The Banality of Sovereignty

Sometimes the arbitrariness of the way the world is divided into sovereign states becomes apparent at the most mundane of moments.

Together with my co-authors, I’m putting the finishing touches on my book Contesting the Arctic, and I’ve used part of my publication budget to purchase rights to two photos taken by a professional photographer in Greenland, for the princely sum of €100. (The fact that the photographer wanted payment in Euros, instead of Danish Krone, itself is interesting, given that Greenland is not in the EU.) When I went to my bank’s online banking webpage to transfer the funds to his account at the Bank of Greenland, I faced a problem. I had to pick the bank’s country from a drop-down menu, but Greenland wasn’t there. So, notwithstanding my solidarity with the freed0m-loving people of Kalallit Nunaat, I selected ‘Denmark’ as the next best option. But then when I clicked on ‘submit’ the transfer was rejected because the recipient’s bank account’s ‘country’ from the drop down menu (Denmark) wasn’t the same as the country referenced by the Bank of Greenland’s SWIFTcode (Greenland).

I checked out the Bank of Greenland’s (conveniently trilingual) webpage, because I figured I wasn’t the first person to encounter this problem. Although the bank has a page on international wire transfers there’s no acknowledgment at all of how Greenland’s semi-sovereign status can create headaches for potential money transferers. In all fairness, though, the international wire transfer webpage would not be a good place to discuss the sanctity of sovereignty, given that almost one-third of the webpage is given to explaining how whenever money is transferred between the Bank of Greenland and another country, information about that transfer may be reported to the U.S. Government.

Anyway, I guess I’ll have to go into my bank branch tomorrow to talk this through with an account manager. This itself will surely be an adventure, because I’m out in Gloucestershire where, I’m pretty sure, I’ll be the first person ever to have wired money to Greenland. It could be a very long day. But I can hear the dinner-table conversation tomorrow once the bank employee has gone home for the evening: “…So at the bank today this crazy American came in wanting to transfer money to a country that doesn’t exist…”

Phil S


2 thoughts on “The Banality of Sovereignty

  1. Pingback: What Language Does Your Apple Speak? | rhulgeopolitics

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