Greenland is an island in the North Atlantic, the largest in the world, intermittently populated throughout history by Inuit peoples for at least the last 4,500 years and, also intermittently and in demographic minority, by Scandinavian people for the last 1,000 years. Denmark annexed Greenland in the 18th century; later it imposed a system of colonial rule under which the indigenous Inuit were marginalized and oppressed.
The colonial era officially came to an end in 1953, when Greenland became a Danish county and Danish citizenship was granted to the Inuit. Still, cultural assimilation policies continued. As a reaction to this, the growth of the Greenlandic nationalism led to the establishment of an autonomous government in 1979, which in 2009 was expanded. Ever since, Greenlandic institutions have been managing most of the island’s affairs. With a weak population (less than 60,000 inhabitants), sovereignty proponents believe that exploiting the island’s vast natural resources will be enough to eventually sustain an independent state.
Greenlandic is a language of the Eskimo-Aleut group, closely related to the other languages spoken by the Inuit in northern Canada. Three major variants of Greenlandic are spoken: Kalaallisut on the west coast, which is considered the standard variety of Greenlandic; Tunumiisut on the east coast; and Inuktun in the far north.
Greenlandic is Greenland’s only official language. It is spoken by some 50,000 people, the majority of the country’s population.
Danish was an official language until 2009, and is still used in some administrative and educational settings, as well as by most Greenlanders of Danish origin and a part of the Inuit population, especially in the capital, Nuuk.
Greenland’s modern national identity began to develop in the 1960s and 1970s, based on the cultural and linguistic heritage of the Greenlandic Inuit people, as opposed to Danish colonisation.
89% of the population (2017 data) is Greenland-born; 11% is born abroad. The majority of those born in Greenland are Inuit, the minority are people of European Danish background. Outside Danish, the three largest nationalities in the island are Philippine, Icelandic, and Thai.
Politics and government
Greenland is recognised as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. It has its own government, or Naalakkersuisut, headed by the prime minister, and its own legislative chamber, parliament or Inatsisartut.
The Greenlandic Self-Government Act of 2009 grants the country wide powers —close to full internal self-government— in the legislative, executive and judicial branches, and gives the Greenlandic government the ability to establish foreign relations. The act also establishes Greenlandic as the only official language, and recognizes Greenland’s right to self-determination, including full independence.
Since autonomy was granted in 1979, votes to pro-independence parties have been steadily increasing, reaching some 70%-80% in present times. Siumut (social democratic) and Inuit Ataqatigiit (democratic socialist) are the two largest Greenlandic parties, both of them pro-independence.
The Greenlandic government is drafting a proposal text for a Greenlandic Constitution.
Government: Siumut, Democrats, and Nunatta Qitornai coalition (since 2020)
Prime Minister: Kim Kielsen (Siumut), since 2014
Distribution of seats in Parliament (31 members). 2018 election:
Siumut (pro-independence, centre-left) - 9
Inuit Ataqatigiit (pro-independence, left) - 8
Democrats (unionist, centre-right) - 6
Partii Naleraq (pro-independence, centre) - 4
Atassut (ambiguous, centre-right) - 2
Cooperation Party (unionist, liberal) - 1
Nunatta Qitornai (pro-independence) - 1
(Last updated November 2020.)