Faroe Islanders

Alternative names: Faroese, Foroyar, Faeroerne
Location: Faroe Islands, North Atlantic, 1,300 km from Denmark
Population: 45,750
% of population: 0.9% of Danish population
Religion: Lutheran
Language: Faronese (Foroyskt)

The Faroe Islanders are the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands, one of the 14 Amt (counties) of Denmark. Their isolated position in the North Atlantic Ocean, midway between the Shetland Islands (UK) and Iceland, and their distinct cultural and linguistic characteristics, give them the status of a minority.

The Faroe Islanders claim descent from Viking settlers of the eighth and ninth centuries. At one stage they were part of Norway (and are in fact geographically closer to Norway than Denmark) but when Denmark ceded Norway to Sweden in 1814 the Faroe Islands, along with Iceland and Greenland, remained with Denmark. At first Norwegian law continued to operate in the Faroes but this was abolished along with the local parliament, the Logting (said to be the oldest parliamentary body in Europe) and the Faroes became a Danish county. The Logting was later reconstituted and in 1948 The Home Rule Act, supplemented by further measures in 1975, granted the Logting legislative powers including the control of the economy and withdrawal from the EC. Some members of the Logting are directly elected while other seats are distributed to parties by a system of proportional representation. There are six main parties, supporting policies which range from independence to greater local autonomy to greater integration with Denmark. The Logting sends two representatives to the Danish parliament.

To a large extent the Faroese have maintained their separateness as a linguistic and cultural group. The Faroese language is related to both Icelandic and rural Norwegian and has the same official status in the islands as Danish. It is the main means of communication within the islands and is used in the Parliament, local radio, churches and cultural activities. There are six newspapers and over 100 books a year produced in Faroese. Education is in Faroese although all children are obliged to learn Danish. Danish government policy is sympathetic to aspirations for the development of Faroese culture.

A threat might come from the small population and the narrow economic base of the islands, which are overwhelmingly dependent on deep sea fishing, encouraged by grants from the central government. While this has produced a relatively high level of income and secure way of life, there is little employment for educated professional people, who generally receive higher education on the Danish mainland and find employment there. Yet the population has continued to grow, considerable investment has been made in communications within the islands and with other countries and a tourist industry is being developed. The Faroese Islanders are noted for their energy and self-reliance and as such have been able to protect their culture and language more than most small European minorities.

(See also Germans of Denmark; Inuits (of Greenland) in North America)