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Daily Archives: 25. July 2021 − News & Stories


Fare­well to Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni

Most days have been a bit grey and win­dy recent­ly, but full of joy and good expe­ri­ence out­doors, so time keeps fly­ing. After a long peri­od of absti­nence, for­ced upon me by the pan­de­mic, I enjoy being out­side and that’s defi­ni­te­ly the focus the­se days, rather than spen­ding time on the com­pu­ter. The­re would be more than enough to wri­te about, sto­ries and pic­tures from Spitsbergen’s stun­ning natu­re, so many beau­ti­ful impres­si­ons …

But that has to wait right now, we’ll get the­re later.

Things keep hap­pe­ning also up here in Spits­ber­gen, and it would be qui­te out of place to wri­te about being in the out­doors, with stun­ning sce­ne­ry, wild­life encoun­ters and inte­res­ting “dis­co­ve­ries” of phe­no­me­na such as fos­sils and others, without having writ­ten about cer­tain other events first.

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni left Spits­ber­gen invol­un­ta­ri­ly

Espe­cial­ly when it is about someo­ne who had to lea­ve the island after more than 10 years (13, to be more pre­cise). Someo­ne who didn’t have plans to lea­ve.

The power of the Sys­sel­mes­ter, the Nor­we­gi­an government’s hig­hest repre­sen­ta­ti­ve in Sval­bard, inclu­des to expel someo­ne from the islands. This is some­thing that hap­pens rather rare­ly, for examp­le in cases of per­sons repe­tead­ly found to have used or even sold ille­gal drugs, some­thing con­si­de­red even more dan­ge­rous to a rela­tively young com­mu­ni­ty in the far north, with several mon­ths of polar night, than else­whe­re in the world.

Also tou­rists who arri­ved without any means to sup­port their stay in Spits­ber­gen have alrea­dy been sent back on the next flight. The aut­ho­ri­ties don’t want peop­le to sleep in the streets or to camp wild in or near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, some­thing that is a) for­bid­den and b) dan­ge­rous (polar bears).

So far, so under­stand­a­ble. But someo­ne who has lived here fo 13 years?

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni: 13 years of Spits­ber­gen, 13 years of “Ice­peop­le”

The Ame­ri­can Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni, per default a news­pa­per- and media per­son, had alrea­dy spent con­si­derable time in pla­ces inclu­ding Ant­arc­ti­ca when he came to Lon­gye­ar­by­en 13 years ago and star­ted publi­shing his free, Eng­lish news­pa­per and web­site “Ice­peop­le”, an alter­na­ti­ve media plat­form next to the local news­pa­per Sval­bard­pos­ten and lan­guage-wise cer­tain­ly more acces­si­ble to an inter­na­tio­nal public. Sin­ce then, Mark has been part of Longyearbyen’s inven­to­ry, sit­ting at a table in a cor­ner of Café Frue­ne and focus­sing on his com­pu­ter while live is busy around him, kee­ping his news­pa­per and web­site updated.

But eco­no­mi­c­al­ly, “Ice­peop­le” never beca­me a source of wealth (some­thing that its edi­tor and aut­hor had never pri­ma­ri­ly inten­ded): paper edi­ti­on (the “fishwrap­per”, as Mark hims­elf calls it) and the web­site are ful­ly acces­si­ble for free, and adver­ti­sing has never brought much busi­ness. The har­dest of several eco­no­mi­c­al blows that Mark had to suf­fer, howe­ver, was the Gam­le Sykeh­jem (“Old hos­pi­tal”) sto­ry. This is a long sto­ry in its­elf (click here read more about it). In short words: Mark was one of several who bought a flat in this house which then show­ed struc­tu­ral dama­ge due to mel­ting per­ma­frost, so it had to be evacua­ted on short noti­ce and tho­se who had bought a pro­per­ty the­re suf­fe­red more or less a full loss (some more than others, depen­ding on cir­cum­s­tan­ces). Other blows that Mark had to suf­fer affec­ted his health, inclu­ding fal­ling and get­ting hurt bad­ly in times of clear ice on the street in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This all is well-known local gos­sip and Mark has never made a secret of it.

Eco­no­mi­c­al and health-wise down­hill deve­lo­p­ment

Final­ly all reser­ves were used up, and Marks eco­no­mi­c­al situa­ti­on in the nort­hern­most sett­le­ment (if we exclu­de Ny-Åle­sund, which does not have a nor­mal popu­la­ti­on) of the rich coun­try Nor­way reached a point whe­re he had incre­a­sing dif­fi­cul­ties to fund his dai­ly spen­dings. So it went on for a while. Many did this and that to help, and it went on, with bet­ter and more dif­fi­cult times.

It is one of the con­se­quen­ces of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty that the­re is no net­work for social secu­ri­ty bey­ond what is pro­vi­ded by everybody’s home coun­tries. And as the Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties do not accept peop­le living in unsett­led situa­ti­on in Spits­ber­gen, they reser­ve the right to expel peop­le from Sval­bard who are not eco­no­mi­c­al­ly able to take care of them­sel­ves on a level accep­ted by the aut­ho­ri­ties.

New Sys­sel­mes­ter Lars Fau­se has a dif­fe­rent view­point on this who­le ques­ti­on than his pre­cur­sor, and he deci­ded to “take respon­si­bi­li­ty” as soon as he came into power recent­ly.

Mark hims­elf has told his view of this sto­ry in public a num­ber of times, inclu­ding Sval­bard­pos­ten, his own web­site Ice­peop­le and social media and in per­so­nal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, also to this aut­hor. He empha­si­zes that he does not only under­stand and accept the Sysselmester’s decisi­on, but he also con­si­ders it to be the right decisi­on, in the light of the deve­lo­p­ment in recent years.

Back to Alas­ka

Mark left Spits­ber­gen last Wed­nes­day, hea­ded for June­au in Alas­ka, whe­re he wants to reco­ver health-wise and eco­no­mi­c­al­ly. Then, he wants to find hims­elf a place in Alaska’s media land­s­cape, pre­fer­a­b­ly with a focus on remo­te com­mu­nities.

Mark Sabbatini

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni during his good­bye in Lon­gye­ar­by­en last Wed­nes­day. Pho­to: Ice­peop­le.

Mark wants to con­ti­nue with Ice­peop­le, so the page will be acti­ve and updated also in the future, sup­ply­ing an inter­na­tio­nal public with inte­rest in local mat­ters with all sorts of detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on, pre­sen­ted in Mark’s own way, often with a touch of humour and writ­ten in a style that may occa­sio­nal­ly be slight­ly chal­len­ging for non-nati­ve Eng­lish spea­kers.

By the way, Mark has con­tri­bu­t­ed with proofrea­ding to a num­ber of texts used in various publi­ca­ti­ons, print and online, by this aut­hor, inclu­ding shor­ter texts such as qui­te recent­ly in Sval­bardhyt­ter or lon­ger ones inclu­ding updates of the Eng­lish ver­si­on of the gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard. Accord­ing to Mark, he will be hap­py to make simi­lar con­tri­bu­ti­ons also in the future, some­thing I’ll be hap­py to make use of (as a paid ser­vice, as befo­re)

If you want to read more about the cir­cum­s­tan­ces of Mark’s depar­tu­re, then you will find ple­nty of stuff on his own site, Ice­peop­le.

So long for now, Mark! See you again!

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