The Airbus floats in perfect synchronicity with time, four hours to the north-west, and starts descending towards Kangerlussuaq Airport at the very same hour it took off from Copenhagen. Now the land tilts to a steep angle. The plane banks into a long right turn and we sink down between the mountains and the heavens. The engines roar, the plane decelerates. My seat belt holds me tightly as we meet the earth. I step out on to the gangway and draw a breath of Arctic air deep into my lungs.
This is Greenland. It is years since I was last here, and everything has changed. On 25 Nov ember, a referendum on expanding Greenland’s autonomy from Denmark was passed with an overwhelming 75 per cent approval. The result gives Greenlanders rights to their offshore oil reserves and the right to their own language, but it is seen primarily as an important step towards total independence after 30 years of local home rule and 270 years of Danish supremacy.
Kangerlussuaq is the international airport that connects with Greenland’s capital, Nuuk. In the arrivals hall, I spot old friends, colleagues, girlfriends. They laugh and salute each other and embrace. There is an excitement that I have never before sensed on arriving in Greenland. At the bar, I pour myself a Carlsberg and gradually become aware of the man to the right of me. He is a well-known Greenlandic politician, one of the veterans from the first home-rule parliament back in 1979. “Congratulations on the referendum,” I say and raise my beer. He smiles and nods. “It must be fantastic for you,” I go on.
“We are very happy,” he says. “And relieved. First and foremost relieved. This is the end of 270 years of magic sleep. As we say goodbye to Denmark, we can finally afford the luxury of loving the Danish people again. Cheers!”
A four-engined de Havilland, known as the Dash 7, is the local plane that will take us to Nuuk. They say it needs a strip only three times its own length to land, and I hope this is true. The forecast for our destination is heavy snowfall and a fresh gale from the south-east. The seats are full as always; this is a busy service. You tighten your seat belt an extra inch, smile congenially at the person next to you – and prepare for whatever may come.
Less than 20 minutes after take-off, we fly from bright sky into darkness. The plane is jerking, veering to right and left. I stare out through the window, but see nothing.”I hope everyone has buckled up,” says the captain over the speakers. “The weather isn’t with us today. I intend to execute a slightly unusual manoeuvre. The landing may be a little unfriendly.”
From the shivers fluctuating through the aircraft, it is clear that we are descending. I gaze out into the grey: I want to catch a last glimpse of this newborn, liberated Greenland in case it’s going to cost me my life. The featureless white-out changes. Rags are whirling by, clouds or conden sed snow, it is impossible to determine which. Then I spot the first cliffs, and seconds later, the runway, pointing perpendicularly from the angle of the plane. The wing is going to hit the ground, I think.
It doesn’t. The plane stands still, the seat-belt signs are turned off and I realise what the “slightly unusual” manoeuvre was about. The pilot put the plane down, first on one wheel, sideways against the wind, then on the other, then he quickly aligned it with the runway and stopped it right there. The wind is still shaking the Dash 7. In the distance, I see the tattered lights from the terminal. It is three in the afternoon, and black night.
In the Nuuk arrivals hall, an official is waiting to drive me into town. He stretches out his hand: “Welcome.” At the cafeteria, I invite him to have a cup of coffee with me, and ask what he thinks of the referendum. “I don’t know,” he says. “The ice is melting away, just as the Danish subsidies soon will. The cod is gone. The traditional trades aren’t cost-effective now. Soon we may have a booming oil and aluminium industry, but that will put a serious strain on the environment. Thousands of migrant workers could come in from China and the USA. The future is very uncertain. But at least it’s our uncertainty now.”
“So you’re happy?” “No,” he says, “I’m ecstatic: 25 November was the most important day in the history of our country. And I was there!” He grabs my suitcase and leads me out of the building, into the blizzard. “By the way,” he says, chuckling, “nice landing.”
Kim Leine is a Danish writer. His first book was the autobiographical novel “Kalak” (2007), an account of life in Greenland in the 1990s