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Greenland


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The world's largest island, inhabited by a total of around 56,000 people (2000), came under Norwegian authority in 1261, though its Viking settlements were subsequently abandoned. It was resettled by Europeans from 1721, and in 1776 it came under the direct control of the Danish state. It remained under Danish authority after the separation between Denmark and Norway in 1815, but was subject to rival Norwegian claims. Only in 1933, after an abortive Norwegian attempt at annexation in 1931, was the matter settled in Denmark's favour by the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Greenland's position between North America and Europe became strategically important during World War II, when the USA founded a number of air force bases there (1941) in support of the Battle of the Atlantic. Throughout the Cold War, its NATO air force bases were to be an important source for the island's economy (next to fisheries). Danish efforts in 1953 to make it an integral part of Denmark remained deeply unpopular, as did other Danish attempts at ‘modernization’. Autonomy was eventually granted in 1979, with a parliament (Landsting) having control over internal matters. Concern over fishing rights led to a referendum in which the majority of the population voted to terminate membership of the EEC (which had been automatic from Denmark's entry in 1973), with effect from 1 January 1985. Despite the desire of the largely Inuit population for independence from Denmark, Danish aid continued to be a crucial factor for Greenland's economy. In 1998, direct Danish transfer payments amounted to 125 per cent of the total value of its exports, or two-thirds of the Greenland government's total revenues.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) — World History.


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