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The Tippling Point | How Bottles, Not Bullets Are Used in This Peculiar War Between Canada & Denmark on Hans Island

Image for representation.  (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Image for representation. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Both Canada and Denmark wanted this piece of land which has zero population, zero vegetation.

News18 Tippling Point One morning you'd see a bottle of whiskey on a barren island. A few days later on another morning, you'd notice that the whiskey has been replaced with a bottle of Schnapps. Who put it there? Who replaced it? What happened? What is your best guess? You'd put it squarely on the rituals of some primitive tribe offering booze to their forefathers, right? Sorry, bro.

We are in Hans Island, in the frigid Arctic zone, caught in the liquid border between Canada and the Danish controlled Greenland. This half square mile crumb of land is not alone in this part of water. It is part of three islands in the middle of the 22-mile wide Nares Strait, which separates Greenland, the autonomous territory of Denmark from Canada. The International law stipulates that countries have a right to a territory within 12 kilometers from their shores. That made Hans Island a bone of contention between the two countries.

Both Canada and Denmark wanted this piece of land which has zero population, zero vegetation. The League of Nations interfered in 1933 and made decisions in favour of Denmark, but it could hardly resolve the matter forever. When the League of Nations fell apart with the next World War, their decision on the matter lost its meaning.

In the following decades both Denmark and Canada were too busy defending their positions in the major wars that ravaged across Europe to take care of a little strip of rock they both fought over for long. But in 1984, the issue once again reemerged when Denmark's Greenland Affairs minister visited the island, planted a Danish flag, a bottle of Danish Schnapps and a note saying, "Welcome to the Danish land."

Could Canada live with the disgrace! Never!

Canadian soldiers followed suit once the Danish ones left the little island, replaced the flag and the Danish brandy with their own pride — a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey — and a sign saying “Welcome to Canada." Uh-oh! Is it Denmark or Canada?

The war has restarted. The war between Denmark and Canada. The war between Danish Schnapps and Canadian Whiskey.

But much to the relief of the world, both the countries displayed enough sense of humour that they kept the play down to a level where they fight with the drinks rather than with bullets. Half-mockingly, half-jokingly.

One party would show enough sagacity to keep off while the other visits the island to replace the stuff it had planted. And in recent days both the countries have also begun talks about the possibility of sharing the island between the two in a more amiable manner. The reason? Well, the big brother has been for quite some time keenly watching the little game they are playing in its neighbourhood. Perhaps it'd want to join.

But both Canada and Denmark hate to get surprised one morning to see a bottle of Russian vodka sunbathing on the island. Along with a flag that would mean business.

PS: Hans Hedrik was an arctic explorer and translator who worked on the American and British expeditions of the Arctic region from 1853 to 1876. The island was named after him.

(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)