he said.

“It is more likely that private researchers will find a way to work with Russian colleagues in a somewhat informal way. In cases where there is no prohibition and it is not government funded research, there are probably some ways for that very valuable exchange to continue, even if it may be tricky.”

Balton echoed this approach but cautioned against the dangers that collaboration with western partners could mean for Russians actors:

“People-to-people efforts could put people in Russia in jeopardy. We don’t want that. On the other hand, certain activities, in particular science activities — we do need the data coming out of the Russian Arctic, and as government-to-government contacts are largely closed off now, we may have to rely on other forms of communication to get that data,” he told me.

Russians still involved

Research professor Timo Koivurova of the Arctic Center at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland, presented at the assembly a study of how Russia’s war in Ukraine has completely altered Finland’s Arctic prospects:

“There will be no return to the pre-war reality,” the report, commissioned by the office of the Finnish prime minister in Helsinki, said.

The report recounts a host of new challenges to Finland. The EU, for instance, has stopped all Russian involvement in Arctic cross-border environmental programs worth millions of Euros. This is especially painful to Finland, who share a border of some 1,300 kilometers with Russia.

“The paralysis of international cooperation and research in the Arctic region is particularly problematic. Many measures related to the sustainability of the Arctic require extensive international and regional cooperation, as nature and the environment do not change in line with national borders,” the report reads.

In Reykjavik, Koivurova recalled for me an interview he did with a Finnish official who works with Russian colleagues to protect the many rivers crossing the Finland-Russia border:

“She asked me why we now have to punish the environment,” Koivurova said.

He reminded his audience that Russia has not given up on Arctic cooperation even if bodies like the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council have frozen all relations with Russia:

“Russia is represented in almost all intergovernmental organizations and treaty processes relevant to the Arctic. In all the legal circumpolar processes that we have been able to identify, the Russians are there and continuing the work. This shows us the power of international law, and I think it is a good thing,“ Koivoruva told me.

“We have seen the international prohibition on the use of force being broken before, for instance by the U.S. in Iraq. I fully support the sanctions against Russia — the war in Ukraine is horrible — but as academics we also have to look at the bigger picture,” he said.

Science suffers

As many links to Russia are down, the flow of Arctic data into the global climate models is one likely victim. A few weeks prior to the Arctic Circle Assembly I attended a meeting in Keflavik, Iceland of INTERACT, a network of Arctic research stations. One of the founders of the network, British biologist Terry Callaghan, who was included in the IPCC’s Nobel Peace Prize award, has worked in the Arctic for more than 55 years. He has had to put many long-lasting cooperations with state-affiliated Russian partners on hold with no hope of resumption in sight, but still collaborates with individual Russian scientists outside of the EU-funded INTERACT activities.

[Russia’s climate goals and science are also casualties of Putin’s war in Ukraine]

“This whole break of collaborations is a huge and tragic loss. There are Russians on the ground on half the Arctic landmass who are observing day to day what is happening. And this is not a trivial part of the Arctic, but land which is key to the feedbacks that will determine what happens to the climate and to biodiversity on the rest of the Earth. We can look at satellite images and see what is happening on the surface but we cannot understand why we see changes. We need people on the ground,” Callaghan told me.

“It has taken 30 odd years to build up trust and collaboration since the Soviet Union fell apart. Once that trust is destroyed it is not a fast process building it up again. We have to try to maintain some bridges. I don’t believe collaborations on carbon emissions or biodiversity or medical science is going to hurt anybody. If we have no bridges at all, it will be a disaster for the future,“ he said.

Researchers based at the Toolik Field Station, on Alaska’s North Slope, work on an Arctic Lake. (Craig McCaa / BLM)

Professor Syndonia Bret-Harte, science co-director at Toolik Field Station of the University of Alaska, the largest Arctic field station in the U.S., also recommended contact be maintained with Russian partners as long as their safety in Russia was not imperiled.

“Very few people in the West speak Russian, so we are dependent on the Russian scientists to tell us what is going on. Also, the pause (of the Arctic Council) has made it much more difficult for Russian scientists to do science because their sources of funding have been reduced. I think there is going to be a big gap in knowledge. We will still have some sort of knowledge like remote sensing, but you will not have the on-the-ground perspective, which is very valuable,” she said.

“The longer the pause lasts the harder it is going to be to get things restarted. I think the sanctions against Russia are appropriate and I don’t have a problem complying with them. But I feel quite strongly that the efforts of individual people to collaborate should not be restricted. Putin’s efforts to isolate his people — I don’t think we need to help him do that.”

First published on ArcticToday.com 22. October 2022. 


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Walrus may have triggered both the start and the end of the Norse settlements in Greenland

oktober 28, 2022 • Af
The author stands before a replica of the Icelandic home of Eiríkur Þorvaldsson, better known as Erik the Red, built according to archeological findings. (foto: Michael Poulsen)

I had expected it to be somewhat larger. Perhaps even a whiff of the regal, signs of a Viking ruler, a few glimmering swords in the corner, perhaps a fur cape, ornaments indicating the grand turns of history instigated by those tall and longhaired men and women who lived here.

My mistake, of course. Erik the Red and his wife , who went on to establish the famous Norse settlements in Greenland back in the 10th century — the first European communities in Greenland — were only youngsters when they married and built with their own hands this turf- and driftwood house on a piece of grassland given to them by Þjóðhildur’s father.

They did not lack, but they did not belong to the very wealthy of the early settlers in Iceland either. No sunlight entered their first home except through the hole in the roof over the fireplace and the floor was trodden earth.

They had a son, Leif, who would become one of the first Europeans to set a ship ashore on the American continent, but back in Iceland, where it all began, the family did not stand out. Erik was known as Eiríkur Þorvaldsson, the son of Thorvald, a common name.

The Saga of Erik

I recently visited the small museum in Haukadalur in northwest Iceland, where a replica of Erik’s and Þjóðhildur’s first family home now stands, built according to archaeological finds and other historical records.

The original stone foundation of their actual house lies covered by thick, healthy grass about 50 meters up the hill from the present replica of their house. Archeologists excavated the foundation in the late 19th century and others went deeper in the late 1990s to unearth a few additional traces of Erik’s and Þjóðhildur’s everyday life.

One question, however, has not been easy to answer. Erik’s and Þjóðhildur’s life in Iceland cannot have been all bad; the land around their home was obviously fertile, the climate hospitable, Þjóðhildur’s relatives were not far away, they were part of a community here, so why did Erik and Þjóðhildur decide to leave Iceland in the first place?

Murderer on the run

The mainstream explanation has been for long that it had become too dangerous for them to stay.

Erik killed two of neighbors in duels, according to the sagas; a bloody but legal way to settle grievances at the time. Perhaps out of fear of reprisals Erik and Þjóðhildur took their woodworks with them and shifted to an island in the nearby Breiðafjörður.

After another rift, Erik killed the two sons of a new neighbor, and this time it was not legal, but murder. Erik was deemed lawless, which meant anyone was free to kill him and make away with his belongings. Only if he went into exile for at least three years could Erik be exonerated.

That was why they set sail — or so the common story went.

After weeks at sea, Erik and his company arrived in what we now know as south Greenland. They spent the first two years exploring the fjords; it must have looked very similar to what they knew from Iceland.

Walking about their home in Iceland, I noticed a stark resemblance to south Greenland: Grassy, rolling hills, well suited for the sheep, pigs and cattle they took with them from Iceland. Heftier mountains not far away, waters known for an abundance of fish and sea mammals, flocks of geese, eider, ptarmigans and other fowl. They must have felt lucky, when they found all this in Greenland.

But still, why did they leave?

On the sunny side

“Erik had the sunny side of the valley. They must have had a particularly good reason to go,” said Bjarnheidur Johannsdottir, the daily manager of the replica museum, when I visited.

She believes that walrus was a decisive factor behind the decision making.

The first wave of settlers, who had come to Iceland from Norway, found a healthy, but relatively small population of walrus in the fjords in west Iceland.

They turned walrus hides into exceedingly strong leathery ropes, valuable in all of the seafaring nations of the North Atlantic. Walrus blubber was rendered into oil. And by far the most profitable walrus product was the animal’s ivory tusks.

The Icelanders were closely connected to trading networks in Europe, and walrus tusks were sold at ever higher prices. The ivory teeth were turned into highly valuable carvings in professionalized workshops in Norway, England and elsewhere.

The export of walrus tusks long provided a handsome income for the settlers along the coast, but when Erik grew up — so Johannsdottir tells me —  the trade in walrus items was in deep trouble.

Manager of the Eirikstadur Museum, Bjarnheidur Johansdottir, lives just down the valley from Eirik the Red’s and Thordildur’s old homestead. The farms in the valley still go by the same names as those used a thousand years ago. (foto: Martin Breum)

“The earliest settlers had been in Iceland for the better part of a century. They had killed most of the walrus by then,” she said.

Erik and Þjóðhildur built their home in the middle of the conundrum. The waters not far to the west were known for their walruses: “We have islands in the fjords that have names indicating walruses,” Johannsdottir told me, but now the walruses were gone and Erik and Þjóðhildur was excited by the lure of walruses in Greenland.

But how would they have known of the walrus in Greenland? According to legend, after all, Erik and his entourage were the first Europeans to establish themselves there.

Others had been

Back in Copenhagen, I called on senior researcher Jette Arneborg, an archaeologist at Denmark’s National Museum, and found ample support for Johannsdottir’s interpretation. Arneborg has studied the Norse settlements in Greenland for decades and also visited Erik and Þjóðhildur’s home in Iceland.

“We have indications that they knew quite well that they would find walrus in Greenland,” she told me. She and her colleagues have found archaeological traces of Norse visits to Greenland that Arneborg believes predate Erik’s and Þjóðhildur’s arrival.

“Other Icelanders had most likely already been to Greenland and brought back word of the walruses,” she said.

She thinks that Erik’s and Þjóðhildur’s travels to Greenland were perhaps supported or even orchestrated by a consortium of Icelandic and perhaps Norwegian entrepreneurs.

“We know that sea-going ships were very expensive and seldom owned by a single person. Rather, they would belong to several people or entrepreneurs who were in it together,” she told me.

Archeologists found the actual site of Erik the Red’s and Thorhildur’s home a little above the place that was chosen for the replica. The first diggings were done here in the 19th century, and followed up in the late 1990s. (Martin Breum)

The promise of walrus in Greenland may also explain why Erik, as he returned briefly to Iceland after the first two years, was able to persuade so many other Icelanders to follow him back to Greenland:

“It makes good sense to include the walrus as a factor here,” Arneborg said. The prospect of unoccupied fertile valleys in Greenland probably also played a part as did the access to plenty of fish, fowl, seals and other foods, but Arneborg believes there is good reason to focus on the walrus: “They were most likely a very important incentive,” she said.

Vital walrus

In south Greenland, I visited some years ago the replica of Þjóðhildur and Erik the Red’s more substantive dwellings at Qassiarsuk; the place the Norse called Brattahlid. According to Jette Arneborg the replica there is probably somewhat larger than Erik’s and Þjóðhildur real-life home in Greenland would have been, but even so it seems the two of them did well there. When Þjóðhildur abandoned their old faith they even erected a small church a few steps from the main house.

I peered into their alcove in Greenland and noticed the separate walls and a separate door that would have provided the privacy they did not enjoy in Iceland. Greenland was good to them; they were better off there than in Iceland.

Their group grew to a wholesome society of farmer-hunters, numbering some 2,800 people at its height, according to the latest research (down from previous estimates of about 5,000 settlers).

Houses in Iceland at the time of Erik the Red were built primarily off driftwood and turf. The woodwork was assembled without nails; dismantled and moved when necessary. (Martin Breum)

The Norse remained in Greenland for more than 400 years; the trade in walrus tusks was stunningly successful. According to Smithsonian Magazine  records from the 14th century tell of a single Norse boatload carrying tusks from 260 walruses that were worth more than all the woolen cloth sent to the Norwegian king by nearly 4,000 Icelandic farms for one six-year period. These figures may not all be correct, but there seems to be little doubt that the walrus trade was vitally important to the Norse.

The tusks and hides were traded for crucial necessities from Europe. Goods made of iron, for example, were indispensable to the Scandinavian lifestyle of the Norse.

Several accounts of their journeys to North America are known — but then things began to go bad. The latest records of the Norse in Greenland are from a wedding in 1408; at that time it seems that a gradual collapse of the walrus trade was putting an end to their community.

New amounts of African ivory were entering the European market; the plague in Europe hampered exchanges with the merchants in Norway and it was getting colder in Greenland; more sea ice and storms made commerce across the ocean difficult. Times were rough, and without a steady income from the tusks, the first European settlements in Greenland were no longer sustainable.

All in all, it appears that walruses might have provided both the beginning and the end of the story of the Norse in Greenland. The latest science supports this interpretation. But perhaps there is still more to be learned.

As Bjarnheidur Johannsdottir told me in Iceland when we sat looking out at Erik’s and Þjóðhildur’s first turf house in the valley and talked of his origins in Norway, his father and their travels across the sea: “I was born 20 feet from the sea myself,” she said. “Quite often I just have to go see it and smell it. I understand perfectly well why Erik may not have felt entirely satisfied here.”