Denmark and the US Virgin Islands

Although Denmark has not had official relations with the former Danish West Indies since the handover to the USA in 1917, visiting Danes are always received very cordially.

Our shared history includes exploitation, racism, oppression, violence, denial and desertion. Despite this in the present there is also a sense of caring, reconciliation and the hope of sharing the common heritage expressed in the beautiful architecture, the life-giving music and dance, and the many family relationships. One need only count the Danish names in the local telephone directory to see the extent of the historic ties between our peoples.

Family history and genealogy are obvious candidates for cooperation between Denmark and the Virgin Islands. In 2008 the St. Croix Population Database opened, where all residents on St. Croix from 1733 to 1917 are recorded from the sources in Copenhagen, Washington and the US Virgin Islands. The database was created as a major collaboration of countries headed by the historian George Tyson of St. Croix.

For many years, Danes residing in the Virgin Islands both recorded and sought to preserve the Danish cemeteries.
There are numerous intercultural activities. The associations ‘Dansk Vest Indisk Selskab’ in Denmark and the ‘Friends of Denmark’ in the Virgin Islands regularly hold festivals of friendship. The two associations also include many of the historians who are most knowledgeable about the Danish colonial era.

In recent years Danish colonial history has been the topic of numerous scientific papers and several cultural exchanges. 

Through cooperative projects in culture and science the organization CARIDA wants to create reconciliation between Denmark and the descendants of the people who were forced to suffer in the historical triangle of trade and slavery. The association has members in both Denmark and the US Virgin Islands. 

The number of Danish tourists is steadily increasing. In 2010 the islands were visited by 10,000 Danes. 

The US Virgin Islands has no foreign ministry and therefore no official representative in Denmark. Denmark only has an honorary consulate on St. Thomas.

Around the records belonging to the Danish archives, there is an agreement on cooperation. Also an agreement has been signed on scientific exchanges between Copenhagen University and the National Park Service.
In the autumn of 2010 the Danish Ministry of Culture decided to support the preservation of Danish cemetery monuments on the islands and to contribute to an extension of archival cooperation. 

Discussions over whether Denmark should give an official apology for its slave trading and use of slavery are a regular topic in the newspapers.

In 2017 the US Virgin Islands commemorate 100 years of US rule, and the Senate of the islands has discussed whether the centenary will be a fitting occasion to seek closer contact with Denmark at the official level.

In 2008, the Danish Foreign Ministry issued a press release on behalf of the Government marking the 160th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Danish West Indies. The announcement does not have the tone of the official ‘apologies’ issued by both France and the UK for the atrocities they committed in their former colonies – The Danish one is more a statement of regret:

“The period of slavery is bleak, but is also an unfortunate fact which we – like other countries – must recognize as a part of history and our common heritage. It is therefore not a time that can be forgotten. An important achievement of the UN World Conference against Racism in Durban in 2001 was the decision that we have a collective responsibility to remember the atrocities of slavery and its victims and seek reconciliation with the descendants of enslaved Africans. The Government has therefore supported and will continue to support activities aimed at gathering information and raising awareness of the slavery period, including through UNESCO. In 1999, in relation to the former Danish West Indies, the Danish Minister of Culture established a collaboration with the islands on an archive and museum basis in order to explore the common past of the slavery period and otherwise to enhance cultural cooperation. The Government recognizes the interest of civil society in our common history, and is currently investigating whether there is an opportunity to enhance cultural and historical cooperation further.”