The week ahead: Our election

Foreign observers want Greenland’s election next week to be a plebiscite about independence. Most voters have long since made up their mind on the issue.

By Kevin McGwin - April 23, 2018
Sisimiut, Greenland (Kevin McGwin)

Translated loosely, the name that the people of Greenland call their territory is ‘our country’. Legally speaking, this is not yet completely the case: Until the people of Kalaallit Nunaat (literally: the land of the Kalaallit) decide otherwise, it is a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and just as many decisions that affect the country are made in Copenhagen as in Nuuk.

This, according to a 2009 agreement, is a construction the people of Greenland are entirely within their rights to change, either by requesting more power be devolved to them or by exiting the kingdom entirely.

Both are as widely supported among the population as they would be costly to implement. It makes sense, then, that each time Greenlandic voters cast ballots for representatives to their national assembly, observers in Denmark are eager to hear whether 98 percent of the territory under Copenhagen’s control will leave the kingdom anytime soon, taking with it much of the geopolitical significance it has given Denmark.

For those more directly affected by the election, the question of independence is not irrelevant, but, despite the impression given by Danish and other foreign news outlets, it is not the first thing that people in Greenland think about when they wake up in the morning, one observer notes.

Rather, it is more like Europeans’ attitudes towards the EU: It is something they rarely discuss openly, despite perhaps having strong feelings about it.

This is in part because independence is something of a moot point: The vast majority of candidates, in fact, are working for Greenland to become independent. The question is when — but, this too, is something most agree on. It should happen, the reply goes, “when Greenland is ready.”

Such consensus has allowed the election to focus heavily on issues that affect voters’ daily lives. For those who insist on finding an independence angle, the issues they have discussed (things like fisheries, economic growth, infrastructure, education and the country’s tragically high rates of social ill, including child abuse and suicide) all must be sorted out in order for the country to be stable enough to support itself.

This, explained Ulrik Pram Gad, an academic, this week, makes 2018 a “bread and butter” election. He contrasts it with the previous general election, in 2014, when, despite candidates’ efforts to keep the talk on down-to-earth issues, most debates came down to whether they were for or against uranium mining.

As with 2014, the race is due to come down to the wire. A final poll, published Friday by SermitsiaqAG and KNR, the country’s two largest news outlets, suggest a slight advantage to IA, a member of the governing coalition but a traditional adversary of Siumut, whose leader, Kim Kielsen, is the incumbent premier. Still, a strong finish could easily hand Kielsen the election.

Regardless of which party wins the most seats, it will almost certainly need to form a coalition, and probably with a party that favors quick independence. Greenland’s position towards Denmark, as it turns out, could be something people wind up doing quite a bit of thinking about after all.

When and where
April 24; Greenland

For more information
The Greenland Self-Government Arrangement

Further reading
In Greenland, voters hope election is nothing fishy


Joint Committee on Rescue Cooperation meeting
Most of the six objectives for Barents Rescue-2019 relate directly to the stated purpose of the week-long training event scheduled for next autumn.

The point of the semi-annual exercise is to help countries of the region come up with ways to make the most of the region’s widely dispersed resources should a major disaster ever strike, and, for the most part, the objectives are practical things that help facilitate that goal: things like testing alarm routines and walking through procedures for how rescue equipment can be requested, received and deployed

Getting these details down pat will make responding to an accident more routine and predictable, but it is the sixth — building personal networks — that the group suggests is likely to go furthest towards making such efforts succeed.

This week, the group responsible for staging the exercise, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council’s Joint Committee on Rescue Cooperation, meets for the first time since Norway assumed the year-long chairmanship.

The focus of their meeting will be on planning Barents Rescue 2019, as well as other aspects of how to manage joint responses to things like forest-fires, tourism-related accidents, floods and industrial incidents.

If their discussions will, among other things, focus on putting out fires in the literal sense, then the fact that they are sitting down together during a period when relations between their countries are otherwise strained could go a long way towards preventing fires from breaking out in a figurative sense as well.

When and where
April 25-26; Bodø, Norway

For more information
Joint Committee on Rescue Cooperation in the Barents Region
Barents Rescue 2015
Cooperation within the field of Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region 

Further reading
Brushing up on their MOSPA


NATO foreign ministers’ meeting
With just two formal meetings a year, when the foreign ministers of NATO member states gather, their time necessarily goes towards major international issues. Expect their meeting this week to concern itself with hotspots like Syria, and possibly the Baltic region, where the alliance recently deployed reinforcements in countries bordering Russia, its once and present adversary.

The Arctic, while still a low-tension area, is not off the alliance’s radar. The U.S., for example, has beefed up its presence in Norway, and took part in a high-profile cold-weather training exercise there this past winter.

The alliance itself has long staged exercises in the region, but the largest of these in recent years will involve 35,000 allied troops during Trident Juncture 2018 this autumn.

The exercise has been in the works since 2015. Norway was chosen because American commanders are reportedly fond of its difficult terrain, considering it an “unmatched” location to train. That would indicate that NATO is simply training in the region for battle.

However, given the deteriorating relationship with Russia since its 2014 annexation of Crimea and involvement in the civil war in eastern Ukraine, some would suggest that it is, in fact, training for battle in the region.

When and where
April 27; Brussels

For more information
NATO relations with Russia
Trident Juncture 2018

Opening remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of NATO Foreign Ministers, December 5, 2017.

Further reading
U.S. Navy and NATO allies kick off five-week Arctic exercise
Mind the GIUK


Also this week

Kuujjuaq Mining Workshop
The annual Kuujjuaq Mining Workshop, being held this week for the fourth time, gathers local and regional administrators from Nunavik, along with the mining industry players active in the region, offering an opportunity to exchange and share concerns and address issues closely related to the Nunavik mineral-resources development. The event is also an occasion to learn more about the region’s mineral potential.

When and where
April 24-26; Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, Quebec

For more information
Nunavik Mineral Exploration Fund

Further reading
Playing host to an international forum, Quebec boosts its northern development plan—and its Arctic profile


North by North Festival
North by North is a week of food, film, music and stimulating conversation in one of America’s most liveable cities. If that recipe sounds familiar, it is because it bears a resemblance to South by Southwest, a cultural institution held each year in Austin, Texas. But, where SXSW has grown to Texas-sized proportions, ruining it in the eyes of some, NXN, this year in its second year, is keeping the focus tight. Its Alaska-centric view might make it unapproachable to some, but, for those who take an interest in the North, it will be a force multiplier.

When and where
April 26-29; Anchorage, Alaska

For more information
North by North Festival 

Further reading
Can shared culture keep the Arctic a place of peace?
In Arctic Norway, a culture festival aims to give the North a voice of its own


Arctic research youth conference
Young researchers from Russia’s Northern (Arctic) Federal University host the first international youth conference, Arctic Research: From Extensive Exploration to Integrated Development. The event is organised in collaboration with the RAS Federal Research Center for Integrated Arctic Research and will focus on topics such as human and natural resources in the region, the environment and technology.

When and where
April 26-28; Arkhangelsk, Russia

For more information
Northern (Arctic) Federal University

Further reading
Norway renews Russian Arctic research funding


Joint Working Group on Tourism (JWGT) meeting
The Barents Euro-Arctic Council’s Joint Working Group on Tourism was established to develop tourism business in the region, and to promote ecologically, socially and culturally sustainable tourism. In practice, this means promoting multilateral co-operation and joint projects, networking and exchanging information and best practices.

This week, the committee meets for a regular meeting to discuss ways to improve condition for the industry in the region.

When and where
April 26-27; Luleå, Sweden

For more information
Joint Working Group on Tourism
Mandate for the Joint Working Group on Tourism 2013- 2017

Further reading
Russia lays out plans to boost Arctic tourism


Skindigenous – Inupiaq episode
Skindigenous, a 13-episode series broadcast by the Canada-based Aboriginal Peoples Television Network exploring how different indigenous cultures use tattooing, this week heads north, to Alaska, where it profiles Marjorie Tahbone, an Alaska artist of Inupiaq heritage. Each episode of Skindigenous focuses a master tattoo artist who reveals the secrets of their art, as well as the origins and body art in his or her culture.

When and where
April 24; check local listings

For more information

Further viewing
More than just pretty faces


Barents Ecology Film Festival
Ecological consciousness is the main aim of the Barents Ecology Film Festival, but it is not the only one. In addition to being a platform for regional directors to show films that take a pro-active line on the environmental problems the region faces, the festival offers programs that encourage young people to get into filmmaking. Both are intended as a way bring the region closer together. In addition to its film section, the BEFF offers a number of other green-hued events, including exhibitions, workshops, art projects and contests. As a festival, the BEFF clearly takes its ecology as seriously as it does its Barents. Film, it would appear, gets third billing.

When and where
April 28-May 6; Petrozavodsk, Russia

For more information
Barents Ecology Film Festival

Further reading
Amid environmental fears, UNESCO makes first ever mission to Russia’s remote Wrangel Island

The Week Ahead is a preview of some of the events related to the region that will be in the news in the coming week. If you have a topic you think ought to be profiled in a coming week, please email [email protected].