Beware, this arcticle contains a bad play of words.
The whole thing started in mid May. Everybody who has been in Longyearbyen knows the famous polar bear warning signs that you can find in several places where you can leave Longyearbyen and enter areas where the risk of polar bear encounters increases significantly.
Polar bear warning sign in Adventdalen near Longyearbyen.
The specimen in Adventdalen disappeared at night time in mid May. Such a theft certainly requires a bit of bravado in the midnight sun period next to a road that seems to lead out into the nowhere, but has a surprising amount of traffic at almost any time of day and night these days.
Rumours and speculations were going wild soon: who could have been the thief? Who in Longyearbyen would be so stupid to hang this on the wall in the living room, in a town where really everybody knows these signs?
So, no doubt, the be the bad guy couldn’t be a local. Svalbardposten reported about this criminal case. They found a bus driver who had not seen anything relevant to the case, but the man drives tourists to their destinations pretty much every day, so he must know exactly, of course: “Det er jo turistene som stjeler sånt, sier han.” “It’s the tourist who steal such things, he says.” (quotation Svalbardposten). It is striking: not only did the thought apparently not cross the mind of the journalist that this is a statement that, based on nothing but assumption, deserves some critical questions. No, in the print edition, this actually became the headline of the article, not even marked as a quotation. Yes, of course, these evil and stupid tourists! Who else?
Article in the print edition of Svalbardposten on 19th May:
Headline “It’s the tourist who steal such things”.
The above-linked online version of this article has, by the way, got a new headline in the meantime: “Hvem har stjålet isbjørnskiltet?” (“Who has stolen the polar bear sign?”).
At least, the whole matter came to a rather humouristic end some days later when the sign in question was found again – in the car of Lars Fause, which was parked at the airport.
Lars Fause is the Sysselmester. The governor.
But Fause had been on the mainland during those days, so he can not be the thief. And it appeared anyway unlikely that anyone, let alone someone so experienced with criminal cases (from a police and juridical perspective, that is), would leave the sign, a pretty large item, for days in a car parked publically.
So, who was it then? The solution (and now comes the game of words): the Russians. But not the Russians who are mining coal in Barentsburg (it is actually mainly Ukrainians who are working in the coal mine), let alone those who set the world on fire elsewhere these days: the Norwegian word “russ” means “high school graduate”. Add the definite arcticle, which in Norwegian comes at the end of the substantive, and you get “russen”, which in Norwegian is “the Russian”. Or “the high school graduate”. The context tells you what it is about in any given case. It is obviously the latter. High school graduate in Norway party as much as anywhere else (or maybe even more and harder), and tricks and pranks are part of the game. The theft of the polar bear warning sign was exactly that and nothing else. A successful coup, as most will agree. This includes Sysselmester Fause, by the way.
And we could just smile sadly about the resentmental reflex action to attribute (almost) all the bad and evil things in the world to tourists. It is one thing to utter this over a beer or five or eight in a bar late at night, and it is another thing to say this to a newspaper. And it is yet another thing when a journalists noncritically adopts such a comment and even turns it into a headline. Still, one could just smile mildly if the same mechanism of sentiment wasn’t widely applied these days in much larger and much more relevant discussions, such as the one that may lead to the closure of large parts of the Svalbard archipelago.
Maybe think twice before saying that the thief must have been a tourist.
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 (3): Die Bäreninsel und Jan Mayen”, with German text Click here for further details!
Lofoten, Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen from the air - Photobook: Norway's arctic islands. The text in this book is German, but there is very little text, so I am sure that you will enjoy it regardless which languages you read (or not).
The companion book for the Svalbardhytter poster. The poster visualises the diversity of Spitsbergen‘s huts and their stories in a range of Arctic landscapes. The book tells the stories of the huts in three languages.
Comprehensive guidebook about Spitsbergen. Background (wildlife, plants, geology, history etc.), practical information including travelling seasons, how to travel, description of settlements, routes and regions.
Join an exciting journey with dog, skis and tent through the wintery wastes of East Greenland! We were five guys and a dog when we started in Ittoqqortoormiit, the northernmost one of two settlements on Greenland’s east coast.
12 postcards which come in a beautifully designed tray. Beautiful images from South Georgia across Antarctica from the Antarctic Peninsula to the Ross Sea and up to Macquarie Island and Campbell Island.