Greenland mourns politician Jonathan Motzfeldt
“An ordinary Inuk, but a superb politician”
Jonathan Motzfeldt, 72, one of the founders of Greenland’s home rule and its first and third premier, died Thursday, Oct. 28.
“We knew Junnuk as a spirited personality, intelligent and human. Junnuk was for many years the Greenlandic people’s supporter and torch-bearer, our national rallying point. In our country’s recent history, there was not a prouder person than Junnuk,” said Greenland’s premier Kuupik Kleist following the announcement of Motzfeldt’s death.
Motzfeldt suffered from cancer. Earlier this week, he had contracted pneumonia and was admitted to hospital where he died of a brain hemorrhage.
Motzfeldt was born on Sept. 25, 1938 in Qassimiut in southern Greenland.
He was trained as a teacher in Nuuk and studied theology at the University of Copenhagen, but it was primarily as a politician that people learned to know Motzfeldt.
After the introduction of home rule, Motzfeldt led the Greenland government from 1979 to 1991, and again from 1997 to 2002.
He headed the Siumut Party from 1980 to 1987, and again from 1998 to 2002, and served as a district party chairman from 2003 to 2008.
He brought Greenland into the modern era, Inuit Circumpolar Council president Aqqaluk Lynge, told Greenland’s Sermitsiaq newspaper.
Motzfeldt urged youth to prepare for themselves for a more independent Greenland by getting a good education.
“You, the youth, possess the unrestrained drive characterizing youth. You are the ones to give power and strength to our country. And even though “life is lived forward and is understood backwards,” as the Danish philosopher Søren Kirkegaard put it, it is your energy and determination that we need now,” he said.
Mozfeldt’s abilities as a statesman were put to difficult test during the negotiations with the United States over the U.S.military presence in Greenland, Lynge said.
Motzfeldt was against the development of the Thule air base in northern Greenland into a site for the U.S. missile defense system, which would protect the U.S. from attacks by countries such as North Korea or Iran by shooting down missiles before they could enter American air space.
“The position of the Greenland government has been, and will always be, that the Thule base should not in the future be part of any arms race,” Motzfeldt said.
Motzfeldt also visited Iqaluit when he was premier.
Links between Nunavut and Greenland are a “must,” Motzfeldt told Nunatsiaq News during a visit to Iqaluit in 2002.
“We are interested in closer cooperation,” he said.
Ideally, this would include regular air transportation, so passengers and cargo between Greenland and Nunavut wouldn’t be limited to charters or ship.
“We have to do it,” Motzfeldt said.
And everywhere in the Arctic, Inuit appreciated his support for collaboration through the ICC, Lynge said.
Motzfeldt also was a master of politics, although he was dogged during his long career by bouts with alcoholism, allegations of misspending and financial impropriety as well as an accusation of sexual assault.
“Regardless of political differences and disagreements, so you could not help but become good friends with him…Jonathan was a worthy son of his country, but he also sacrificed his whole life and maybe himself for Greenland. We remain grateful that we have had someone like Jonathan among us. An ordinary Inuk, but a superb politician,” Lynge said.