Open main menu

Jonathan Jakob Jørgen Otto Motzfeldt (25 September 1938 – 28 October 2010[1]) was a Greenlandic priest and politician. He is considered one of the leading figures in the establishment of Greenland Home Rule.[2] Jonathan Motzfeldt was the first and third Prime Minister of Greenland. He was Greenland's prime minister from 1979 until 1991 and again from 1997 until 2002. He is Greenland's longest serving prime minister and has won the most elections of any prime minister of Greenland.

Jonathan Motzfeldt
Jonathan Motzfeldt 2003.jpg
1st Prime Minister of Greenland
In office
19 September 1997 – 14 December 2002
MonarchMargrethe II
Preceded byLars Emil Johansen
Succeeded byHans Enoksen
In office
1 May 1979 – 18 March 1991
MonarchMargrethe II
Preceded byHans Lassen
as Governor
Succeeded byLars Emil Johansen
Member of the Landsting for Nanortalik
In office
1 May 1979 – 2 June 2009
Preceded byPosition Established
Succeeded byAnders Olsen
Personal details
Born25 September 1938
Died28 October 2010 (aged 72)
Political partySiumut
Spouse(s)Kristjana Gudrun Gudmundsdottir
OccupationPriest, politician

Personal lifeEdit

Jonathan "Junnuk" Motzfeldt was born in 1938 in the settlement of Qassimiut in southern Greenland as son to the hunter Søren Motzfeldt (1902-1984) and his wife Kirsten Klemmensen (1904-1979).[3]

After his teacher's exam at Ilinniarfissuaq (Greenland College) in Nuuk in 1960, he studied theology at the University of Copenhagen until 1966, subsequently working as a pastor in Qaqortoq, Greenland until 1979.[4][5]

In 1992, Jonathan Motzfeldt married Kristjana Guðrún Guðmundsdóttir (born 1951) from Iceland. They had no children.[6] However, from a previous partnership with Margit Kock Petersen, he had two children: Karen Motzfeldt (born 1966) and Claus Motzfeldt (born 1969).[7][8] Greenlandic handball player Hans Peter Motzfeldt-Kyed is Motzfeldt's nephew.

Political careerEdit

Already in the mid-1950s, Jonathan Motzfeldt started his battle for Greenland's autonomy with a group of young Inuit activists.[9] In the early 1970s Motzfeldt became involved in the social democratic independence movement Siumut. After having placed himself at the forefront of the political emancipation process that Greenland's population began in earnest in the early 1970s, Motzfeldt became synonymous with the Greenland Home Rule. He secured almost absolute power through a series of political purges, where old comrades like Lars Emil Johansen, Moses Olsen, Lars Chemnitz and Emil Abelsen were sidelined.

In 1977 he was elected Chairman of Siumut party for the first time. In addition, he served as Speaker of the Greenland Landsting from 1979 to 1988, in 1997 and from 2002 to 2008.[10]

On 1 May 1979, Jonathan Motzfeldt became the first Prime Minister of Greenland. He led the government for almost twelve years until 18 March 1991, when he was forced to resign and leave politics because of a drinking problem.[11] However, he was awarded a number of key positions in the publicly owned portion of Greenland's economy. The post of Prime Minister thereafter went to Lars Emil Johansen. Due in part, but not exclusively, to the latter's own alcoholism, Motzfeldt took the post of Prime Minister again in 1997. He held this post until 2002, when he was forced to call new elections because of serious criticism from the parliament (the Landsting) of management of the Home Rule's economy. Unilingual party fellow Hans Enoksen was elected Prime Minister of Greenland on December 14, 2002. Josef "Tuusi" Motzfeldt, the leader of IA, became deputy prime minister in the new government.[12]

Jonathan Motzfeldt was then again elected chairman of the Greenlandic parliament. His last political year were marked by renewed alcohol abuse and uncontrolled expenses on travel and representation.[citation needed]

Jonathan Motzfeldt at a book fair in Copenhagen in November 2008.

Mr. Motzfeldt resigned as speaker of Greenland’s Parliament on 18 January 2008 amid allegations that he had groped a female civil servant who reported him to the police. Motzfeldt denied wrongdoing. The case was subsequently dropped, without charges.[13] Fellow party member Ruth Heilmann became his successor as speaker of the parliament.

In the spring 2009 Motzfeldt was hit by a major scandal involving the abuse of public funds for private purposes. The newspaper AG documented that up to 2008 he had let the government pay for private dinners. Also, it was the public purse that paid when the former Prime Minister consumed large amounts of alcohol. The scandal culminated when he briefly before parliamentary elections in June 2009 was denied boarding a helicopter in Qaqortoq due to intoxication. He was not re-elected in the parliamentary elections on 2 June 2009.[citation needed]


Motzfeldt died on 28 October 2010, aged 72, from a cerebral hemorrhage.[14] At the time of his death Motzfeldt was the current president of the West Nordic Council.


  1. ^ "Jonathan Motzfeldt er død" (in Danish). BT. 28 October 2010.
  2. ^ Greenland mourns politician Jonathan Motzfeldt,, October 29, 2010
  3. ^ Familien Søren Motzfeldt/Kirsten Klemmensen Archived 2015-08-15 at the Wayback Machine,
  4. ^ Greenland mourns politician Jonathan Motzfeldt,, October 29, 2010
  5. ^ Jonathan Motzfeldts datter: Jeg er ikke min far og bliver det aldrig,, November 18, 2014
  6. ^ J. Motzfeldt, Ex-Premier Hailed as a Pillar of Greenland, Dies at 72,, OCT. 29, 2010
  7. ^ Familien Jonathan Jørgen Jacob Otto Motzfeldt/Margit Kock Petersen,
  8. ^ Farvel far,, November 5, 2010
  9. ^ J. Motzfeldt, Ex-Premier Hailed as a Pillar of Greenland, Dies at 72,, OCT. 29, 2010
  10. ^ Guided Tour of Inatsisartut
  11. ^ J. Motzfeldt, Ex-Premier Hailed as a Pillar of Greenland, Dies at 72,, OCT. 29, 2010
  12. ^ Unilingual Inuk becomes Greenland’s new premier,, December 13, 2002
  13. ^ J. Motzfeldt, Ex-Premier Hailed as a Pillar of Greenland, Dies at 72,, OCT. 29, 2010
  14. ^ New York Times obituary

External linksEdit

Political offices
New title
Greenland granted home rule
Prime Minister of Greenland
Succeeded by
Lars Emil Johansen
Preceded by
Lars Emil Johansen
Prime Minister of Greenland
Succeeded by
Hans Enoksen