Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
The Faroe Islands are an archipelago of 18 islands in the North Atlantic between Iceland and Scotland. Predominantly Lutheran (Faroese People’s Church), their population speaks Faroese, a language related to West Norwegian and Icelandic.
Economic decline brought about a 14 per cent drop in the islands’ population between 1989 and 1994, from 48,000 to 43,000, mainly as a result of the emigration of young people. But as of 2017, the population reached 50,000. The majority of people living in the Faroe Islands are Faroese (88 per cent) while 8 per cent are Danish, and 4 per cent other ethnic groups.
The islands were first inhabited by Irish monks in about CE 650 and then by settlers from Norway and the British Isles some 200 years later. They came under Danish rule after the Union of Kalmar. The ancient parliament or Løgting was abolished in 1816 and replaced by Danish judgeship, resulting in growing Danization and the decline of the Faroese language. The 1849 Danish Constitution was held to apply to the Faroes.
In the 1890s, following the islands’ fishing boom, demands were first voiced for home rule. Autonomists established the Self-Rule Party, which was opposed by the Faroese elite in the Unionist Party. A major step towards self-government was taken during the Second World War, when the islands were politically separated from Denmark and became prosperous through the export of fish. The population did not want to relinquish self-rule, and on 23 March 1948 the Danish Parliament passed the Faroese Home Rule Act. This granted limited self-rule, distinguishing between ‘special affairs’, which may be taken over and financed by home rule legislators, and ‘affairs of state’, which cannot.
Thereafter Faroese was legalized as the principal language of the islands, although in public affairs Danish retains the same status as Faroese and is the language of the courts. Faroese is the language of instruction. The laws of the Løgting are published in Danish parallel text.
Danish involvement in Faroe Islands economic policy-making following the 1991 collapse of the fishing industry has increased Danish-Faroese tension and led to renewed calls for independence.
The application of the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities to the Faroe Islands remains unresolved. The Danish government has approached the Faroese home government in order to obtain its views on whether or not the Framework Convention should be applied in the Faroe Islands. In written replies, the home government has indicated that it should not. In the absence of representations to the contrary from persons belonging to possible minority groups in the Faroe Islands (for instance, ethnic Danes), the Advisory Committee believes there is no reason to apply the Framework Convention.
There also remains an issue concerning the application of the Framework Convention to Greenlanders and Faroese living in mainland Denmark. Faroese authorities have requested the Danish authorities to contact ‘Faroese associations in Denmark with a view to clarifying the extent to which the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on Minorities applies to the national Faroese minority in Denmark’. Yet the Danish government has not done this. Similarly no discussions have been held with Danes in the Faroe Islands. The Faroe Islands does not currently have comprehensive legislation to protect against discrimination.
While the Home Rule Act has established Faroese as an official language alongside Danish, Faroese has been identified by UNESCO as one of 150 European languages in danger of disappearing. As of 2014, there were only 66,000 speakers between both the Faroe Islands and Denmark. While many Faroese speak the language at home, there are many children who are educated in Denmark, where it is not always understood.
The Faroese tradition of whale hunting became the focus of international debate in 2014 when fourteen people were arrested for protesting the practice. The grindadráp, or grind, is the longest continuously practiced and unchanged whaling tradition in the world. Today, the grind is still an important communal tradition and does not target species that are considered endangered.
The Faroese were set to vote in April 2018 in a referendum on a new Constitution paving the way towards independence. This has been postponed to allow more time for consultations.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in