The Flag That Could Have Been Greenland’s


A green-white Nordic cross flag almost became the new flag of Greenland in 1985. It was designed by Sven Tito Achen, a renowned expert and author on heraldry. But his design was defeated 11-14 by the current flag in the Parliament of Greenland.

It was the debate on Greenlandic identity and the want for increased autonomy from Denmark in the 1970s that led to the adoption of a new flag of Greenland in 1985. Until then the flag of Denmark was the only flag in Greenland and the preferred choice for Greenlanders.

In 1979 Greenland was granted home rule with its own legislature and autonomy on internal policies. A year later the new Parliament of Greenland, the Inatsisartut, asked for proposals for a flag of Greenland. No less than 600 different designs were admitted, none of them lived up to standards and expectations.

Instead nine Greenlandic artists were given the opportunity to design  flags characterizing the country and its people. The parliamentary flag committee also wanted to see proposals for a flag of Greenland inspired by other so-called Nordic, or Scandinavian, cross flags.

Sven Tito Achen (1922-1986), a Danish editor, author of several books on heraldry and co-founder of the Scandinavian Heraldry Society, designed a Nordic cross flag which was chosen to stand together with the preferred flag design from the group of artists.

It was Thue Christiansen (born 1940) who designed that white-red flag which later became Greenland’s new flag. He is a Greenlandic artist, teacher and Social Democratic politician and he was Greenland’s first Minister for Culture and Education 1979-1983. His flag design, now known as the Erfalasorput, “our flag”, represents the sun and the ice and its colours are those of the Danish flag indicating close ties between Denmark and Greenland.

In proposing the Nordic cross design Sven Tito Achen intended to link the flag of Greenland to all the other Nordic countries whose flags have a cross design based on the oldest of the Nordic flags, the Dannebrog. The Faroe Islands, also part of the Kingdom of Denmark, adopted a Nordic cross flag.

Sven Tito Achen argued that a green flag with a white cross was a simple and easily recognizable design. Green, he wrote in an article in 1984, is the colour of hope, life and growth; white is the colour of peace, friendship and honesty. Achen also noted that a majority of the many un-used proposals in 1980 had been cross flags.

The type of green Sven Tito Achen chose for his Greenlandic flag was a dark colour tone well suited for use in a country where many houses are painted in warm red, blue, green and orange-yellow colours. Playing on the word “Greenland” was never the intention. The Greenlandic name for the country is Kalaallit Nunaat meaning “our country” or “the land of the Greenlandic Inuit”.

In 1985 the Parliament of Greenland decided to vote on the two proposals. In an effort to avoid that the issue would be overly politicized, the parliament cast their votes in a secret ballot. The result was 14 votes in favour of Thue Christiansen’s red and white flag and 11 votes in favour of Sven Tito Achen’s green and white flag.

The winning flag was hoisted officially for the first time on Greenland’s national day, 21 June 1985. For years Achen’s flags was a close contender and the preferred choice for many. Today, Christiansen’s flag is universally liked and used in Greenland.


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