The Good-Natured Whisky War
In August 1984, Denmark’s minister of Greenland affairs set off for Hans Island with some troops. When he got there, he took out the Canadian flag he found on the island and replaced it with a Danish flag. He also placed beside the flag a bottle of Copenhagen’s finest schnapps before leaving a note that read: “Velkommen til den danske ø” — Welcome to Danish Island. This was in retaliation for what the Canadian had done in the previous month. In July, the Canadian Defence Minister landed on the Island and erected a maple leaf flag. Before leaving, he buried a bottle of Canadian whisky.
The Defence Minister’s act was in contravention of an earlier agreement. In 1973, Canada and Denmark resolved to figure out the fate of Hans Island at a later date. When Denmark retaliated, the Whisky War began.
Hans Island is a tiny 1.2sq km large rock. It is situated in the middle of the Nares Strait, a 35-kilometre-wide channel of very cold water separating Canada and Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark. Because this Island falls within the 20-kilometer territorial limit of either shore, both countries had laid claim to it under international law. In 1973, they had agreed to establish a border through the strait; one which would satisfy both parties.
So, by planting its flag, Canada broke the consensus. Over the next 40 years, scores of Canadians and Danes from Ottawa and Copenhagen braved icy conditions and took part in expeditions to the Island. They ‘fought’ for their countries by removing the flags and whiskeys of the other country and planting theirs. The result is an Island littered with tattered flags and left bottles of various spirits in tit-for-tat moves.
At a point, both countries even took to buying Google Ads to promote their case. This happened after Bill Graham, Canada’s then-defence minister, visited the site in 2005 and said the Island belonged to Ottawa. This prompted Denmark to send a letter of protest proclaiming: “Hans Island is our island.” Some Canadians even urged a boycott of Danish pastries in response.
However, yesterday, in a move that would delight peacemakers and disappoint those enjoying the show, the two countries brought the fiction to an end. They resolved to divide the tiny island between them, with each country keeping partial control.
Jeppe Kofod, the Danish foreign minister, said,
“[This] sends a clear signal that it is possible to resolve border disputes … in a pragmatic and peaceful way, where all parties become winners. It is an important signal now that there is much war and unrest in the world”.
Reference: The Guardian, New York Times, CBC, and BBC