Atassut

Atassut is one of several Greenlandic political parties. Atassut means "togetherness," and the party dates to the years surrounding the transfer to Home Rule government in Greenland (1979) when more liberal and conservative politicians wanted to establish an alternative to Siumut (the Social Democratic party).

Atassut began in 1976-1977 as a political movement and was officially inaugurated on April 29,1978. Atassut Nuuk was already established in the fall of 1977 (with Daniel Skifte as chair) and the party spread down the coast of Greenland from there. In the first election, the party gained a large vote (41.7%) and this pattern continued until 1991, when Atassut's voter support dropped significantly. In 1981, the party had 59 local party-cells and around 3000 members. The atmosphere and the position of Atassut were shaped very much by the first early years of conflict and disagreement surrounding the debate about the transition to a Home Rule government. The politicians of Atassut defended the Rigsfwllesskabet (political union) with Denmark and were against any radical break with Denmark or those values that the Greenlandic-Danish partnership represented. Atassut regarded special ties to Denmark as something natural and positive and worth protecting. In this regard, the party argued for "250 years of human values, which shape[d] Greenlanders and Danes into one community." In the party program of 1977, Atassut declared explicitly that it fought against secession from Denmark. In this way, the party articulated a policy of loyalty to the Danish heritage in the Greenland tradition based on an attitude of toleration and moderation.

The general political outlook of Atassut is liberalism, cosmopolitanism, and support for private interests. The party supports the process of privatization of Greenland's public enterprises. The party also wants to lower the taxes and introduce a system where the citizens pay for certain services from the state. The party stresses Greenland's international connections and warns against Greenland isolating itself. It supports

Greenland's membership of the European Union (EU) and the premises regarding fishery politics, which was the main argument against the EU no longer being valid. Atassut argues that the lack of membership of the EU has been expensive for Greenland because it has denied Greenland's access to EU regional funds. Generally, the party finds it natural to copy good ideas and administrative practice from Denmark or elsewhere. On the issue of military security politics, Atassut supports NATO through the Danish membership and finds it therefore natural that the United States is stationed in the Thule Air Base as an integral part of the NATO defense.

In the Danish parliament, Atassut collaborates with Venstre, Denmark's Liberal Party, and the party has persistently held one of the two Greenlandic mandates in the Danish parliament. Generally, Atassut has had a stable, persistent influence on Greenlandic politics and has been the second largest party in the Greenland parliament. However, the party has twice become the largest party, once in the election of 1983, where it gained 46.6% of the votes, and again in 1987. However, the Atassut voter base has decreased since 1983. In 1999, the party reached its lowest result so far with 25.2% of the voters, in part because of the emergence of a new populist party Kattusseqatigiit.

Atassut's first chairperson, Lars Chemnitz, a teacher, was born in 1925. He graduated from the teacher's seminar in Nuuk in 1946, and was armed with a solid political experience as the chairperson for Greenland's national council from 1971 to 1979. He remained chairperson of the party in its first years (1979-1984) and was instrumental in shaping the party's main ideological atmosphere. Otto Steenholdt, born in 1936, the son of a hunter, was another prominent figure, who became one of the Greenlandic representatives in the Danish parliament in 1977. He served as the chairperson of the party from 1985 to 1989. His brother Konrad Steenholdt was also an active force in the party and served as its chairperson from 1989 to 1993. Another important politician in the history of Atassut is Daniel Skifte, who served as a school director in Nuuk. Skifte, the son of a hunter, was born in Maniitsoq in 1936 and was one of the founders of the party; he became its chairperson in 1993. Among the new generation of Atassut politicians is Ellen Kristensen, who received an extraordinarily high vote to the election to the Danish parliament and became known as a "vote catcher." In later years, Atassut was marked by a personal feud between Ellen Kristensen and Otto Steenholdt, which came to an end when Steenholdt was excluded from the party in the spring of 2000. The party excluded Steenholdt, in part, because of his views on Greenlandic language politics, which the party considered antiliberal and a violation of the party's devotion to human rights and for equal opportunities for all inhabitants of Greenland. An active member of the Atassut and member of the Greenlandic Parliament (Landsting) elected in 1995 was Anders Nilsson, who has now left Greenlandic politics.

Atassut has persistently been an opposition party and it has only once participated in the government, from 1995 to 1999, when Skifte was minister (Landsstyremedlem) of economic affairs and housing. The closest call to power occurred in April 1983 when the party actually received 1000 votes more than siumut but the same numbers of mandates as siumut, because siumut was sitting on four out of the five "cheap" villages mandates. In this situation, the one mandate from Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) was decisive and IA supported a government of siumut. Atassut has perhaps enjoyed the most persistent political profile within Greenlandic party politics. In 1994, the party adopted a new program, which contained a loyal confirmation of the old fundamental political principles that shaped the party at its origination. During the 1990s, Atassut witnessed an increasing turn in Greenland's political life toward the liberalization politics that it has been advocating for years.

Jens Kaalhauge Nielsen

See also Chemnitz, Lars; Greenland Home Rule Act; Inuit Ataqatigiit; Siumut

Further Reading

Lauritzen, Philip, Glimt af en arktisk revolution—120 maneder med Grönlands Hjemmestyre (Flashes of an Arctic revolution—120 months with Greenland's Home Rule Government), Nuuk: Atuakkiorfik, 1989 Skydsbjerg, Henrik, Grönland 20 ar med Hjemmestyret (Greenland, 20 years with the Home Rule Government"), Nuuk: Atuagkat, 2000

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