A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] West Norden in action?

Björk’s performance of “Declare Independence” got her in trouble twice, when she called for a Kosovo in a Tokyo performance and more famously supported a free Tibet in a Shanghai concert. None of that comes out when you watch the video, which features Björk wearing decals of the flags of Greenland and the Faroes on either shoulder of her jumpsuit. Might that have been, as one commentator suggested, West Nordic solidarity in action?

First, an explanation. The term “West Norden” when applied to the North Atlantic region seems to have first referred to divisions within continental Norden, between an East Norden consisting of Sweden-Finland and a West Norden centered on Denmark-Norway but also including Schleswig-Holstein and the various North Atlantic holdings. Perhaps as a result of the continentalist thinking behind projects like Nordek and, later, the European Union, continental Norden might now be thought of as a whole, leaving “West Norden” to the three Nordic islands and island groups of the North Atlantic (from west to east, Greenland, Iceland, the Faroes), in the early 20th century all under Danish rule.

These three all have many points in common. All were initially settled, in the 10th and 11th centuries or so, by Norse migrants mixed with Celts, Greenland’s Norse population famously becoming extinct and replaced by Inuit migrants. All three territories became relatively weak and fell under the jurisdiction of the Norwegian Crown, which in turn became weak and fell under Danish domination. When Norway suddenly switched from rule under Copenhagen to federation with Sweden, Norway’s former North Atlantic possessions remained under Danish rule. Iceland and the Faroes experienced national renaissances late in the 19th century, reviving local cultural forms and languages and translating this into a desire for political self-government. The German occupation of continental Denmark in the Second World War and the use of Denmark’s North Atlantic territories by the Anglo-Americans destabilized Danish rule. Self-governing Iceland gained independence in 1944. It would have been followed by the Faroes which voted for independence by a slim majority in 1946 but this was overturned by the Danish government and instead a home rule agreement was established. Greenland, with its Inuit population, followed a different trajectory, in 1953 being absorbed fully into Denmark and then in 1978 being constituted as a self-governing entity so powerful that it could secede from the European Union.

What’s so fascinating about the former Danish North Atlantic to me, apart from the fact that it’s relatively close to Atlantic Canada, is the extent to which cooperation between the region’s sovereign and semi-sovereign governments seem to be growing. Iceland’s notable success might be a model. In the informative and well-designed if occasionally terribly superficial Monocle, articles have appeared speculating as to whether or not Nuuk is going to becoming the next Reykjavik and promoting the Faroes (“THE FUNKY FAROES,” the line on the masthead said, “WHALE AND GAY BASHING ARE OUT OF FASHION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC”). As Ívar Jónsson’s 1995 West-Nordic Countries in Crisis argues convincingly, these three territories are forced to use their strong dependency on natural resources in such a way as to ensure their high living standards, a task made all the more difficult by–as this May 2003 Nordic Council report argues–their relatively marginal positions in the world, in terms of their geography and their climate. It would make good sense for these three governments to share best practice, especially as climate change shakes things up.

That seems to be what’s happening. For starters, there is a West Nordic Council and a West Nordic Council interparliamentary bloc. More, there have been suggestions that these governments are interesting in discussing the exchange of consulates and the establishment of regional free trade. I was rather surprised to find out about the 2005 Hoyvik Agreement, which set up free trade between Iceland and the Faroes, promoting the free movement of goods (and services and people and capital …) across their borders and institutionalizing inter-governmental cooperation.

This may well not come to much. Björk might be in favour of independent Greenlandic and Faroese states, and the Greenlanders and Faroese might want to emulate Iceland’s success, and the shared history and possible futures of the islands might encourage cooperation, but it might well not. Competition might be as likely an outcome as cooperation, and the European Union might ultimately swallow the entire region up. If nothing else, it’s a trend worth keeping an eye on.

(“Will Reykjavik become the capital of a Greater Iceland? Stay tuned!”)


Written by Randy McDonald

May 30, 2008 at 11:59 pm

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