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 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.
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!