http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/goodbye-denmark-faroese-weigh-pulling-free-of-danish-grip/article/525005

Goodbye Denmark? Faroese weigh pulling free of Danish grip

Posted Jun 18, 2018 by Pierre-Henry DESHAYES (AFP)
Enough is enough: for the Faroese sailor Birgir Enni, having spent more than half a millennium under Danish rule means it's about time for the North Atlantic autonomous archipelago to break away. "We've been occupied by Denmark for 600 years!
The Faroe Islands is weighing the idea of pushing its autonomy  gained in 1948  to full independence...
The Faroe Islands is weighing the idea of pushing its autonomy, gained in 1948, to full independence from Denmark
Pierre-Henry DESHAYES, AFP

Enough is enough: for the Faroese sailor Birgir Enni, having spent more than half a millennium under Danish rule means it's about time for the North Atlantic autonomous archipelago to break away.

"We've been occupied by Denmark for 600 years! That is enough and we need to change that soon," the white-haired captain tells AFP on his wooden sailing ship.

Located more than 1,100 kilometres (more than 680 miles) northwest of powerhouse Copenhagen, the Faroe Islands have since 1948 had their own white, blue and red flag with an offset cross, their own language originating from the Viking's Old Norse and institutions and culture.

With its breathtakingly green and high mountains covered by fog and inhabited by more sheep than people, the island territory is weighing the idea of pushing its autonomy to full independence.

The Faroese government is working on drawing up a draft constitution that would be put to a referend...
The Faroese government is working on drawing up a draft constitution that would be put to a referendum, as one of the last pieces in the puzzle leading to independence from Denmark
Pierre-Henry DESHAYES, AFP

"We are not Danes, we will never be Danes, we can't be Danes, we are Faroese and that's it... we have to stand up for it and fight for it," says Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Poul Michelsen, who's also the leader of the separatist Progressive Party.

"We are becoming more independent everyday... because we're taking more and more responsibility. The gap between Denmark and the Faroes comes quite naturally," Michelsen tells AFP in his office in the Faroese capital, Torshavn.

- 'No hard master' -

An unlikely alliance of the left, the right, separatists and unionists, the local government is now writing a constitution, which is aimed at capturing the Faroese identity and is seen by some as one of the final pieces of a puzzle leading to emancipation.

An April referendum on the constitution was postponed in order to reach the widest possible consensus on the text. As yet, no new date has been set.

The Faroe Islands' economy is flourishing and GDP per capita exceeds that of Denmark
The Faroe Islands' economy is flourishing and GDP per capita exceeds that of Denmark
Pierre-Henry DESHAYES, AFP

After the planned transfer of migration affairs to the Faroese authorities, Copenhagen will only be in charge of Faroese defence and certain aspects of foreign, monetary and judicial policies.

"Denmark is not a hard master," says Hanna Jensen, co-founder of the Progressive Party.

"(But) Denmark has its own motivations, its own needs and interests for its own place in the world... they are trying to also include our needs, our motivations and our wants, but they collide regularly," she adds.

This conflict of interest was particularly notable during a mackerel and herring war with the EU -- of which the Faroe Islands is not a member -- in early 2010, when Denmark was forced to join a Brussels-imposed boycott against Faroese fish.

The issue touched a raw nerve in Faroese society, which is mainly reliant on fishing, and has not been forgotten to this day.

The Faroe Islands' fight for a  national identity began at the end of the 19th century but isla...
The Faroe Islands' fight for a national identity began at the end of the 19th century but islanders had to wait until 1937 to have their own language officially recognised
Pierre-Henry DESHAYES, AFP

The islands' economy is flourishing compared to Greenland, another Danish autonomous territory, thanks to fishing, agriculture and rising tourism, although oil exploration efforts have drawn a blank.

Unemployment is almost non-existent, gross domestic product per capita exceeds that of Denmark and the Faroese authorities feel so confident that they've asked Copenhagen to freeze their annual subsidies, meaning that their importance for the local economy is gradually shrinking over time.

- 'A split population' -

The fight for their national identity began at the end of the 19th century, even though the islanders had to wait until 1937 to have their own language officially recognised.

But polls suggest the Faroese are divided on the issue of independence from Denmark
But polls suggest the Faroese are divided on the issue of independence from Denmark
Pierre-Henry DESHAYES, AFP

When the Faroe Islands were invaded by the British army during World War II -- while Denmark was under Nazi German rule -- they got a taste for managing their own affairs in the absence of Danish involvement, triggering a desire for freedom.

A referendum led to a narrow victory for the separatists in 1946, but Copenhagen responded by dissolving the Faroese parliament, the Logting.

At the port of Torshavn, in narrow streets and houses covered in green grass roofs, opinions on independence are divided, reflecting a split also shown in the polls.

"I have no problem being in a union with Denmark," says Ossur Hovland, a retired teacher.

Faroe Islands
Faroe Islands
Simon MALFATTO, AFP

"We are 50,000 people, it's more convenient to be in a nation of five million people".

But for Birgir Enni, the long-distance relationship is no longer working out.

"We are so far away from everything, we have a lot of everything, we don't need anything from anybody."