Faroe Islanders - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. There was formerly a fairly marked distinction between tenant farmers and freeholders. (There were also many servants on the larger, leasehold estates, and a few paupers.) Society's upper ranks were swelled in the late nineteenth century by wholesale merchants and shipowners; however, continued economic growth, occupational diversification, and a strong egalitarian ideology have forestalled any clear class distinctions.

Political Organization. Since 1948, local legislative authority has been vested in the Løgting, a democratically elected body of (at present) thirty-two members. The Løgting elects its own foreman, the Løgmaður, who chairs a three-member executive council (the Landsstýri) and is in effect the Faroes' prime minister. Governments are formed by coalitions among the Løgting members, who represent the several political parties (at present seven). The Faroes are divided administratively into 6 counties ( sýslur ), 50 townships ( kommunar ), and 108 villages or hamlets ( bygdir ). The counties are exclusively administrative units, whose chief official, the sheriff ( sysluma ur ), is, among other things, a policeman. Townships are governed by elected councils. Party affiliation has little importance in township politics outside Tórshavn and the larger towns. Meanwhile, on the Danish side of things, the queen is the head of state, and the Faroes elect two members of the Danish parliament. Danish interests in the Faroes are overseen by the Rikisumboðsmaður (in Danish, Rigsombudsmand), an ex officio nonvoting member of the Løgting. The Faroese króna is defined as equal to the Danish krone, although Faroese control their own taxes, customs regulations, and so forth. Foreign affairs are the sole responsibility of the Danish government (in consultation with the Faroese). Because of the threat to the fisheries, the Faroes refused to follow Denmark into the Common Market in 1973, and in 1977 the Faroes joined the other North Atlantic fishing nations in establishing their own 320-kilometer economic zone. In both cases, special accommodations were worked out with Danish and foreign governments. Membership in NATO, which maintains a radar facility near Tórshavn, continues to be a sore point.

Social Control. Formai social control is exercised by the police and the court in Tórshavn, with the Danish supreme court serving as a court of last appeal. Most social controls are informally yet effectively exercised through gossip and humorously slighting anecdotes, nicknames, and songs.

Conflict. Conflict is avoided as much as possible, open altercation being considered scandalous.

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