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Home* News and Stories → Nor­we­gi­an government plans to denu­de non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en of their right to vote

Nor­we­gi­an government plans to denu­de non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en of their right to vote

This is a remar­kab­le pro­ce­du­re wit­hin a frame of poli­tics that may on occa­si­ons well be descri­bed as natio­na­listic: The Nor­we­gi­an minis­try of jus­ti­ce has pro­po­sed to remo­ve the right to vote or to be elec­ted from non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens in Lon­gye­ar­by­en unless they have lived at least three years in main­land Nor­way.

The back­ground: Local demo­cra­cy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

A few words about the back­ground: Spits­ber­gen is, in accordance with the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, not orga­nis­ed in a demo­cra­tic way. The Sys­sel­man­nen is not elec­ted but appoin­ted by the government. On a com­mu­ni­ty level, all of Spitsbergen’s sett­le­ments were foun­ded by mining com­pa­nies and run by the­se com­pa­nies as com­pa­ny towns for most or all of their histo­ry. The intro­duc­tion of demo­cra­tic ele­ments has been dis­cus­sed on a num­ber of occa­si­ons in the 20th cen­tu­ry, but took shape not befo­re the 1990s and a town coun­cil (Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re, LL) was estab­lis­hed in 2002. Only Lon­gye­ar­by­en has a coun­cil, the other sett­le­ments in Spits­ber­gen are still orga­nis­ed as com­pa­ny towns without a demo­cra­tic struc­tu­re.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Loka­lyst­re, led by a mayor (here: lokals­ty­re­le­der), is so far elec­ted local­ly by all inha­bi­tants who have been regis­tered for a cer­tain mini­mum peri­od regard­less of their natio­na­li­ty. This is what the government in Oslo wants to chan­ge.

Near 3000 peop­le are regis­tered inha­bi­tants of Spitsbergen’s sett­le­ments, with a majo­ri­ty near 2500 in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Of the total num­ber, more than 900 have a natio­na­li­ty other than Nor­we­gi­an. A lar­ge pro­por­ti­on of Longyearbyen’s popu­la­ti­on is thus of other than Nor­we­gi­an natio­na­li­ty. Natio­na­li­ties in Lon­gye­ar­by­en inclu­de Thai peop­le, Swe­des and Danes, Rus­si­an, Ger­mans, UK and US citi­zens and many others.

Right to vote and to be elec­ted to be remo­ved from non-Nor­we­gi­ans

A recent pro­po­sal from the Nor­we­gi­an minis­try of jus­ti­ce sug­gests to remo­ve the right to vote and to be elec­ted to be remo­ved from non-Nor­we­gi­ans unless they have been regis­tered in a Nor­we­gi­an main­land com­mu­ni­ty for at least three years, a con­di­ti­on met by very few of the many hund­red “for­eig­ners” living in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Longyearbyen

Lon­gye­ar­by­en is a com­mu­ni­ty with a very inter­na­tio­nal popu­la­ti­on, but soon pos­si­b­ly with a much redu­ced level of demo­cra­cy.

The back­ground lies wit­hin gene­ral Nor­we­gi­an Sval­bard poli­tics, which aim at deve­lo­ping Lon­gye­ar­by­en as a Nor­we­gi­an com­mu­ni­ty. This does not necessa­ri­ly mean an ent­i­re­ly Nor­we­gi­an popu­la­ti­on, as is also high­ligh­ted by under­se­creta­ry of sta­te Lars Jacob Hiim of the minis­try of jus­ti­ce in this con­text. Accord­ing to Hiim, the pro­po­sal in ques­ti­on does not aim at chan­ging Longyearbyen’s popu­la­ti­on struc­tu­re, but is to ensu­re amongst others that voters and their elec­ted repre­sen­ta­ti­ves have know­ledge about “aims and frame con­di­ti­ons of (Nor­we­gi­an) Sval­bard poli­tics”.

Local rejec­tion

Mayor Arild Olsen decla­red hims­elf ful­ly taken by sur­pri­se by this pro­po­sal, as Olsen told Sval­bard­pos­ten. Neit­her he nor the local coun­cil had been invol­ved or infor­med befo­re the recent publi­ca­ti­on of the pro­po­sal, which Olsen stron­gly rejects.

Com­ment

Local­ly, the pro­po­sal is recec­ted not only by Olsen, but also by many others. Some of tho­se who are con­cer­ned are appal­led: denu­ding peop­le who have lived in their com­mu­ni­ty for years, some­ti­mes for many years, of the right to vote or to be elec­ted feels com­ple­te­ly out of place and poli­ti­cal­ly-demo­cra­ti­cal­ly rather unap­pe­ti­sing espe­cial­ly in the con­text of a demo­cra­tic coun­try in the 21st cen­tu­ry, let alo­ne in a coun­try like Nor­way which is usual­ly con­si­de­red to be a very modern and open socie­ty, often lea­ding the demo­cra­tic path for many other coun­tries in the world. The cur­rent pro­po­sal has a very natio­na­listic fla­vour and is some­thing one would rather expect, for examp­le, from cer­tain east Euro­pean coun­tries who have cho­sen a rather down­ward-lea­ding path in their demo­cra­tic deve­lo­p­ment.

By the way, my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (1): Spitz­ber­gen – vom Polar­licht bis zur Mit­ter­nachts­son­ne”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!

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last modification: 2021-06-25 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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