Greenland (Part 2) by Søren Rasmussen - article courtesy of Greenland Tourism
In 1953, the colonial period came to an end and Greenland became part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Growing national and political awareness among the population meant that this was only a temporary solution and in 1979 Greenland was granted home rule with its own parliament and government, which gradually took over powers from Denmark in all areas other than foreign policy, defence, policing, administration of justice and foreign exchange, which continue to be administered from Copenhagen.
In 1972 Greenland had become a member of the EU as part of Denmark, and one of the new home rule authority's first actions was to organise a referendum of the people of Greenland on EU membership. Common access to fishing resources in EU waters was viewed as a serious threat to the Greenlanders' basis of existence - the thought that powerful European fishermen would empty Greenland waters in the long term was a frightening scenario - and the referendum produced a majority in favour of withdrawal. Greenland left the EU in 1985 and has subsequently negotiated five-year fishing agreements with Brussels.
Fishing is the main industry in Greenland and forms the basis of the economy. The dominant product is prawns, which are caught by large sea-going trawlers, while coastal fishing concentrates on Greenland halibut. In the summer and autumn, the fishermen set out from Ilulissat in dinghies and small cutters, and in winter and spring, they drive out in dog sleighs to the frozen Disko bay - or in between the ice bergs in the ice fjord where temperatures plummet to minus 40 degrees Celsius - and catch Greenland halibut on long lines through a hole in the ice. In the biting cold, the fishermen haul up the 600-metre-long line by hand.
The fish factory at the harbour in Ilulissat, like nearly all the country's other factories, belongs to the state-owned Royal Greenland Trading Company, which is among Europe's largest producers of fish products. Although the group is no longer subject to social obligations to safeguard employment in every small town, it still strives to achieve an adequate profit. There are no easy solutions in this vast country with its scattered population.
The fishing industry accounts for around 90 per cent of the country's export earnings, while the rest derives from tourism and raw-material exploration. The activities of international companies with exploration licences constitute a significant economic activity but, although one gold mine is now expected to be opened in South Greenland, a major breakthrough in raw-material extraction is yet to be made. Off-shore drilling in the sea off West Greenland in the summer of 2000 came to nothing. All that holds the Greenland economy together is revenue sharing from the Danish state to the tune of DKK 3 billion, representing approximately one-half of all revenues.
Almost ten years of public investment in tourism development are now beginning to show results. The number of tourists on an annual basis has grown from 10,000 to over 25,000, and the trend seems set to continue. Greenland offers precisely the qualities which are being sought by tourism's trend-setters: peace and quiet, magnificent scenery with dramatic forces, unique fauna and a culture with authentic roots. Greenland offers challenges to even the most extreme individuals, who can cross the ice sheet on foot or crawl down into its cracks and cavities. The world's most demanding skiing and marathon running on the ice sheet are just two of the other possibilities.
For people with more normal levels of adrenaline production too, Greenland has surprises in store. A holiday trip on a passenger ship along the coast is, in the most literal sense, a cruise among thousands of ice bergs of all sizes and the most astounding shapes and colours - and offers views of whales, seals and bird cliffs to boot.
For companies needing conferences and seminars a little out of the ordinary, a handful of Greenland's hotels - a few with four stars - not only offer facilities and know-how but also such fantastic experiences in the immense nature of the country that the participants gain "a new perspective". Just the view from the modern Hotel Arctic in Ilulissat is enough to back up the truth of this claim.
Golf is one of the more marginal activities available in Greenland but is still within the realms of the possible. In summer 2000 the capital, Nuuk, opened a nine-hole course on (imported) grass, while Kangerlussuaq has an 18-hole course on gravel and sand. But none of the courses can match the experience offered by the town of Uummannaq in North Greenland, which each year hosts the world ice golf championships on a course laid out on the sea ice between the frozen-solid ice bergs - open to anyone with a handicap under 36, but limited by the capacity of the local hotel. I wonder whether there are a couple of places still available?
Lonely Planet: Greenland and the Arcticby Etain O'Carroll and Mark Elliott
The Lonely Planet Country Guides are the complete country guides for independent travellers. They feature inspirational colour highlights sections, easy-to-use grid-referenced maps and insightful history, culture, food and environment chapters by specialised contributors.
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