In the past, children from socially disadvantaged families in many countries have been torn away and placed elsewhere, usually forever. A special case occurred in Denmark in 1951 with the so-called “Greenland Experiment”, in which 22 children were torn out of Greenlandic families and sent to Denmark. Last year, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced an apology for this. But this will now have to wait due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, a group of researchers appointed by Mette Frederiksen had to work out the background and details of the failed experiment by June 1 and publish them in a report. Afterwards, the Prime Minister wanted to apologise publicly to those affected and to the people of Greenland. However, with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the Danish government’s lockdown measures, the completion of the report was delayed. As a result of the measures, the research group no longer had access to the archives of the Danish state and the organisations involved. “The Ministry of Social Affairs and Home Affairs has stated that the researchers had started the research. But the work, like many other parts of society, has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis, including the closure of archives and travel restrictions between Denmark and Greenland,” the prime minister writes in a statement to the Greenlandic parliament. The report is now due to be submitted in mid-November this year, conditions permitting. But it could take longer again, the prime minister warned.
The “Greenland Experiment” was a “social” programme initiated in the early 1950s by the Conservative government of the time. The aim was to raise Greenlandic children with Danish ideals and social norms and to form from them a kind of “elite” who would guide the destiny of Greenland according to the Danish model and to replace Greenlandic culture with Danish culture. To this end, 22 children were torn from their families under dubious pretexts and dubious promises by their parents and put up for adoption in Denmark. Once in Denmark, the 6-8 year old children were forbidden under penalty of law to act out their Greenlandic roots, language or other aspects of their native culture.
But the experiment failed and some children were sent back to Greenland after a year, where they were taken to an orphanage in Nuuk instead of their parents. Others stayed in Denmark but had to deal with massive trauma and psychological consequences. Not even half of the children reached adulthood. The experiment tore a deep wound in Greenlandic society and in 2009, after the vote on extended autonomy, the Home Rule Government under Kuupik Kleist demanded an official apology from Denmark. But while in 2010 the Danish organization Red Barnet, which conducted the experiment, officially apologized, by 2019 any apology from the government had been denied. Just before the Danish Conservatives were voted out of office in June 2019, they reached an agreement with Greenland to come to terms with what happened. A group of experts is to draw up a report on this, but it is not yet ready.
The statements of the Danish head of government do not meet with understanding everywhere in Greenland. Greenland’s representative in the Danish parliament, Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, says to Frederiksen’s address in the newspaper Sermitsiaq: “I think you have disappointed the surviving participants of the experiment with this. Because if you continue to postpone the apology, we will have the situation where no one will be there to accept the apology.” The MP is referring to the fact that of the original 22 Greenlandic children who were abducted, only four are alive today (as of December 2019). But for the prime minister, the report, which serves as a basis for further action, is important. “I had announced that the government would apologize to the 22 children who were sent to Denmark in 1951. At the request of the Greenlandic government and with regard to the agreement on a historical reappraisal, the government will first await the report,” Mette Frederiksen wrote to parliament.
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