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26 Nov, 2008 10:07

Greenland votes to freeze out Denmark

Greenland votes to freeze out Denmark

The Artic island of Greenland – a Danish province – has voted resoundingly to start weaning itself off subsidies from Copenhagen. A vote on Tuesday could pave the way to independence for the world’s largest island.

The non-binding referendum was supported by 76 per cent of the population, according to Greenland's election commission; only 24 per cent voted against.

The plan, among many things, calls for Greenland to have its own police force, courts and coast guard.

It would also make the native Inuit tongue, Greenlandic, the official language. Most people descend from Inuit and speak their native language on a daily basis. Only a small minority of ethnic Danish speak only Danish.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the referendum was how potential profits from undiscovered oil fields in Greenland would be shared.

Under the current plan, the first 500 million Danish Kroner ($US 84 million) is split evenly between Denmark and Greenland. However, the new plan would give Greenland the first 75 million Kroner ($12.6 million) of oil revenue, with additional revenues being shared equally with Copenhagen.

The world's largest island connection with Denmark goes back a long way.

In 1775 it became a colony of the Danish Kingdom and remained so until 1953, when the constitution was revised making Greenland a province.

On a side note, the United States developed a geopolitical interest in the island and in 1946 offered Denmark $100 million to buy it. Denmark refused.

Under the 1979 Home Rule Act, Greenland got its own parliament and government. It also runs its own health system, schools and social services.

However, the Danish government still looks after the military and foreign affairs.

Most of the major political parties in Greenland supported more autonomy for its population of 54,000, except the opposition Democrats, who were worried that Greenland might not be able to financially support itself under greater autonomy.

The outcome of the referendum is likely to be respected because Denmark supports both greater autonomy for Greenland and a phase-out of an annual Danish subsidy of about 3.5 Kroner ($588 million), which accounts for two-thirds of the island's income.

With the support of the Danish parliament, Greenland looks to have a relatively smooth transition towards greater autonomy.

However, not all battles for autonomy in Europe go so smoothly.

The Basque situation

The Basque country is an autonomous area in northern Spain which is similar to Greenland in that it has its own parliament and government, controls the health and education systems and has a police force.

The history of its people and origin is relatively unknown and the language itself has no relation to any of the Indo-European languages that surround it. The language is central to how Basque people identify themselves.

The term Euskaldun meaning 'basque speaker' is the term for identification and Euskal Herria meaning 'Country of the Basque Language' is how they refer to their country.

Since Spain granted the area autonomy in 1978, and even before, violence and controversy has punctuated the Basque country’s fight for independence.

The ETA party (Euskadi ta Askatasuna) meaning Basque Fatherland and Liberty has been at the heart of this fight.

ETA, which has been branded a terrorist organization by Spain, the European Union and the United States, has killed more than 850 people and wounded hundreds more in its attempt to gain independence from Spain.

ETA declared a ceasefire in 2006. However, later that year a car bomb exploded in a parking lot at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport, killing two Ecuadorians. The event prompted Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to call the peace process “discontinued”.

Kosovo independence

Following the intense UN bombing missions in Serbia and Kosovo, the two Balkan regions remained bitter enemies. The first time Kosovo declared independence was in 1990 and only Albania recognized it.

Following the war in 1999, Kosovo began pushing harder for independence, culminating in its recent declaration in February of this year. Now 52 nations including the United States recognise it as a sovereign country.

The European Union advised all member states to make an individual choice about recognizing Kosovo. So far, 22 of the 27 have established ties with Pristina.

In February, Germany became the first nation to formalize its recognition by renaming its diplomatic presence in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, an embassy.

Russia has so far resisted acknowledging Kosovo due to the resistance by the west to applying the same status to the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Rusyns in Ukraine

In Ukraine, a group of people identifying themselves as Rusyns have declared autonomy from Kiev.

While this group of people have never been independent, they are now seeking to free themselves from Ukraine's control.

The group has recently called for the establishment of a Ruthenian Statehood within Ukraine.

This would grant the Rusyns broad autonomy. However, the European Congress of Rusyns (ECR) said that if Kiev does not accept their proposal by 1 December, Rusyns will proclaim itselft an independent state, which could lead to violence.

Back to Europe

Belgium is in the midst of a major political crisis and the Dutch speaking Flemish part of Belgium aims to distance itself from the French speaking south.

The Dutch speaking area, which is more wealthy and home to cities like Antwerp, feels that it is burdened with supporting French speaking Walloons in the south with their tax money.

On the other side, the French want there language to be the official language of Belgium.

The government is in turmoil as various factions jockey for position. A solution is not visible in the foreseeable future. There has even been speculation that the crisis could cause the country to split.

The Green Mountain Manifesto

Fortunately, not all secession movements involve violence. The US state of Vermont is the perfect example.

The Second Vermont Republic is a secessionist group that aims to restore the independent status of the state, which it enjoyed between 1771 and 1791 before joining the United States.

According to its website, it is aiming for a peaceful separation from the Union. In 2005, 300 people turned out for a secession convention.

More recently, the University of Vermont's Center for Rural Studies conducted a poll in which 13 per cent responded that they would support Vermont leaving the union which is up from eight per cent two years earlier.

Vermont is one of four states (California, Hawaii and Texas) who were once independent republics. Naturally, there are small secession movements in those states as well.

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