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Resumé af Pauliina Maaret Mirjami Oionens speciale

Specialetitel: NAPA IN NORDEN: CULTURAL BRIDGES IN CONSTRUCTION - A mixed-method case study of Greenland’s status within Nordic cooperation.


Nordic cooperation has historically been high on the agendas of the Nordic states, and cultural cooperation is one of its most prominent forms to date. The different Nordic institutions were founded to bring the more remote Nordic countries closer to the cooperation’s Scandinavian center – to build cultural bridges. NAPA, the Nordic Institute in Greenland, awards over 100 cultural cooperation grants yearly, with the goal to build bridges between Greenland and the rest of Norden: the grants must always include a Greenlandic and a Nordic partner. However, Greenland’s status as a former Danish colony puts the country in a position from which Nordic cooperation and its manifestations in Greenland can be questioned.

The existence of NAPA says something about the unique status of Greenland within Nordic cooperation. The distance – both geographical and cultural – between the outer edge of the Nordic region and its physical center in Scandinavia is certainly a reason to pay additional attention to Greenland’s relationship with the rest of the region. Given the country’s history with Denmark, this thesis assumes a duality in its position in the cooperative structure: Nordic cooperation can either be viewed as an inclusive network of independent, willing participants or a remnant or continuation of Danish colonialism, which poses the question of whether it is a relevant cooperative structure for the self-governing island nation.

The study is based on the following research question:

How does NAPA’s cultural support program reflect Greenland’s status within Nordic cooperation?

This question has been answered by observing how applications submitted to and approved by NAPA between 2012 and 2020 are divided between different countries. To bring depth to the quantitative findings, NAPA personnel were interviewed in a semi-structured manner. In addition to examining Greenland’s relation to the other Nordic countries, the results help define to which extent NAPA fulfils its purpose as a Nordic cultural cooperation body. If need be, the results can be used to identify potential areas of focus in the grant program management.

Theoretical background

The theoretical approach of the thesis is built on the core concepts of cooperation, cultural policy and decolonization. Here, cooperation is understood as the action of partners working together to reach a common goal or to further common initiatives while simultaneously achieving their own individual goals as part of the common goal (Castañer and Oliveira 2020). Cooperation happens within networks consisting of the participating actors, the ties between them and the interdependencies between these ties, and it is built on trustworthiness, reliability, and motivation. Each of these factors can prove faulty at some stage of the process. First of all, it is hard to imagine cooperation without trust. Secondly, even partners previously considered as trustworthy may fail to commit to the agreement. Lastly, the prospective gains of cooperation must balance out or surpass the efforts: if the gains are small, the motivation to cooperate is low, and if the gains are none, the structure is exploitative rather than cooperative (Kinne 2013).

In Nordic cooperation, the most prominent manifestation of the division of the common effort is the way the participating states co-finance the efforts with tax revenue and how the task of hosting the Presidency rotates between the states.The countries within the network have different relations to one another: for example, the autonomous areas of Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Åland are governed by a sovereign state, and countries such as Sweden and Denmark and the West Nordic island states exercise bilateral or regional cooperation within the larger region. The fact that some participants are sovereign states and others autonomous areas creates a dynamic that can be perceived as unequal, and lately, efforts have been made to secure the autonomous areas’ more equal participation.

Although Nordic cooperation has had some ambitious goals in the fields of security and economy, the most successful efforts have usually been those within culture and education (Sundelius and Wiklund 2000, Strang 2015). These efforts manifest, for example, in the existence of the Nordic Houses and Institutes such as NAPA, which produce cultural products and facilitate mobility. These institutions revolve around cultural policy; the devices regulating, protecting, encouraging, supporting, and potentially financing creative arts and other aspects of culture, such as heritage, diversity, language and sometimes education. In short, cultural policy regulates and reflects the way different forms or products of culture are funded in a given society at a given time. (Duelund 2003) Cultural policy is based on a clash of interests between the different stakeholders, such as cultural producers, authorities, and the public, and is composed with the values which the decision-making stakeholder wishes to promote: in a Nordic setting, a value which often comes up is a common Nordic identity, which is mentioned as a key concept in several recent strategies for Nordic cultural cooperation but has also been criticized for ignoring the cultural diversity within Norden. Nordic cultural policy is defined by two features: the arm’s length principle, according to which institutions should fund cultural activity but not set strict boundaries or artistic requirements to the type or quality of the funded activity, and decentralization, which manifests in the remote locations of several Nordic cultural institutions.

Culture, language and heritage make Greenland very different from the rest of Norden, and the fact that Greenland, today, is part of official Nordic cooperation can be perceived to be solely due to Danish colonialism (Gad 2009, Gad 2013). The future of Greenland within the Nordic cooperative network depends, thus, on the ongoing decolonization process in Greenland.

Decolonization has been defined as “the process of revealing and dismantling colonialist power in all its forms”(Ashcroft, Griffins and Tiffin 2000: 63), and as a process leading to the independence of a previously colonized nation (Betts 1998). While Greenland’s official colonial period ended in 1953, some colonial structures still prevail: for example, Greenland’s economy can be defined as dependency-based, as the country still gets the majority of the workforce in its welfare administration from Denmark (Grydehøj 2020, Thorsteinsson 2007). Knowledge of

Danish is still required to pursue a high school or a university degree, and Danish-speaking bilinguals generally enjoy a privileged position in relation to those only speaking Greenlandic (Gad 2009, 2013). As Indigenous people, Greenlandic Inuit can be considered to be culturally closer to ther Inuit peoples residing in the United States, Canada, and Russia, as well as the Saami people of Fennoscandia and the Kola peninsula. From a cultural perspective, the Inuit share a similar culture and language, and all the aforementioned peoples have a similar history of colonization, assimilation and emancipation (Søbye 2013). This could easily be seen as a parallel to what the other Nordic countries have in common, and thus a base for more organized cooperation.



Epistemologically, this thesis approaches the research question from a pragmatist perspective. As explained in Kaushik and Walsh (2019), pragmatist philosophy claims that the meaning of human actions and beliefs is found in their consequences, which fits well with the research question, aims, and the topic of this thesis. The cultural grant program can be seen as a consequence of the action of Nordic cooperation, as well as the projects and their impacts are a consequence of the grant program’s action of distributing economic support to cultural actors.

Pragmatism is a popular paradigm amongst consequence-oriented research in general, and due to the normative leanings of this thesis, it can provide a coherent stance: in a desirable scenario, this research can serve as a grounding for discussions about how the Nordic Institute in Greenland can highlight and promote Nordic cooperation in an inclusive and sensible manner.

Methodologically, the research has both a quantitative and a qualitative dimension. First, the data collected was converted into descriptive statistics which show general patterns and trends (Bryman 2012) in the way NAPA applications are divided: how many applications are received each year from each country (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Åland and non-Nordic countries) and how many of these applications are being accepted. The numbers of received applications give an impression on NAPA’s relations to the different countries: if the Institute is known, applications should come, and vice versa. The numbers of accepted applications reflect the conscious choice of NAPA to promote certain types of applications or cooperation between Greenland and certain nations. Success rates were also calculated to reveal potential tendencies to favor certain countries in the application process.

After the quantitative analysis, NAPA personnel were interviewed anonymously with the help of a previously constructed interview guide. The interviews were semi-structured to provide both structure and space to express thoughts that could be useful in unexpected ways (Brinkmann and Kvale 2015). The interviewees were asked questions related to the patterns revealed by the data and on how NAPA applicants perceive the Institute, and the answers were analyzed later by deductive thematic analysis. The main themes used in the analysis were Nordic cooperation, cultural policy and Greenland in Norden, and as is customary to deductive thematic analysis, the themes were constructed from theory before the analysis. The codes used in the analysis, however, were both derived from the themes and constructed from repetitive topics in the answers.


Key findings

Uneven divide of applications

NAPA receives roughly between 140 and 190 applications per year, and about 60% of these applications come from Greenland. Approximately 25% comes from Denmark, and the rest is divided between the other Nordic and non-Nordic countries, mostly from Norway and Sweden. Åland is the least active, with a share of only approximately 0,1% of all received applications. When the numbers of applications are made relative to the country’s population, the small states gain some prominence: Greenland still dominates the charts, but the Faroe Islands’ per capita rate far exceeds those of the other countries, and Iceland is also well represented, sometimes placing ahead of Denmark. Of course, the numbers of received applications only tell a part of the story – more specifically, they shed light on in which countries NAPA is known, but do not tell anything about the decision-making process concerning the applications. This is why it is important to look at the successful applications.

While the general pattern follows that of all received applications, with most accepted applications coming from Greenland, followed by Denmark, there is an observable change in the percentages of the less represented countries. Sweden and Norway both had a percentage of less than 3 in received applications, while in successful applications, both countries’ proportions have grown to over 4 percent. All the other underrepresented countries also experience a rise in the relative numbers of successful applications. The only ones with a lower percentage of successful applications than all applications are Greenland, Denmark and the non-Nordic countries. This would imply that at least some of the countries with fewer received applications have an elevated success rate. NAPA applications have an average yearly success rate of 52,33%, and Greenland, Denmark and non-Nordic countries are the only ones with a success rate lower than this. Sweden has a dramatically higher average success rate of roughly 94%, and Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands also have average success rates above 70%. This could imply that NAPA has a tendency to favor applications from underrepresented countries. The rates and proportions are somewhat similar over time, but it is clear that the portion of Greenlandic applications has been getting smaller and the portion of Danish applications has been getting bigger in recent years. Swedish and Norwegian applications have also had a surge in recent years, but are still few compared to the top two countries.

NAPA is a Greenlandic-Nordic body, so it is not exactly undesirable to have a large portion of the applications coming from Greenland: the data collected does not show the other countries involved in the applications, but it can be assumed that the grants are, at least, being used for cultural projects originating from Greenland and aimed at a different Nordic country. The number of Danish applications, however, is somewhat questionable, although easily explicable by the near relations. This also applies for the Faroe Islands: the Danish Realm is well represented in NAPA applications, which reinforces the assumption that Greenland is mainly part of the Nordic cooperative structure due to its belonging to the Danish Realm. If one wished to reinforce Greenland’s participation in Nordic cooperation as an independent actor instead, one way to do so could be to make the country more known in the rest of Norden through cultural cooperation projects. Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland also engage in West Nordic cooperation, which could be one reason for Iceland’s success - another one could be physical proximity, as countries far away from Greenland do not tend to be very well represented in the statistics (aside from Denmark). Generally, the data would suggest that NAPA’s cultural support program is a Greenlandic-Danish program with a Nordic flair instead of an “authentically Nordic” program where all the sides of the region are equally represented.


Networks built on interpersonal relationships and political constructions

In the interviews, the over- and underrepresentation of certain countries were said to be both results of interpersonal connections or the lack of them, and due to the status quo of Norden, where Greenland has a much closer relationship to the Danish Realm than to the other countries. The personal networks of NAPA personnel are often the reason behind surges of applications from a certain nation, whereas the large numbers of applications coming from Denmark are due to the two nations’ established historical relationship. Although a Nordic institution exists in Åland and the relationship of that and NAPA was mentioned a few times during the interviews, there are very few applications coming from there to NAPA, and the interviewees agreed that it would have to do with lack of communication. In Cultural Policy in the Small Nations of Norden (2003), Duelund mentions that Åland has a high concentration of amateur artists and cultural practitioners but a modest number of professional cultural institutions, which could partially explain the few grants applied for from the area. However, as NAPA does not require the applying artist to be a professional, it is not theoretically impossible for Ålandic artists to be included.

It is easy to see the connection between the results of the qualitative analysis and Greenland’s status as a remote and underrepresented region: many of the interviewees’ answers reflected the status of NAPA as a body providing institutional and interpersonal contacts to the rest of Norden. However, the colonial past and the present duality of independence aspirations and “voluntary” belonging to a cooperative structure was not as present as other aspects surrounding Greenland’s status in Norden. Some answers did mention that some applicants exercise a savior-like attitude towards Greenland where, instead of cultural exchange, the applicant would come from abroad and “enlighten” or “save” the native population. This attitude is rooted in colonialism and is accompanied in the answers by mentions of exoticism and the attitude that NAPA exists to “guard cultural policy” in Greenland, which is possible to interpret as something that reinforces Greenland’s dependency from other nations in administrative matters.

The interviews confirm that while a certain tendency to favor applications coming from atypical countries does exist and can be justified by a desire to make the cultural support program less performative and more factual in regionwide cooperation, no official quota system is in place. Given the arm’s length principle, it is unlikely that such a system be implemented by initiative of the NCM, but based on one of the interviewees’ comments on the present and future precautions taken to equalize the application flows, NAPA could be moving towards a more Nordic and less bilaterally inclined program - from a Danish Realm -oriented program to a Nordic-oriented one.


Nordic cooperation on a more equal footing - would an independent Greenland choose Norden?

Greenland has gone through possibly the most modifications, reforms and status changes of all the Nordic countries throughout the history of Nordic cooperation: the formal decolonization journey from a Danish colony to Home Rule to Self-Government is just the factual, objectively perceivable part of it. As has been covered earlier, some colonial elements are still present in the Greenlandic society, culture, and identity. Of course, the long history of Danish influence has contributed with elements the removal of which would not be reasonable or desirable.

As Ashcroft, Griffins and Tiffin (2000) and Betts (1998) discuss in their works, while visions of a future after colonialism have often built on an imagined precolonial past, implying a “continued narrative” in which the colonial period is but a removable piece within brackets, achieving the very same “untouched'' state is nearly impossible, at least in a peaceful way. On a grassroots level, this includes interpersonal relations, families and bloodlines, and a socio-political example would be the welfare model, which has been generally accepted as a key element of Greenlandic society (Gad 2009). This political element adds to the distinct status Greenland has within the Nordic region solely based on linguistic, cultural, and geographical aspects.

When Nordic cooperation is observed from a Greenlandic perspective, a duality is visible: on one hand, Greenland would not necessarily be part of the cooperative structure if it weren’t for Danish colonialism, which, although formally ended, can be agreed to partially exist in the societal structure and should be uprooted. On the other hand, Nordic cooperation is based on some values Greenland as an independent actor could agree on, such as democracy and the welfare system. Even at the event of complete political sovereignty, the economic, cultural, and interpersonal ties to Denmark would make it impossible not to cooperate to some degree. The most distinctive finding in both the quantitative and the qualitative data directly reflects these close ties, but also reinforces the statement that Greenland would only participate in Nordic cooperation via Denmark. Another point is that in the current situation, the autonomous areas do not participate in the co-financing of the cooperation in a similar manner to the independent states: as an independent state, Greenland would potentially have to consider whether Nordic cooperation is worth investing the tax revenue, when other cooperation partners could be more attractive due to cultural similarities or financial gain. However, Nordic cooperation has potential in helping Greenland form ties to other Indigenous peoples, especially the Saami peoples in Fennoscandia, and Greenland acts more independently in the West Nordic cooperation initiatives, some of which are closely related to official Nordic cooperation. From a Nordic perspective, Greenland is an attractive partner due to its strategic location and potential for natural resource extraction, to name a few reasons (Gad 2009, Grydehøj 2020).

Cultural bridges in construction?

It is impossible to determine if the data collected mainly reflects the other countries’ loose ties to or disinterest in Greenland or Greenland’s loose ties to or disinterest in the other Nordic countries, but the main discovery is that the strongest cultural bridge NAPA has helped build, or maintain, is the one that already is strong and established - the one between Greenland and Denmark. The Danish Realm is more interconnected than the Nordic Region as a whole, and the NAPA-related ties between Greenland and Nordic countries outside of the Danish Realm are very weak in comparison. When the NAPA application data is compared to similar data from the Nordic Culture Point, located in Helsinki, Finland, it seems that the lack of connection between, for example, Finland and Greenland is evident: Greenland is as underrepresented in the Culture Point’s data as Finland is in NAPA statistics. According to the arm’s length principle of Nordic cultural policy, the institutions still control their internal decision-making and management of the funds allocated by the Nordic Council of Ministers. This would imply that NAPA can create ties to the other Nordic countries and enhance Greenland’s participation on an institutional level on its own accord, without having to be ordered by the NCM. The statistics do show that surges in applications from underrepresented countries are possible and often occur when NAPA personnel have strong ties to a certain country. Decisions made regarding marketing, recruitment or networking can therefore help make a difference in shifting Greenland’s status from a remote “part of the Danish Realm” to an independent actor recognized and represented in every country of the region . As an equal Nordic cooperation partner, Greenland needs to be recognized for its differences, but without putting the country on a special pedestal, be it in a positive or a negative light. It can also be argued that in a more integrated and inclusive Nordic region, the cultural bridges connecting Greenland to the rest of the countries will be more equally built than they appear to be based on the data presented in this thesis.

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Senest opdateret 14. december 2021