Globe Editorial

The Greenland example

June 26, 2009
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‘IF IT bleeds, it leads,’’ goes the old motto of the news business. If this rule explains coverage of local crime stories and traffic accidents, it’s even more applicable to global conflicts with their origins in old colonial conquests. Those sad legacies have included bloodbaths in Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor, Sri Lanka, India-Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq, Iraq-Kuwait, Israel-Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and all too many more.

A saner way to escape history’s nightmare could be glimpsed in Greenland’s peaceable accession to independence from Denmark, an event celebrated Sunday on the world’s largest island in a ceremony attended by the Danish queen. Greenlanders, 90 percent of whom are indigenous Inuits, voted overwhelmingly in a referendum last November to exercise self-rule and eventually to be independent. Denmark, which has ruled that Arctic land since 1721, accepted the will of the people graciously.

Ironically, this rare version of decolonization was aided by the effects of global warming. With the ice cap over Greenland melting progressively, it has become possible to begin mining long-inaccessible gold, diamonds, coal, and zinc. And seismological analyses project oil reserves of more than 110 billion tons. The revenue from these newly available resources will allow its 57,000 residents to reduce, and eventually eliminate, their reliance on a subsidy from Denmark of $550 million a year.

Other post-colonial conflict zones have had no such windfalls. But many of them could nevertheless learn something from the pacific way that Greenlanders pursued self-determination - and the reasonable way that Denmark relinquished its hold over another people.

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