Greenland, Faroe Islands tricky models for Catalonia
Sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, in Copenhagen to muster international support for an independent Catalonia, has cited Denmark's autonomous territories Greenland and the Faroe Islands as models for a peaceful bid for independence.
But the model may be difficult to export, experts say.
“It’s not easy I know but you’re proof that it’s possible,” Puigdemont said Monday during a seminar on the Catalan crisis at the University of Copenhagen.
On Tuesday, Puigdemont was to meet with Danish MPs at the invitation of Magni Arge, a representative of the Faroese separatist party Tjodveld (Republicans).
No representatives from the parties that make up Denmark’s centre-right government will be present.
Arge, who served as an observer for the banned Catalan independence referendum in October that saw a brutal police crackdown, said the purpose of the meeting was to take stock of relations between regional capital Barcelona and the central government in Madrid.
And for Puigdemont, the aim was to learn more about the road to independence being pursued by Denmark’s former colonies.
The Scandinavian country — a small parliamentary monarchy that has built its prosperity on reform, dialogue and consensus rather than social uprisings — has since the 1950s gradually granted its former possessions increasing sovereignty.
Negotiations have occasionally been thorny, such as those on control of natural resources, but for the most part disputes are resolved through compromise.
“It’s not a criminal act in Denmark to be in favour of the independence of the Faroe Islands,” Arge told AFP.
– ‘Legitimate’ independence –
In the case of Greenland, it may be difficult for Puigdemont to draw any parallels at all.
The largest island on the planet, snow-covered and plagued by financial and social woes, has little in common with tourist magnet, wealthy Catalonia.
Its 55,000 inhabitants are for the most part indigenous Inuits.
In 2009, the Danish parliament adopted a law granting Greenland self-rule, though Copenhagen retains control of foreign affairs and defence.
For the Faroese people — most of whom are fishermen and sheep farmers — their status as islanders, coupled with Copenhagen’s rather distant interest in the archipelago, means their independence drive is not much of a concern for most Danes.
The Faroe Islands, which receive sizeable government subsidies, will hold a referendum in April on a new constitution which would give the archipelago the right to self-determination.
“Full independence for these two parts of the kingdom is broadly seen as legitimate, should those parts of the kingdom so desire,” says Henrik Larsen, a social sciences professor at the University of Copenhagen.
That said, “the political elite would not like to see this.”
The Danish government has made several concessions to avoid any unilateral declarations of independence like the one made in Catalonia on October 27, said Marku Suksi, a professor of international law at the University of Turku in Finland.
Spain has appeared less flexible or willing to make concessions on the question of independence.
“Denmark has shown once again that it understands democracy,” Puigdemont said on Monday.
But in Catalonia, the reality is far more complex.
The region, one of Spain’s wealthiest, has its own language and culture.
But of its 7.5 million inhabitants, more than half come from elsewhere or were born to parents from other parts of Spain. And as far as independence goes, views among the Catalans are evenly split.
Polls suggest, however, that more than 70 percent of Catalans want the issue decided by a legal referendum.
– Polar opposites –
Spain and Denmark are polar opposites when it comes to their recent histories.
Spain emerged from four decades of dictatorship in 1977. In 2011, a violent four-decade drive for Basque independence that claimed more than 800 lives came to an end.
Denmark has meanwhile flourished in peacetime to become one of the most prosperous and egalitarian countries in the world.
Within the European Union, Denmark is however seen as a fierce defender of its autonomy and sovereignty. It has negotiated several opt-outs on defence, justice and the single currency, and is occasionally perceived as overly indulgent of Danes’ reluctance to deepen European integration.
“It depends which government coalition is in power in Copenhagen,” says Maria Ackren, a political science professor in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. “And right now, it’s very conservative.”
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen — whose Liberal Party belongs to the same European Parliament group as Puigdemont’s party — has refrained from all comment on the Catalan crisis.