Honouring the life it had before it became virgin territory

The governor of the US Virgin Islands pays his first visit to Copenhagen to strengthen ties between the territories that have “really withstood the test of time”

John de Jongh, the governor of the US Virgin Islands, which Denmark sold to the US in 1917, touched down in Copenhagen last week for a seven-day visit, marking the first trip to the country by a governor of the islands in over a decade. De Jongh held a series of meetings throughout the week that sought to improve the existing ties between Denmark and the islands and set the stage for future relations between the two.

“It’s been a very successful visit,” De Jongh told The Copenhagen Post. “For the multiple purposes of the trip – business development, tourism, and laying the groundwork for the next few years of projects – we’ve had some very meaningful discussions and accomplished a great deal.”

As this was his first trip to the city, De Jongh said he found many aspects of Danish culture that would be valuable in the islands – from energy conservation efforts to lifestyle changes.

“We were always told to look to Denmark as an example for wind, solar and other renewable energy forms,” he said. “So I knew I would be impressed by that during the visit, but what really surprised me was the bicycle culture. I’ve always heard there were a lot, but the sheer volume amazed me.”

But practical issues aside, De Jongh said he found it equally important to preserve and strengthen the unique historical relationship between Denmark and the Virgin Islands. During the visit, he began preparations for the upcoming Transfer Day celebration in 2017, which will mark the 100th anniversary of the date Denmark sold the islands to the United States on 31 March 1917. He said he hoped that both the island territory and Denmark will acknowledge and emphasise the significance of the anniversary as the date approaches.

“I’m hoping to build up to the anniversary of the transfer with a series of events, forums and educational activities in both locations,” De Jongh said. “So one of the things I’ve been trying to do is establish strong relationships while I’ve been here. It’s important to make sure that we have representation from both Denmark and the islands.”

De Jongh met with the Danish National Archives, the National Museum of Denmark and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to continue plans to digitalise aspects of Denmark’s archives that pertain to the US Virgin Islands.

“A lot of our historical records are here in Denmark, and we want to preserve them. We don’t necessarily want to move the physical archives back to the Virgin Islands, but we want to provide access to them in the islands as well,” he explained.

De Jongh hopes to preserve this historical tie in the future as well, by providing university internships for students from Denmark and the islands, as well as exchanges for artists, farmers and tourists.

“It’s essential that we continue to educate both Americans and Danes about the connection between our homes,” he went on. “There’s a longstanding tie between our two homes that many people don’t even realise.”

But the relationship between the two areas is far more than historical, De Jongh pointed out.

“I’ve noticed from Danish headlines that Denmark and the islands have a lot of the same issues going on currently,” he said. “Issues like the construction taking place in the city centre and how that affects businesses, education reform, dealing with gang activity – the Virgin Islands are facing similar issues.”

“There are a lot of similarities between the two places,” he concluded. “You could say the links between us have really withstood the test of time.”

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