In the run-up to local elections in Greenland, one language is winning by a landslide

By Trine Juncher Jørgensen, The Arctic Journal - March 28, 2017

As part of its coverage of the April 4 local elections in Greenland, KNR, a broadcaster, began a series of televised town-hall meetings on March 13. Each meeting is being held first in Greenlandic and then in Danish. However, with attendance during the Danish-language session all but non-existent, leading lawmakers are questioning their necessity.

“Apparently, there are only Greenlandic-speaking voters in attendance, and they wind up asking questions in Danish to candidates who themselves speak Greenlandic. That’s senseless,” says Lars-Emil Johansen, the president of the national assembly. “I think we must be the only place in the entire Kingdom of Denmark where voter meetings are held in two languages.”

Johansen fully supports efforts to involve Danish-speaking voters in the election process, but he believes the lack of attendance indicates the airtime could be better used. Instead of sending two broadcasts, for example, he suggests having the Greenlandic session interpreted, or broadcasting it later with subtitles.

“We ought to be come up with a better way to do it,” he says. “They [the Danish speakers, ed] are welcome to the meetings, but I just think there is a better way to serve voters.”

Ane Hansen, herself a candidate, took part in the Greenlandic portion of the March 16 meeting in the town of Aasiaat but not the Danish.

“I’d prefer not to appear in the media speaking Danish,” she says. “I prefer to express myself in Greenlandic. That’s the language I am best at, and it’s the one I feel most comfortable using.”

Her own experience on the campaign trail is that most of the voters attending meetings are Greenlandic-speaking. During the Danish-portion of meeting she appeared at, there was just one person who did not understand Greenlandic, she says.

She agrees that a single meeting would be sufficient, provided an interpreter was present. It would also be preferable to non-Greenlandic speakers, she reckons.

“I think Danish speakers would feel more included if they took part in the same meeting as Greenlandic speakers,” she says.

Karl Henrik Simonsen, the general manager of KNR, agrees that the dual-meeting set-up is not ideal but says a lack of interpreters meant it could not go through with its original plan to hold single, interpreted meetings.

“We asked the parties what they preferred, and they all said we should go ahead with a meeting in Greenlandic and a meeting in Danish,” he says, adding that the Danish sessions are only half as long.

Greenland is scheduled to a general election in 2018. By that time, Simonsen expects, KNR will be prepared to hold single meetings that can accommodate non-Greenlandic speakers.

“It doesn’t work the other way,” he says. “The debates are totally lifeless.”

This article was originally published in Sermitsiaq, a Greenlandic newspaper owned by The Arctic Journal’s parent company.