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Monthly Archives: October 2021 − News & Stories


Intro­du­ced mice spread into the wild

The­re are, by default, no rodends in Spits­ber­gen. But things chan­ged when the sett­le­ments were estab­lis­hed in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. A vole ori­gi­nal­ly from eas­tern Euro­pe (micro­tus levis) came up most likely with ani­mal feed. The vole is well estab­lis­hed in the vicini­ty of Grum­ant­by­en alt­hough the pla­ces was aban­do­ned in 1962.

Von Natur aus gibt es in Spitz­ber­gen kei­ne Nage­tie­re. Die Ost­eu­ro­päi­sche Feld­maus (Micro­tus levis) ist im 20. Jahr­hun­dert mit dem Men­schen ein­ge­reist, wahr­schein­lich mit Tier­fut­ter. Gehal­ten hat sich sich in einem Gebiet mit ver­gleichs­wei­se üppi­ger Vege­ta­ti­on, näm­lich unter den Vogel­fel­sen öst­lich der 1962 auf­ge­ge­be­nen rus­si­schen Sied­lung Grum­ant­by­en, zwi­schen Lon­gye­ar­by­en und Bar­ents­burg. Traces of various sorts are fre­quent­ly found in lar­ge area stret­ching from Bar­ents­burg in the west to Sas­sen­fjord in the east. Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te bio­lo­gists moni­tor the popu­la­ti­on with came­ra traps and real traps which are laid out by peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Introduced mice, Spitsbergen

Vole (micro­tus levis) in a trap inLon­gye­ar­by­en.
Pho­to © Max Schwei­ger.

The result: the voles seem to have estab­lis­hed a sta­ble popu­la­ti­on not only in Bar­ents­burg and Grum­ant­by­en, but also in the area of Dia­ba­sod­den and Hat­ten, two adja­cent cliffs with sea­b­irds colo­nies in Sas­sen­fjord. This indi­ca­tes that the rodents can sur­vi­ve on their own in the wil­der­ness in Spits­ber­gen. This may have to do with a war­ming cli­ma­te, espe­cial­ly in the win­ter.

Experts do not con­si­der this deve­lo­p­ment a thre­at for the regio­nal eco­sys­tem and bio­di­ver­si­ty, and the Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties have so far deci­ded against an attempt to erra­di­ca­te the intro­du­ced voles in Spits­ber­gen. Other coun­tries, name­ly New Zea­land and Aus­tra­lia, are taking a much dif­fe­rent approach on their sub­ant­arc­tic islands, whe­re mice, rats and other intro­du­ced spe­ci­es have been erra­di­ca­ted with gre­at effort, as has been on qui­te recent­ly in South Geor­gia.

First Covid-19 case in Spits­ber­gen

On Wed­nes­day (06 Octo­ber), Spits­ber­gen got the first con­fir­med case of a Covid-19 infec­tion. The pati­ent was not a local or a tou­rist, but a crew mem­ber of a Rus­si­an fishing ship who got evacua­ted for medi­cal rea­sons near Bjørnøya, as NRK wro­te. He was flown to Lon­gye­ar­by­en and later to the uni­ver­si­ty hos­pi­tal in Trom­sø. The­re is only one inten­si­ve care bed with arti­fi­cial respi­ra­to­ry equip­ment in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

The­re is no sus­pi­ci­on of fur­ther infec­tions, for examp­le amongst the per­so­nell of the heli­co­p­ter or in the hos­pi­tal in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The vac­ci­na­ti­on rate in Longyearbyen’s adult popu­la­ti­on is bey­ond 90 %, and local­ly, the public opi­ni­on about pos­si­ble infec­tions is gene­ral­ly rela­xed.

Corona, Spitzbergen

Coro­na viru­ses on high seas: a crew mem­ber of a Rus­si­an fishing ves­sel was tes­ted posi­ti­ve – the first posi­ti­ve coro­na test in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Until now, the­re had not been any offi­cial­ly con­fir­med coro­na infec­tions in Spits­ber­gen bey­ond tho­se on board the Hur­tig­ru­ten ship Roald Amund­sen in 2020, but the Roald Amund­sen had not been to any of the sett­le­ments. The remar­kab­ly long peri­od without any coro­na infec­tions may, howe­ver, also have to do with the rather inte­res­ting local tes­ting stra­te­gy, which is descri­bed as fol­lows by some who wan­ted to get them­sel­ves or their child­ren tes­ted becau­se they had sym­ptoms which they con­si­de­red rele­vant: “You have sym­ptoms? Stay at home!” And later: “You don’t have sym­ptoms? Then you don’t need a test.” This is also a way to keep a place coro­na-free 🙂 at least on paper.

In late Sep­tem­ber, Nor­way has lifted most coro­na restric­tions, inclu­ding tra­vel restric­tions for Euro­pean coun­tries and cer­tain tra­vel­lers from other coun­tries, accord­ing to the Nor­we­gi­an government.

Non-Nor­we­gi­an locals may lose the right to vote

August and Sep­tem­ber have final­ly brought some soul food to the tra­vel blog, which I hope you have enjoy­ed. Now it is time to catch up with some news. Not all of them are good ones, unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly.

For­eign resi­dents of Lon­gye­ar­by­en may lose voting rights

Ear­lier this year, the Nor­we­gi­an government in Oslo has made a pro­po­sal that would lead to the with­dra­wal of voting rights on a com­mu­ni­ty level from non-Nor­we­gi­an locals in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The mat­ter is com­plex; it is based on the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty which puts the Spits­ber­gen islands under Nor­we­gi­an sov­er­eig­n­ty. Based on that, a Nor­we­gi­an law from 1925 deter­mi­ned that “Sval­bard is part of the King­dom of Nor­way”. But depen­ding on the occa­si­on, Spits­ber­gen is some­ti­mes trea­ted as part of Nor­way and some­ti­mes as a for­eign ter­ri­to­ry by Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties.

Non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens who live in Nor­way usual­ly get the right to vote and to be elec­ted on a com­mu­ni­ty level after 3 years of resi­dence. This is also valid for Lon­gye­ar­by­en sin­ce the­re is an elec­ted com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil the­re (Lokals­ty­re), which was estab­lis­hed in 2002.

Now, ear­lier this year the Nor­we­gi­an government made a pro­po­sal that ties the right to vote (and to be elec­ted) to a resi­dence peri­od of at least 3 years in a com­mu­ni­ty on the Nor­we­gi­an main­land. Resi­dence in Lon­gye­ar­by­en would not count any­mo­re, accord­ing to this pro­po­sal.

It will not sur­pri­se that this pro­po­sal was most­ly not met with sym­pa­thy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, espe­cial­ly amongst tho­se direct­ly con­cer­ned. With­drawing voting rights from a signi­fi­cant part of the local popu­la­ti­on does not fit well into a Euro­pean demo­cra­tic con­text.

The chan­ge of government that fol­lo­wed to the par­lia­men­ta­ry elec­tions in Nor­way in Sep­tem­ber does, so far, not seem to have any con­se­quen­ces for the pro­po­sal, which was dis­cus­sed in Sep­tem­ber in Lon­gye­ar­by­en by local poli­ti­ci­ans during a coun­cil mee­ting.

Longyearbyen voting right

Lon­gye­ar­by­en has an inter­na­tio­nal popu­la­ti­on with Nor­we­gi­ans being the lar­gest group. The local coun­cil is domi­na­ted by Nor­we­gi­an dele­ga­tes.

Dele­ga­te of cent­re and right-wing par­ties sto­ke fears

It is remar­kab­le how a dele­ga­te of the right-wing “Frems­kritts­par­ti” (“Pro­gress par­ty”) com­men­ted the mat­ter, as quo­ted by Sval­bard­pos­ten (this author’s trans­la­ti­on): “… peop­le who have not been to Nor­way, who do not have rela­ti­ves in Nor­way, who do not have any con­nec­tion to Nor­way, who do not have any par­ti­cu­lar inte­rest in Nor­way, may come to Sval­bard, vote and get elec­ted them­sel­ves. For many it is logi­cal that this should not be so. This is a shame for the good citi­zens that we have here, most of whom are rea­son­ab­le peop­le, but it is a ques­ti­on of secu­ri­ty: we can just not take the risk.”

It is one of many remar­kab­le aspects of this com­ment that the spea­ker implies that Sval­bard is not part of Nor­way. Other­wi­se, resi­dence in Lon­gye­ar­by­en would natu­ral­ly imply a con­nec­tion to Nor­way and an inte­rest in the coun­try.

A dele­ga­te of the par­ty “Høy­re” (“Right”) made a simi­lar state­ment: “We risk that so many for­eig­ners come that the­re may not be a sin­gle Nor­we­gi­an in the coun­cil.”

This fear is by no means reflec­ted by rea­li­ty, neit­her in the local popu­la­ti­on nor in the com­po­si­ti­on of the coun­cil – even less by the lat­ter, actual­ly, which is stron­gly domi­na­ted by Nor­we­gi­an dele­ga­tes.

Social demo­crats and left dele­ga­tes speak out in a dif­fe­ren­tia­ted way or cri­ti­cal­ly

Mayor Arild Olsen from the social demo­cra­tic Arbei­der­par­ti spo­ke out very cri­ti­cal­ly about the popo­sal, using both prac­ti­cal argu­ments and con­si­de­ra­ti­ons of demo­cra­tic theo­ry. Dele­ga­tes of the par­ty “Venst­re” (“Left”) made dif­fe­ren­tia­ted comments.

As a result, the coun­cil was not able to come up with a cohe­si­ve state­ment and the issue will be taken up again later. The dead­line for the hea­ring is 25 Octo­ber.

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