Principality of Greenland
Anthem: "Vort ældgamle land under isblinkens bavn" (Danish)
"You Our Ancient Land" (English)
and largest city
|Recognised regional languages||Greenlandic|
10.3% mixed race
2.0% foreign nationals
2.3% Inuit religion
3.4% other or non-religious
|Demonym(s)||Greenlandic or Greenlandera|
|Government||Parliamentary constitutional monarchy|
|Frederik Vilhelm III|
• Paleo-Eskimo settlement
|26th century BC|
• Home rule
• Independence from Denmark
|2,166,086 km2 (836,330 sq mi)|
• 2020 estimate
|GDP (PPP)||2020 estimate|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2020 estimate|
• Per capita
|Currency||Greenlandic krone (GKK)|
a. Greenlander or Greenlandic is used to describe Greenland citizens regardless of ethnicity (Norse, Inuit, or mixed race).
Greenland, officially the Principality of Greenland (Danish: Fyrstendømmet Grønland), is a country on the world's largest island located between the Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic Ocean, east of the Manitoban Arctic Archipelago and northwest of Iceland. It has no land borders but does have a maritime border with Manitoba in the northwest. At over 2.1 million square kilometers, Greenland is the third-largest country in North America but one of the least populated, with 107,840 inhabitants, due to the severe Arctic climate and three-quarters of Greenland's landmass being covered by the world's only permanent ice sheet outside of Antarctica.
The largest city and capital is Godthåb, located in the southern portion of the island where most of Greenland's population is concentrated, and the country is divided into five administrative regions. There is also one unincorporated area, the Thule Air Base, while being Greenlandic territory it is administered by the Sierran Royal Air Force. Greenland is considered to be one of the most remote countries in the world, with the lowest population density of any country. With most of Greenland's territory covered in an ice sheet, the majority of the population lives in the unfrozen strip of land along the coast. There are no major roads because of the geography, with most towns being connected only by aircraft and ferries, provided by Air Greenland and the Royal Arctic Line. The only passenger railway is one railroad runs along the western coast, connecting towns with the capital in the south.
Slightly over half of the population are ethnic Greenlandic Norse, a North Germanic people primarily descended from Danes and Norwegians, along with a large minority of Greenlandic Inuit, a small Norse-Inuit mixed race population, and a small amount of foreign nationals (mostly Europeans or Anglo-Americans). Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe (specifically Norway and Denmark, the colonial powers, as well as the nearby island of Iceland, now all part of Skandinavia) for more than a millennium. "Greenlander" is the generic term for all Greenland nationals regardless of ethnicity. The country's people have a unique identity, a blend of Nordic and Inuit culture.
Greenland has been inhabited at intervals over at least the last 4,500 years by Arctic peoples whose forebears migrated there from what is now Manitoba. Norsemen settled the uninhabited southern part of Greenland beginning from its discovery in 986 AD, who previously settled Iceland to escape persecution from the King of Norway and his central government. Inuit peoples arrived in the 13th century. Contact with Europe was disrupted and became sporadic as Norway was hit by the Black Death in the 15th century and entered a severe decline, at which point the Nordic colonies in Greenland also suffered losses from a worsening environment and lack of supplies. Much of its history during this time was based on anecdotal accounts, and is not complete. By the time contact was reestablished by Portuguese explorers arriving around 1500, the surviving Norse colonists had become self-governing and had no desire to submit to the Norwegian crown. Greenland would nonetheless come under the rule of Denmark–Norway, the independent Denmark after 1814 and also the Second Kalmar Union after 1839.
Nationalism was ignited in Greenland in the early to mid-19th century, and the territory was granted home rule in 1864. In 1876, a national referendum was organized by the local government in which the majority voted for independence from the Danish Kingdom. The Greenlanders decided to establish a constitutional monarchy in the new state and invited Prince Frederik Vilhelm, a former claimant to the Danish throne, who became the first Sovereign Prince of Greenland. The House of Hesse-Kassel has ruled the country since then. Greenland stayed out of the major conflicts of the 20th century, other than an attempted revolution in 1920–1921 and Continental involvement, and has generally aligned with Sierra and other Western Anglo-American countries during the Cold War. In 1943 Greenland became an officially neutral state, which was enshrined in the constitution, despite the country also hosting a small number of Sierran and other Anglo-American military personnel. It became a participant in NATO's Partnership for Peace when the program was established in 1986.
Greenland is a Nordic welfare state with universal healthcare and a comprehensive social security system. It is a World Bank high-income economy, possessing a very high standard of living, low unemployment, no foreign debt, and a budget surplus. Its highly developed mixed economy includes state ownership of key strategic industries, and relies on exploitation of Greenland's natural resources, including crude oil, gold, niobium, tantalite, uranium, iron, diamonds, and fish. On a per capita basis, Greenland is the world's second-largest producer of oil outside of the Middle East, after Norway. It is one of the wealthiest countries in the world in GDP per capita, being one of the few countries to have a GDP per capita over $60,000. The principality is a member of the League of Nations, Conference of American States, the World Trade Organization, IMF, and the World Bank.
The explorer Erik the Red named the island Greenland (Grœnland in Old Norse, Grænland in modern Icelandic, Grønland in modern Danish and Norwegian) – in effect as a marketing device. Both the Book of Icelanders (Íslendingabók, a medieval account of Icelandic history from the 12th century onward) and the Saga of Eric the Red (Eiríks saga rauða, a medieval account of his life and of the Norse settlement of Greenland) state that Erik said that it would encourage people to go there that the land had a good name." The name of the country in the Inuit Greenlandic language is Kalaallit Nunaat ("land of the Kalaallit").
Early Paleo-Eskimo cultures
In prehistoric times, Greenland was home to several successive Paleo-Eskimo cultures known today primarily through archaeological finds. The earliest entry of the Paleo-Eskimo into Greenland is thought to have occurred about 2500 BC, most of them coming from the North American mainland, who, in turn, were descended from Siberians that migrated into Canada thousands of years before that. From around 2500 BC to 800 BC, southern and western Greenland were inhabited by the Saqqaq culture. Most finds of Saqqaq-period archaeological remains have been around Disko Bay, including the site of Saqqaq, after which the culture is named. From 2400 BC to 1300 BC, the Independence I culture existed in northern Greenland. It was a part of the Arctic small tool tradition. Towns, including Deltaterrasserne, started to appear.
Around 800 BC, the Saqqaq culture disappeared and the Early Dorset culture emerged in western Greenland and the Independence II culture in northern Greenland. The Dorset culture was the first culture to extend throughout the Greenlandic coastal areas, both on the west and east coasts. It lasted until the total onset of the Thule culture in 1500 AD. The Dorset culture population lived primarily from hunting of whales and caribou.
Europeans became aware of Greenland's existence, probably in the early 10th century, when Gunnbjörn Ulfsson, sailing from Norway to Iceland, was blown off course by a storm and sighted some islands off Greenland. During the 980s, explorers led by Erik the Red set out from Iceland and reached the southwest coast of Greenland, found the region uninhabited, and subsequently settled there. They shared the island with the late Dorset culture inhabitants who occupied the northern and western parts, and later with the Thule culture that entered from the north. Relations between the Norse colonists and the Arctic peoples remained peaceful, with the Norse being mostly indifferent to them. Norse Greenlanders submitted to Norwegian rule in 1261 under the Kingdom of Norway (872–1397). Later the Kingdom of Norway entered into a personal union with Denmark in 1380, and from 1397 was a part of the Kalmar Union.
According to the sagas, the Icelanders had exiled Erik the Red for three years for committing murder, c. 982. He sailed to Greenland, where he explored the coastline and claimed certain regions as his own. He then returned to Iceland to persuade people to join him in establishing a settlement on Greenland. This date has been approximately confirmed by radiocarbon dating of remains at the first settlement at Brattahlid, which yielded a date of about 1000. The Norse established settlements along Greenland's fjords. Excavations have shown that the fjords at that time were surrounded by forests of 4- to 6-metre tall birch trees and by hills covered with grass and willow brush. They settled in three separate locations in south-western Greenland: the larger Eastern Settlement, the smaller Western Settlement, and the still smaller Middle Settlement (often considered part of the Eastern one).
The economy of the Norse Greenlanders depended on a combination of pastoral farming with hunting and some fishing. Farmers kept cattle, sheep and goats – shipped into the island – for their milk, cheese and butter, while most of the consumed meat came from hunted caribou and seals. Both individual farmers and groups of farmers organised summer trips to the more northerly Disko Bay area where they hunted walruses, narwhals and polar bears for their skins, hides and ivory. Besides being used to make garments and shoes, these resources also functioned as a form of currency, as well as making up the most important export commodities. The settlements carried on a trade in ivory from walrus tusks with Europe, as well as exporting rope, sheep, seals, wool and cattle hides (according to one 13th-century account). The climate became increasingly colder in the 14th and 15th centuries, during the period of colder weather known as the Little Ice Age.
These Nordic settlements lost contact with Europe during the early 15th century around the time the Black Death reached Norway. After 1408 few written records mention the settlers. The Danish cartographer Claudius Clavus seems to have visited Greenland in 1420, according to documents written by Nicolas Germanus and Henricus Martellus, who had access to original cartographic notes and a map by Clavus. The Norse colonists lived on their own and increased trade with the indigenous peoples. Over the years of no contact, the Norse Greenlanders became functionally independent the European mainland, although some trade with Iceland continued. Having lost contact with Europe and with the resurgence of the Little Ice Age causing worsening conditions, the Norse settlements in Greenland dwindled in numbers as agriculture declined. This period of near collapse is shrouded in mystery and myth, as there are little written records from this time period. The Norse struggled to survive, eventually having to work together with the Inuit tribes in an uneasy alliance, who had more experience of surviving in the environment. Over the years a significant number of Norse managed to survive by living and working with the Inuit, and developed their own dialect of Old Norse, which became known as the Greenlandic Norse language.
It was estimated that the numbers of surviving Norse during his period ranged from 3,000 at the lowest point in the mid-1400s, to about 8,000 by 1500. The Norse developed their own unique identity over the decades, while living with the Inuit. Relations were at times tense, but overall they were able to survive and live in the same settlements, adapting to Inuit culture to a large degree while retaining their European cultural identity. The Norse not only learned from the Inuit but also introduced them to some European knowledge, such as on sailing (although due to icebergs being present in the waters around Greenland no attempts to venture too far beyond the coast were made). Their system of government was essentially a confederation of settlements and Inuit tribes, based on semi-permanent towns where both Norsemen and Inuit lived together, while the majority of the Inuit population remained nomadic. After the rediscovery of Greenland by the Danish and its recolonization as a Dano-Norwegian territory, the Norse would re-assert their identity as unique from the Inuit and would take a leading role in establishing the Greenlandic state.
Most of the old Norse records concerning Greenland were removed from Trondheim to Copenhagen in 1664 and subsequently lost, probably in the Copenhagen Fire of 1728. Various European expeditions reached parts of Greenland around 1500 and encountered the Norse Greenlanders. Christian I of Denmark purportedly sent an expedition to the region under Hans Pothorst and Didrik Pining to Greenland in 1472 or 1473; Henry VII of England sent another under John Cabot in 1497 and 1498; Manuel I of Portugal sent a third under Gaspar Corte-Real in 1500 and 1501. Records by the Portuguese indicate they encountered some of the Norse inhabitants of the Eastern Settlement, and the Greenlanders' own accounts also confirm the arrival of several European ships. Their interactions with the locals in Greenland were limited, however, although they reported back that the island was still populated with Norsemen who lived together with the Inuit. According to John Cabot, the population of the entire colony was around 7,000 Norsemen, and a larger number of Inuit. These Norse-Inuit colonies were de facto independent, led as a confederation of settlements along the coast, but the Danish crown never relinquished its claims to that territory.
Following Sweden's exit from the Kalmar Union, the remaining states in the personal union were reorganized into Denmark-Norway in 1536. In protest against foreign involvement in the region, the Greenlandic polar bear was included in the state's coat of arms in the 1660s, even though Greenland was functionally independent. When it re-established contact with Greenland in the early 17th century, Denmark asserted its sovereignty over the island. In 1721, a joint mercantile and clerical expedition led by Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede was sent to Greenland, not knowing whether a Norse civilization remained there. This expedition is part of the Dano-Norwegian colonization of the Americas. Egede met with the Norse survivors, and began a mission of converting them to Protestantism (largely unsuccessfully) as well as solidifying Danish sovereignty over the island. The Norse did not feel much connection to Denmark after so many decades of de facto independence, but agreed to join the Kingdom in exchange for trade and other support from the homeland. After 15 years in Greenland, Hans Egede left his son Paul Egede in charge of the mission there and returned to Denmark, where he established a Greenland Seminary. This new colony was centred at Godthåb ("Good Hope") on the southwest coast. Gradually, Greenland was opened up to Danish merchants, and closed to those from other countries.
Word of the Greenland colony spread back in Scandinavia, leading to the arrival of more Danish and Norwegian settlers to the island over the years, although their numbers remain low overall. It was estimated by Hans Egede in 1729 that the total population of the colony at that time was 36,000, including 19,000 Norsemen, about 1,500 recent Dano-Norwegian arrivals, and 15,500 Inuit, mostly concentrated in the southwestern coastal region. Despite the restoration of contact with Europe, Greenland remained a very isolated society. It was a colony, not independent but not part of Denmark proper, being ruled directly by the Danish government from 1721 to 1864. The Norse and the Inuit continued living largely the same agricultural-based lifestyle they had before well into the 20th century, with the majority of the Inuit being nomadic. The attempts to convert both the Norse and the Inuit population to Protestantism had very limited success, the majority of the Norse continued their Catholic faith, which they held onto through the years of isolation from Europe. In 1763, the Pope appointed a Catholic bishop to Greenland at the request of some of the Norse.
When the union between the crowns of Denmark and Norway was dissolved in 1814, the Treaty of Kiel severed Norway's former colonies and left them under the control of the Danish monarch. The desire for independence among the Norse grew in the early 19th century, in parallel with the rise with the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe (including in Denmark specifically), which were known as 'Springtime of Nations' for the rise of nationalism, along with the ideas of liberalism, democracy, and self-determination. Most relevant of those in Greenland was nationalism, which meant uniting the people around shared cultural identity, history, language, and immediate geography. The idea of a Norse and Inuit nation-state becoming an independent island nation had a resurgence in the first half of the 1800s, with the romanticization by some Norse Greenlandic nationalists of the period of total isolation from Europe during 1400–1500. Such ideas found ready support among many Norse and Inuit, although Greenland's isolation meant that they arrived later, and the geography and resulting lack of ability for communication meant that the problem of any outright revolt against Danish rule was remote. The Danish language became the main spoken language in Greenland, and several Norse journals and newspapers were created in the 1850s.
In 1864, the Kingdom Government granted self-rule to the Greenland colony, authorizing the establishment of the first Landsråd (provincial assembly) on the island. Its 13 members were elected on the basis of universal male suffrage, and also included the unelected royally-appointed governor on the council. The first assembly included 10 Norse/Europeans and three Inuit. The explorer and politician Thorild Amundsen (1827–1909) emerged a Norse pro-independence leader as a member of the Landsråd, and would go on to become the first Statsminister of Greenland after independence. The election of the assembly and other local leadership positions would only contribute to the nascent pro-independence feeling among the population, then numbering some 59,000 by 1860. Responding to popular demand, the Kingdom Government agreed to have the governor of the territory elected by the locals in 1867. The War of Contingency that occurred in North America from 1866 to 1868, leading to the independence of many nations from the United Commonwealth, served to inspire the Greenlandic Norse activists. In the following years the Danish Kingdom Government agreed to a vote by Greenland's provincial assembly to allow them to organize an independence referendum. In March 1876, the majority of Greenland's voting population, or 19,233 out of about 25,000, voted for independence from Denmark. The three Scandinavian kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden were the first nations to grant recognition to Greenland, followed by most of the Anglo-American countries and the rest of Europe.
Building a nation state
From the formal declaration of independence 14 March 1876 until the 1910s, Greenland would undergo a period of economic development, rising national consciousness, and exploration of the island's vast territory. In the first year, a debate occurred in Greenland on the nature of the new state. Thorild Amundsen, a Catholic conservative, did not believe a republican form of government would be viable given the vast distances and problems in communication with the whole population, unless the electorate was permanently limited to a small minority of the population. Instead, the Landstinget (Parliament, created from the provincial assembly) decided to create a monarchy in Greenland. Initially it would be an absolute monarchy, with the monarch having the final decision with advise from the elected parliament, intended at least until at least better communications could be established across the whole island. In Europe, Greenland's diplomats looked at potential candidates among different Scandinavian nobles, and decided that the most promising of them was Prince Frederick William (Frederik Vilhelm) of Hesse-Kassel, who had been third in line for the Danish throne. He agreed to the offer to become the monarch of the new nation, thus establishing the Principality of Greenland with his coronation as the Sovereign Prince on 29 October 1876.
The early years of the principality were marked by establishing a stable government and creating institutions. Amundsen became the first Minister of State, Statsminister, also sometimes referred to as the Prime Minister. During his tenure in office from 1876 to 1883, the first penal code was enacted, the parliament's status was normalized with 31 members, and the first parliamentary elections were held. The writing of a constitution was put off, as it was deemed unnecessary at the time. The early political parties included Højre (Right), similar to its equivalent in Denmark, which favored the Norse aristocratic political class, the Moderate Venstre, a liberal 'peasant' party that favored more democratization and people's rights. Højre dominated the parliament, in large part because most of the eligible voters in the early years fell into the former category. Danish was recognized as the official language by the state, although a special status was given to Inuit and Greenlandic Norse, the latter of which by the 1880s there were very few native speakers remaining. Prince Frederik Vilhelm I took an active role in these discussions and projects, working with Amundsen and members of the parliament. The declaration of independence from 14 March (which is celebrated as National Day) was met with celebration among the urban population of major towns, both Norse and Inuit. The first national census, carried out in 1879, found the population of 62,931 people. The government adopted a project of encouraging immigration from the Scandinavian countries.
No major attempt was made in those years to change the economy away from agriculture and fishing or to industrialize even the major towns because of the limited avialability of technology. Trade between Greenland and other nations increased gradually and slowly, with the eastern seaboard of Canada and Anglo-America being the primary trade partners, followed by the Scandinavian kingdoms. In his later years, the Prince would withdraw from politics and delegate more tasks to the elected officials, which is considered to have started Greenland's democratic and egalitarian tradition in government. Frederik Vilhelm I died on 13 July 1883, and was succeeded by his son Frederik Vilhelm II. That year Amundsen was replaced as State Minister by Hugo Danneskiold-Samsøe, an emigre of a high noble family from Denmark, who in turn was replaced by Johan Krogh in 1890. At that time, parliamentary elections were held every five years, but the head of government was appointed by the Prince without much consultation with the members of parliament. In foreign policy, during reign of Frederik Vilhelm I and in the first half of his successor's reign, the principality remained largely uninvolved in the tumultuous foreign affairs in Europe or North America, as it remained very isolated and unknown.
The population grew steadily due to a considerable increase in the standard of living, as more technology was brought in from other continents through trade. The nation also saw a influx of more Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish immigrants. The 1892 national census found a total of 78,340 people in Greenland. Most of the people were concentrated on the southwestern coast, with only a few small settlements in other parts of the island. Building a railway network was proposed and surveys were carried out during the 1880s until 1891, and it was deemed unfeasible because of the ice sheet covering most of the island's landmass. The only possibility that was remained connecting the coastal towns with a railway, but the project was put off and would not be taken up until nearly a century later. From the 1890s on, the Greenlandic government actively encouraged the exploration of Greenland, including with the funding of several expeditions. By 1900 the vast eastern and northern parts of Greenland were an unexplored wasteland. Knud Rasmussen would famously lead several expeditions in the 1900s and 1910s, creating some of the first accurate maps of the the entire island. Contact was also established with some of the most remote and small Inuit villages. In 1905, Valdemar Hakonsen became the Minister of State, a position he would remain in until 1924.
On 20 February 1906 the modern Constitution of Greenland was passed into law, making it a parliamentary constitutional monarchy while still allowing the Prince of Greenland to retain extensive political power.
The period between the late 1910s and the mid 1920s would be the most unstable in Greenland's history. The leadership of both Prince Frederik Vilhelm II and Valdemar Hakonsen proved to be popular, and by the early 1910s the population was becoming more urbanized and connected by new communications technology, which led to more interest in politics among Greenlanders. This led to more agitation by political parties, particularly in the biggest towns at the time – Godthåb, Holsteinborg, Jakobshavn, and Egedesminde. The Højre continued to be the ruling party in Greenland well into the 20th century, creating a system where aristocratic Norse elites dominated the government, which created some resentment although was still accepted by the majority of the Greenlandic people.
In December 1900 the Norrønt Venstresocialistiske Parti (Norse Left Socialist Party) was created by Joachim Holmskjold, Magnus Lundstedt, and Axel Ingimundarson, but its membership remained very low for years, never surpassing more than one hundred people. It would have about 400 members by 1920. The party was inspired by socialist movements in Europe, particularly in Germany, and later in the United Commonwealth. Holmskjold, Lundstedt, and Ingimundarson believed that the country was "stagnating" compared to the Anglo-American powers, with its people living in still largely the same way they had been for centuries before. The party wanted to abolish the monarchy and create a state along revolutionary principles to modernize the country, becoming inspired by the ideas of Isaiah Landon after 1911. However in the early years it remained a largely irrelevant force in Greenlandic politics. Joachim Holmskjold, the founder of the party served as a member of the parliament from 1895 to 1899 as an independent, while Magnus Lundstedt was elected in 1905 as the party's first and only official member of parliament. Holmskjold was assigned as Greenlandic minister to the United Commonwealth in 1914, and would witness the development of the Landonist movement there. The events in the United Commonwealth as well as neighboring Tournesol would inspire the Greenlandic socialists for bringing about change in their own country.
During the Continental Revolutionary War Holmskjold and the other Greenlandic socialists supported the Continentalist Party and its successes. With the total defeat of the Commonwealth's Federalist government, the consolidation of power by the Continentalists over the country in early 1920, and the outbreak of a similar event in Tournesol, Holmskjold began talks with the Continentalist Party's international relations office to help him and the Norse Left Socialist Party orchestrate a similar revolution in Greenland. At that time Greenland's government and economy was mostly based in three major towns on the southwestern coast, and he thought if they could take control of the government in those locations that would be enough to take over the country. Greenland had no standing army in 1920, only volunteer militias that seldom had to be used.
In late October 1920, a group of volunteers that underwent training at Continental Revolutionary Army camps was transported by a cruiser to the Greenlandic coast. On October 25, simultaneous uprisings began in Godthåb, Holsteinborg, and Egedesminde, beginning what became known as the Winter War in Greenlandic history. Although the uprisings in the capital and Egedesminde failed by 1–2 November, the one in Holsteinborg succeeded in taking control of the city council, arresting most of the government members and negotiating with the police force for them to stand down. There, Magnus Lundstedt proclaimed the Continental Republic of Greenland on 1 November 1920, which was met with hostility or apathy by most of the town's population. The Parliament of Greenland in Godthåb passed the "Home Guard Act" on 8 November, which authorized the government to draft every Greenlandic able bodied male between the ages of 17 and 45, beginning the organization of Greenland's first standing military. The attack on the capital failed and was fought off by local forces, at which point the Greenlandic continentalists fled to Holsteinborg where they consolidated their supporters.
By early December, the legal Greenlandic government had mobilized 5,000 Home Guardsmen, and its minister in Sierra asked that country's government for assistance, ordering shipments of rifles and ammunition. The conflict began a sense of national unity as the people were overwhelmingly against the Continentalist takeover, supporting the government in Godthåb, becoming known as the "Spirit of the Winter War" in Greenland. Prince Frederik Vilhelm II personally led the troops, which raised morale as well. From early to mid December several transport ships were used to move the Home Guard forces to villages outside of Holsteinborg. The defenders of the town had no ships, as the Buffalo had departed, and, with no outbreak of a nationwide revolution, awaited the impending attack. On 3 January 1921, after the troops made the land trek to the city, a coordinated assault began on the continentalists on the early morning of 6 January from two sides. Attacking from two sides, they made an offensive towards the center of the city. After heavy fighting, a total of 315 Continentalists and 189 Home Guards were killed. Most of the surviving continentalists fled the city and went into hiding or into exile in the United Commonwealth.
Great Wars and the Cold War
Following the early 1920s the ideology of Continentalism was made illegal in Greenland. The principality cut its diplomatic relations with the United Commonwealth in late 1921 when the Winter War started and would not restore those formal ties until 1954. From 1931 to 1933, Greenland briefly had a territorial dispute with Norway, where a team of Norwegian explorers tried to claim the eastern coast of Greenland, which was almost completely uninhabited and unexplored that the time. An international court of arbitration in The Hague upheld Greenland's sovereignty over the entire island. From that time, the Principality Government made an effort to increase the population and settlements in eastern and northern Greenland to solidify its control over the entire territory.
During Great War I the country remained officially neutral, but provided assistance to Sierra and the Western American powers by allowing them to build the Thule Air Base in northern Greenland in 1935, which gave the Sierran Royal Air Force a base not far from the United Commonwealth's eastern seaboard. It provoked more hostility with the Commonwealth, and the Sierrans did use the base partly for intelligence-gathering operations against the Continental defenses on their East Coast. By the late 1940s and Great War II Greenland improved its relations with the United Commonwealth and ended the previous hostility although it continued to consider Sierra a close ally. In 1943, it became an officially neutral country by an amendment to its constitution, which helped create the conditions for a detente with the Commonwealth. Greenland was not directly involved in the Second Great War but it became a military staging ground between North American Allied powers and the United Kingdom.
From the early 1960s until the end of the Cold War the Principality was considered to be aligned with the capitalist Anglo-American bloc headed by Sierra and Britain despite officially being a neutral state. Greenland developed cordial relations with the United Commonwealth and in 1967 Prince Ludvig I visited the country for an official meeting with President Rupert Gardner, the first meeting between the Greenlandic and Continental heads of state. The country continued to be a bridge between the Eastern bloc and the West from the 1970s through the 1990s, hosting diplomatic summits between Continental and Sierran leaders on several occasions.
In domestic politics, Prince Ludvig I (r. 1935–1974) had an autocratic style of rule and played a leading role in government during the Great Wars, the Interwar period, and the early Cold War, while his successor, Ludvig II (r. 1974–2006) began reducing the monarch's active role and gave the Minister of State and the Parliament more room to determine national policy. Ludvig II oversaw the development in the 1970s of Greenland's economy from a largely agricultural economy to one where mining and oil provided the largest source of revenue. The discovery of petroleum reserves off the northeastern coast led to the creation of Polaroil, a state-owned company, with the assistance of Anglo-American experts. The revenue from oil sales led to massive economic growth and contributed to increasing the standard of living, turning Greenland into one of the wealthiest countries in the world on a per capita basis. Mining also had a similar role, with several rare-earth metals being mined throughout the country starting around the same time. Capable economic management led the country to developing a sovereign wealth fund on the basis of its oil and mineral revenue, creating a social welfare system, while maintaining a budget surplus. State-owned corporations involved in the oil industry and mining became the largest employers in Greenland.
The country began the process to join the Conference of American States (CAS) in the late 1980s, during its first wave of expansion. Most of its immediate neighbors on the North American continent had become members by that time, leading to a debate in Greenland on the issue. Ultimately it was supported by the major parties as CAS membership was seen as an economic benefit. Greenland became a member of the CAS in 1994. Since the mid 1990s economic growth has continued, slowing down somewhat in the late 2000s. Politically, the conservative party Højre has dominated the Parliament for more than a century and continues to lead the Greenlandic government. It is in favor of CAS membership, supports the social welfare system, and has presided over the successful development of Greenland's economy since the 1970s.
Greenland is the world's largest non-continental island and the third-largest country in North America after Manitoba and the United Commonwealth. It is between latitudes 59° and 83°N, and longitudes 11° and 74°W. Greenland is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Greenland Sea to the east, the North Atlantic Ocean to the southeast, the Davis Strait to the southwest, Baffin Bay to the west, the Nares Strait and Lincoln Sea to the northwest. The nearest countries are Manitoba, to the west and southwest across Nares Strait and Baffin Bay; and Skandinavia, through its territory of Iceland, southeast of Greenland in the Atlantic Ocean.
The average daily temperature of Godthåb varies over the seasons from −5.1 to 9.9 °C (23 to 50 °F) The total area of Greenland is 2,166,086 km2 (836,330 sq mi) (including other offshore minor islands), of which the Greenland ice sheet covers 1,755,637 km2 (677,855 sq mi) (81%) and has a volume of approximately 2,850,000 km3 (680,000 cu mi). The highest point on Greenland is Gunnbjørn Fjeld at 3,700 m (12,139 ft) of the Watkins Range (East Greenland mountain range). The majority of Greenland, however, is less than 1,500 m (4,921 ft) in elevation. The weight of the ice sheet has depressed the central land area to form a basin lying more than 300 m (984 ft) below sea level, while elevations rise suddenly and steeply near the coast.
The ice flows generally to the coast from the centre of the island. A survey led by French scientist Paul-Emile Victor in 1951 concluded that, under the ice sheet, Greenland is composed of three large islands. This is disputed, but if it is so, they would be separated by narrow straits, reaching the sea at Ilulissat Icefjord, at Greenland's Grand Canyon and south of Nordostrundingen.
All towns and settlements of Greenland are situated along the ice-free coast, with the population being concentrated along the west coast. Some settlements have been establish further inland on the ice sheet, originating mostly as scientific research stations.
In 2003, a small island, 35 by 15 metres (115 by 49 feet) in length and width, was discovered by arctic explorer Dennis Schmitt and his team at the coordinates of 83-42. Whether this island is permanent is not yet confirmed. If it is, it is the northernmost permanent known land on Earth.
The Principality of Greenland is divided into five administrative regions, which are the highest subdivision. Since the country is sparsely inhabited, the second-level administrative divisions below regions are municipalities and communes. The current administrative structure of the country was established in 1962. Prior to that, since the late 18th century the country was divided into two larger regions for statistical purposes—North and South Greenland. That system had remained in place from around the 1720s until 1933, with the 68°N latitude being the dividing border between the two statistical regions. In 1933 three new regions were established – West Greenland, East Greenland, and North Greenland. That structure was replaced by the current regions in 1962. Most of Greenland's population was concentrated in the South, and that region was the most explored. That system was reorganised as more parts of Greenland were explored and developed in the decades since the country gained independence from Denmark.
|Name||Municipality center||Coat of Arms||Population||Area (km²)|
|Knud Rasmussen Land||Egedesminde||18,098||522,700|
|King Frederik VI Land||Julianehåb||16,254||32,000|
|King Christian IX Land||Godthåb||46,214||531,900|
|Erik the Red's Land||Danmarkshavn||9,941||972,000|
Greenland is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy that has been ruled by the House of Hesse-Kassel since 1876. Historically, the House of Hesse-Kassel were autocrats leading an absolute monarchy until the the first Constitution of Greenland was promulgated in 1904. It established a parliamentary monarchy with clearly defined executive, legislative, and judicial branches, devolving some of the power of the head of state to these branches. Nonetheless the Prince of Greenland continues to have considerable political power. The constitution also recognizes the Norse and the Inuit as the two 'constiuent peoples' of Greenland, given equal status under the law as citizens of the Principality. Originally, some number of positions in the government were reserved specifically for Inuit, but this practice ended in the early 1900s as it was deemed better to integrate the two communities and no longer discriminate on an ethnic basis. In practice, this meant traditionally that the Norse held most of the dominant positions in the government as they mostly lived in the larger towns and were more likely to get involved in the country's political life.
The Sovereign Prince of Greenland is the head of state, but some powers have been devolved to legislative and advisory bodies. The head of government is the Minister of State, who leads the central executive branch and its main body, the cabinet, which is usually referred to as The Government (regering) in Greenland. The legislature is a unicameral Parliament (Landstinget), which consists of 31 members that are elected every four years using proportional representation. The Prince maintains the formal governing power, but the other government bodies may operate without his direct control. The cabinet of Greenland, more commonly known as the Government (Regering in Danish or Naalakkersuisut in Greenlandic Inuit) in the country, is the main decision making body in Greenland's political system and consists of 11 members – including the Minister of State, the Ministers of Interior, Defense, Foreign Affairs, Environment, Mineral Resources and Petroleum, Finance and Economic Development, Health and Social Welfare, Education and Culture, Agriculture, and Housing and Transport. The Government is headed by the Minister of State of Greenland. The formation of the Government takes place by the Parliament, subject to the approval of the Sovereign Prince.
The Parliament (Landstinget or Inatsisartut in Greenlandic Inuit) of Greenland is a unicameral legislature with 31 members elected for four-year terms. It is headed by a presidency of four members of the parliament, one of whom is the chairman. It is the successor of the Greenland Provincial Council (Grønlands Landsråd) of the Kingdom of Denmark, consisting of 13 members and led by a royally-appointed governor, which was established in 1865 and reformed into a parliament in 1876 after the country's independence. Prior to that this body had been further divided between North and South Greenland Provincial Councils from around 1728 until the granting of home rule in 1864. The judiciary is headed by the High Court of Greenland (Danish: Grønlands Landsret), which hears cases from the four lower district courts.
As a member state of the Conference of American States (CAS) since 1994, Greenland has 10 seats in the American Parliament. Elections for the seats take place on the basis of proportional representation in a popular vote, with the whole of Greenland serving as one constituency in the American Parliament.
The armed forces of Greenland consist of two organizations – the Home Guard (Danish: Hjemmeværnet) and the Coast Guard (Kystvakten). They are under civilian control with the Sovereign Prince of Greenland as the commander-in-chief, and operationally led by the Chief of the Defense Staff. As of 2019, together the two forces had 3,157 personnel. The Greenlandic Police is the civilian police agency in Greenland and it currently has 531 personnel. The country is part of the NATO Partnership for Peace program and takes part in international military exercises with NATO member states. The Home Guard is maintained through conscription, with several hundred Greenlandic male citizens drafted annually using a lottery, along with several thousand volunteer reservists who form an active reserve component that trains once a month. The Coast Guard and the Police are both a mostly volunteer force, though they are supported by naval and police Home Guard forces.
The Sierran Royal Air Force maintains the Thule Air Base, in the northwest of Greenland, which was built in 1935 during the First Great War. The facility was established as a joint Greenlandic–Sierran defense area. It is the SRAF's most northern base.
Greenland conducts its foreign policy in the context of being a neutral state and acting as a bridge between Europe and North America, being a member of the Conference of American States and the League of Nations. Since the Second Great War it has increasingly become closer to Sierra, Superior, Manitoba, and other CAS countries, and there have been discussions of obtaining NATO membership over time since the 1970s. However, Greenlandic leaders decided against joining the alliance and maintain its neutral status while having some military and technical cooperation with other CAS countries. During the Cold War Greenland also attempted to serve as a mediator between the United Commonwealth and Sierra. In the 21st century, Greenland's foreign policy involves supporting LN humanitarian and peacekeeping missions and CAS integration.
Greenland is a high-income economy with a very high standard of living, and is characterized as a mixed economy, with state ownership of companies involved in mineral and petroleum extraction that provides the majority of government revenue. The biggest industries of the Greenlandic economy are petroleum, fishing, mining, and tourism. The public sector accounts for a large portion of the work force. With a GDP per capita of $61,893, Greenland is among the wealthiest countries in the world.
The mining of lead, zinc, gold, silver, nickel, platnum, iron, copper, and rare earths takes place in different parts of Greenland and together forms a substantial part of revenue. Since the discovery of oil off the northeastern coast of Greenland in 1972, it has rapidly developed to be the country's main export and industry. It has been estimated that the waters in this region could contain up to 110 billion barrels (17×109 m3) of oil. In the early 1970s the Greenland Principality Government created Polaroil, a state-owned oil company, in partnership with Chevron and ExxonMobil. Since then oil has become Greenland's main export, with multiple offshore oil wells managed by Polaroil and its partner companies. Greenland's main export partners for oil are countries in Europe and North America. Almost all of the energy used in Greenland itself is generated from hydroelectric power, such as by the Buksefjord dam.
Tourism is an increasingly growing sector of the economy since the 2000s. The annual number of tourists in recent years has been just over 2.5 million. The industry took losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has started to rebound in the second half of 2021 and early 2022.
Aircraft and boats are the main forms of transportation in Greenland, as the coasts have many fjords and the interior is largely frozen, making the possibility of a road or railway network across the country impractical. Very few countryside roads have been built, but this has been increasing since the mining industry in Greenland has become more developed. All of the transportation companies are under the oversight of the Ministry of Transport.
From 1962 until 1989, a single interconnected railway line was completed that runs along the western coast, linking the cities in the region. It took many years to complete due to the bitterly cold weather and the hostile terrain. Currently, the West Greenland Line is the only passenger railway in the country. It is managed by the Greenlandic Railway Directorate of the Ministry of Transport and provides regular service between towns along the western coast and the capital.
There are three international airports in Greenland. Air Greenland is the main flag airline of Greenland that provides both domestic and international service, operating small aircraft and helicopters, and has partnerships with Scandinavian Airlines and Icelandair for international flights. There is regular service between Godthåb International Airport and Saint Anthony, Toscouné, Porciúncula, Chicago, Oslo, and Amsterdam. Domestically, there are multiple regional airports, and air travel is one of the two main forms of transportation in Greenland between towns. In the far north of the country, some settlements can only be reached by aircraft.
Ferry services, which are the primary means of transportation between cities other than aircraft, are operated by the Greenland Principality Government's Royal Arctic Line along the unfrozen parts of the eastern and western coasts. Ferries travel between the larger towns on a daily basis and on a weekly basis between smaller settlements.
Sport is an important part of Greenlandic culture, as the population is generally quite active. Popular sports include association football, track and field, handball and skiing. Handball is often referred to as the national sport, and Greenland's men's national team was ranked among the top 20 in the world in 2001. Greenland has excellent conditions for skiing, sailing, fishing, snowboarding, ice climbing and rock climbing, although mountain climbing and hiking are preferred by the general public. Although the environment is generally ill-suited for golf, there is a golf course in Godthab. In recent years, combat sports such as judo, taekwondo, ju-jitsu, wrestling, and boxing have become more popular in the country.
The capital Godthåb hosted the 1976 Winter Olympics, the largest ever sporting event hosted by Greenland.
Greenland has a total population of 107,840 as of January 2020.
The single largest ethnic group are the Greenlandic Norse (about 53.8% of the population of Greenland), which are considered to be a unique North Germanic ethnic group that are descended mostly from Danes but also Norwegians and other European peoples that emigrated to Greenland. Many of them trace their lineage back to the original Norse colonists that arrived on the island one thousand years ago. The Norse continue to hold the dominant position in Greenlandic society, in government, finance, and other influential positions. The Greenlandic Inuit are the second largest group, being about 33.9% of the population, Having lived together for over a thousand years, the Norse and Inuit have integrated into one society while maintaining elements of their individual culture. Another significant group are the helmingar, or people of mixed European and Inuit descent, representing about 10.3%. About 2.0% are foreign nationals, the majority of those being from Scandinavia, and the second biggest group from Anglo-American countries.
Largest cities in Greenland
Statistics Greenland, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, 2019
|1||Godthåb||King Christian IX Land||35,497|
|3||Jakobshavn||Knud Rasmussen Land||8,624|
|4||Egedesminde||Knud Rasmussen Land||7,360|
|5||Julianehåb||King Frederik VI Land||7,050|
|6||Danmarkshavn||Erik the Red's Land||6,729|
|7||Nordprøven||King Frederik VI Land||6,346|
|8||Sydprøven||King Frederik VI Land||3,185|
|9||Mestersvig||Erik the Red's Land||2,844|
|10||Upernavik||Knud Rasmussen Land||1,592|
Catholicism arrived in Greenland with the first Norse settlers around the year 1000, who built some of the first churches in the western hemisphere. Since the colonies were cut off from Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries, the surviving Norsemen did not undergo the Protestant Reformation, and subsequent attempts to convert the population to Protestantism after contact was reestablished did not lead to the majority of the population converting, but there is a significant minority of Protestants in Greenland today. Catholics remain the majority at about 71% of the population, with Protestants being 22%, along with a smaller minority that practices the native Inuit religion and some having no religion.
The majority of Greenlandic Catholics are in communion with Rome, with a small minority that are in communion with Avignon, and are all part of the Catholic Diocese of the North Pole. There is a small number of Protestants, and the Protestant Church in the country is officially called the Church of Greenland.
There is a mandatory ten-year primary school, followed by secondary school of either work training or preparation for university. There is one university in the country, the University of Greenland in Godthab. Many Greenlandic students go to universities in Denmark, Norway, Manitoba, Sierra, Superior, or other European or North American countries. Danish is taught as the primary language in schools while Greenlandic Inuit classes are also mandatory for three years.
The literacy rate in Greenland is about 99%, and at least 90% of the population speaks the Danish language as their native language, which is the country's only official language. Over half of the population can speak or at least understand the Inuit Greenlandic language, and it is recognized by the state as a regional language, but it is not used on an official level.
Greenlandic Norse is a dialect of Old Norse that was spoken by the original Nordic colonists of Greenland, but the language went nearly extinct in the 20th century. After contact was reestablished with Europe and the former Greenland colony was brought under Danish control, Danish became imposed as the lingua franca during the 18th and 19th centuries. Because of this Greenlandic Norse is not widely spoken today, with and estimated 10% of the population being able to speak it, and the language has no native speakers. The Principality Government has made efforts to conserve the Old Norse dialect with programs to continue teaching the language. There has been a debate in recent years whether or not to include classes on the language in schools.