Greenland Looks To Seize A Spotlight Moment
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Greenlanders say their island has never received as much attention as it's currently experiencing following President Trump's talk about buying the island. The Visit Greenland website even crashed last week. And as Sidsel Overgaard reports, the question now is how Greenland's 56,000 people will put that attention to use.
SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: Once a week you can find a small crowd of Greenlanders enjoying a traditional meal at the Greenlandic House in Copenhagen. It's an opportunity to talk in their native language, share the news from home and laugh.
BAVIA MURCH: (Speaking Danish).
OVERGAARD: "If Trump wants to buy Greenland, he has to go through me," says Bavia Murch, "and party with me, and kiss me on the cheek - right here." His sister, Dorte Murch Hansen, chimes in. She's no fan of Trump's.
DORTE MURCH HANSEN: (Speaking Danish).
OVERGAARD: "But it's good he brought this up. Now the world knows how important Greenland is, and the Danes are paying attention. So I actually want to say thanks to Trump." Many here say that, at best, Denmark has taken Greenland for granted. At worst, those like Carl Frederik Skifte see a history of exploitation and discrimination.
CARL FREDERIK SKIFTE: (Through interpreter) For hundreds of years they earned many, many billions of kroner from Greenland. Where have they used it? They haven't educated the Greenlanders. We've been deprioritized.
OVERGAARD: These Greenlanders say they hope the recent attention will translate into bargaining power with the Danes to increase opportunities for education, jobs and economic growth. Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, one of Greenland's two representatives to the Danish Parliament, says it's already happening.
AAJA CHEMNITZ LARSEN: The government in Denmark, they're treating Greenland a bit differently.
OVERGAARD: Greenland, which already has a large degree of autonomy, can declare independence whenever it no longer needs financial support from Denmark. As polar ice melts, opening new opportunities for shipping and mining, that day no longer seems so far off. And Denmark, interested in maintaining a presence in the Arctic, is suddenly a little more attentive.
LARSEN: And they are trying to figure out, how can we do it in a respectful way? Because that's very important in order for Greenland to like the relationship between the two countries.
OVERGAARD: The change in tone is perhaps most obvious in something the new prime minister told ABC after Trump said the U.S. wanted to buy Greenland from Denmark.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER METTE FREDERIKSEN: (Speaking Greenlandic).
ULRIK PRAM GAD: Greenland is not Danish. Greenland is Greenlandic.
OVERGAARD: Political scientist Ulrik Pram Gad says, from a Danish prime minister, that is a first.
GAD: It actually means that we need to engage Greenlanders in foreign policy and security politics, not just that we ask them what they think, but they, in a sense, end up having a veto right because otherwise we would still be kind of the paternalist colonial power that decides for them. And that just doesn't work anymore.
OVERGAARD: But Gad points out that both Greenland and Denmark depend on the protection of their allies, and any discussion of Greenlandic independence assumes a world in which the old rules of multilateralism apply. That world started to feel shaky after Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea. Now, Gad says he hears echoes of that in Trump's rhetoric.
GAD: His way of thinking geopolitics in terms of transactions match better the way Putin thinks than a standard liberal rights-based world order.
OVERGAARD: Still, politicians in Denmark, Greenland and the U.S. continue to declare their alliance strong. And no matter how the situation in Greenland plays out, at least now everyone is paying attention. For NPR News, I'm Sidsel Overgaard in Denmark. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.