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General

Who is … Kuupik Kleist?

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February 9th, 2013


This article is more than 10 years old.

He is Greenland’s political leader. He recently called for a general election as a referendum over the country’s plans to develop its mining industry.

Is he going to be re-elected?

Polling a population of 56,000 who live in a country half the size of Europe, without roads connecting its major settlements, is difficult. However, according to a Facebook poll taken by the newspaper Sermitsiaq, it’s neck-and-neck between his socialist coalition and the social-democratic coalition that lost its 30-year stranglehold on power in the 2009 election.

Would there be a life for him after politics?

Almost certainly. Kleist, 54, has a university degree as a social worker, and he headed Greenland’s school of journalism. He was also the head of Greenland’s foreign office before being elected to the Danish parliament in 2001. Also, with the connections he’s made in recent years, he may just be the Kingdom of Denmark’s best-connected person. After first playing host to world leaders as they beat a path to his country to watch climate change in action, he’s spent the past few years promoting the development of the country’s oil and mineral industry, meeting with world leaders and industry executives. Failing that, he could also go back to being a singer. Before his political career took off, he tried his luck at being a musician and producer. He released a couple of albums, but Greenland’s Leonard Cohen, as he was nicknamed due to his bassy voice, never really made it big.

Any connection to Denmark?

The son of a deaf Greenlandic woman and a Danish man who abandoned him shortly after he was born, he was raised by an aunt and uncle in a Greenlandic mining town that was abandoned when the mine closed. He attended school in Denmark from the age of 17 and returned after finishing university. As a politician, he’s been a staunch proponent of Greenland’s right to self-determination, particularly when it comes to investment in its vast mineral and oil resources. Most recently, he told Danes they were welcome to invest in Greenland’s mining industry, but that they shouldn’t expect to be treated differently to any other interested party.

Is he a separatist?

Though not one of the founding fathers of the post-colonial Greenland, he is described as a nationalist, and he headed the country when it was granted increased autonomy in 2009. He has a pragmatic approach to the  Greenlandic membership of the Kingdom of Denmark. He told The Independent once: “We claim our right to economic development. And we claim our right to be independent from former colonial powers.” But apparently, there’s a difference between having the right to do so, and actually wanting to do so. Because while he’s also ruffled some feathers in Copenhagen by saying he supports calls to write a Greenlandic constitution, he’s also underscored that it isn’t necessarily the same as declaring independence. In Kleist’s mind, independence and income are linked. Greenland currently gets most of its money from prawn exports and Copenhagen’s 3 billion kroner annual block grant. Without the tax revenue mining activity would bring, he knows Greenland would have no realistic way of supporting itself. If Greenland can develop a mining industry, he has predicted Greenland will be independent by the middle of the century.

If not? 

He will be the lead singer in a 56,000-strong blues band.


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