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Home* News and Stories → Arc­tic rub­bish: it is not allo­wed to die or to be born in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Or: you are requi­red by law to car­ry a gun

Arc­tic rub­bish: it is not allo­wed to die or to be born in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Or: you are requi­red by law to car­ry a gun

It is incre­di­ble how long-lived some rumours are. They are so per­sis­tent that they are not only often repea­ted by media any­whe­re in the world who do not do their home­work, but – even worse – you can hear them local­ly, told as adven­ture sto­ries by gui­des.

Still, they are rumours and the truth is dif­fe­rent. You as a rea­der of this site know bet­ter or at least you will know bet­ter in a minu­te.

The first and may­be most often told rub­bish is that it is not allo­wed to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. From a prac­ti­cal view­point, you may ask how to enforce such a rule or law. What hap­pens if you actual­ly die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en? Do you get a fine, or do they put you in jail? Serious­ly: such rumours often have a root some­whe­re in real histo­ry, and such is the case also here. For most of its histo­ry which goes back to 1906, Lon­gye­ar­by­en was not­hing but a com­pa­ny town, com­ple­te­ly owned by a mining com­pa­ny. The­re was no free housing mar­ket, but a com­pa­ny that pro­vi­ded accom­mo­da­ti­on to her employees. When your con­tract peri­od was finis­hed, you had to lea­ve Lon­gye­ar­by­en (theo­re­ti­cal­ly, you could stay else­whe­re in Sval­bard, as some trap­pers actual­ly did!). For this simp­le reason, peo­p­le did not die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en becau­se of age (they often died from other cau­ses, though). Even today, when you are serious­ly ill or you need inten­se care, you will be much bet­ter off on the main­land or some­whe­re else with advan­ced faci­li­ties, which do not exist in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The hos­pi­tal is small and not pre­pared to tre­at spe­cial cases, and the­re is no home for the elder­ly. So, if you need any of that, you fly to the main­land, for simp­le prac­ti­cal reasons.

Life and no ban on dying in Longyearbyen

Peo­p­le live hap­pi­ly in Lon­gye­ar­by­en …

In case an inha­bi­tant dies, the­re is often the wish to be buried in a home com­mu­ni­ty in main­land Nor­way (or else­whe­re). Only very few fami­lies are con­nec­ted to Lon­gye­ar­by­en over gene­ra­ti­ons. Most peo­p­le have a stron­ger fami­ly con­nec­tion else­whe­re, so in case, they want to be buried else­whe­re. If someone choo­ses to rest etern­al­ly on the ceme­tery in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, then this is abso­lut­e­ly pos­si­ble. The­re is only one rest­ric­tion: only urn buri­als are allo­wed, no coff­ins. The so far last buri­als in Lon­gye­ar­by­en have been in 2014, but the­re will be more in the future when the occa­si­on calls for it.

This is the fac­tu­al back­ground of the rather sil­ly rumour that it is “not allo­wed to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en”. The­re is no law like that, and the­re has never been one.

Law against dying in Longyearbyen: does not exist

… and some­ti­mes (rare­ly, though), they hap­pen to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­re is no rule against dying in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Why are peo­p­le, even gui­des, tel­ling such sil­ly things? May­be it is the attempt to make Lon­gye­ar­by­en even more exci­ting and exo­tic than it actual­ly is. Quite unneces­sa­ry, as Lon­gye­ar­by­en is alre­a­dy quite exci­ting and exo­tic as it real­ly is. May­be it is too much effort to make some quick rese­arch, and may­be some peo­p­le think that the facts don’t mat­ter in times of fake news (and the “rule against dying” is real­ly more fake than news any­way). This is not the case! Things should be told as they are. One who did that regar­ding the right to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en was local priest Leif Magne Hel­ge­sen, a while ago in a let­ter-to-the-edi­tor in Sval­bard­pos­ten.

While we are at it, let’s have a quick look at the other, more plea­sant end of the life cycle, name­ly birth. When it is said that it is not allo­wed to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, it is also often said that it is not allo­wed to be born the­re eit­her. That is rub­bish just as well.It is only becau­se of the abo­ve-men­tio­ned prac­ti­cal reasons that pregnant women will take a flight to the main­land a few weeks befo­re they are expec­ted to give birth. In case of dif­fi­cul­ties, it will be much safer to be in the uni­ver­si­ty hos­pi­tal in Trom­sø or else­whe­re in or near big­ger, more advan­ced medi­cal faci­li­ties, just in case. The­re is no law or rule of any kind against being born in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Ano­ther sub­ject, simi­lar level of bull­shit: it is often said that peo­p­le are requi­red by law to car­ry a gun in Spits­ber­gen. Has anyo­ne ever seen such a law? No! Becau­se the­re has never been such a law. It is self-evi­dent that your chan­ces of sur­vi­val in the worst case of mee­ting a real­ly angry polar bear will be much bet­ter in case you have a sui­ta­ble wea­pon when you are in the field in polar bear coun­try, so it is inde­ed very com­mon to car­ry a gun. But this is sim­ply not requi­red by any law! The only thing that you are legal­ly obli­ged to have is some kind of deter­rent, usual­ly a signal pis­tol with spe­cial ammu­ni­ti­on. If you app­ly for a tour per­mit, which you need for remo­te are­as (out­side the so-cal­led admi­nis­tra­ti­on area 10), then the Sys­sel­man­nen will also requi­re that you car­ry a wea­pon for polar bear pro­tec­tion, but based on safe­ty con­side­ra­ti­ons and not on law. If you deci­de to walk out­side Lon­gye­ar­by­en wit­hout a gun, then you may be a bit sui­ci­dal, but you don’t do any­thing ille­gal. Again: the­re is no law that requi­res anyo­ne to car­ry a rif­le in Sval­bard!

Law that requires carrying a gun in Svalbard: does not exist

It is not for­bidden to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and the­re is no law asking you to car­ry a rif­le in Sval­bard. Not having any­thing to pro­tect you against polar bears might, howe­ver, be a life-threa­tening mista­ke.

So, now we have clea­ri­fied a good bit of arc­tic rub­bish. See you soon!



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last modification: 2018-05-04 · copyright: Rolf Stange