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Daily Archives: 17. June 2022 − News & Stories


Nor­we­gi­an government dis­pos­ses­ses for­eig­ners of local voting rights

After a long and con­tro­ver­si­al poli­ti­cal pro­cess, the Nor­we­gi­an government in Oslo has now made the decisi­on that non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en will lose the voting right (acti­ve and pas­si­ve) on a com­mu­ni­ty level. Only tho­se “for­eig­ners” (peop­le without Nor­we­gi­an pass­ports) who have lived at least 3 years in a main­land com­mu­ni­ty will be able to vote or to be elec­ted into the com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil (Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re).

This app­lies to appro­xi­mate­ly 700 inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­re is cur­r­ent­ly one mem­ber of Lokals­ty­re who has a pass­port other than Nor­we­gi­an (Oli­via Eric­son from Swe­den), accord­ing to NRK.

This had been a very con­tro­ver­si­al and, for some, emo­tio­nal deba­te which was alrea­dy sub­ject of several ear­lier con­tri­bu­ti­ons on this page; read the pre­vious arti­cle (click here) for more back­ground, e.g. on the histo­ry of local demo­cra­cy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

It is safe to assu­me that most non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens have not spent 3 years as a regis­tered inha­bi­tant of a Nor­we­gi­an main­land com­mu­ni­ty. Many locals who have spent a major part of their lives in Lon­gye­ar­by­en will not be allo­wed to vote during the next local elec­tions (in 2023) and they may not be elec­ted into Lokals­ty­re.

The recent govern­men­tal decisi­on frus­tra­tes many who are con­cer­ned; many feel like second-class citi­zens now, as Sval­bard­pos­ten reports.

Minis­ter of jus­ti­ce Emi­lie Enger Mehl gives the fol­lowing explana­to­ry state­ment (quo­ted from the press release of the Nor­we­gi­an government, link abo­ve, my own trans­la­ti­on): “The con­nec­tion to the main­land makes sure that tho­se who mana­ge the com­mu­ni­ty at any time have good know­ledge and a good under­stan­ding of Sval­bard poli­tics and the (poli­ti­cal) frame­work that is app­lied to Sval­bard … con­si­derable resour­ces are trans­fer­red every year from the main­land to sup­port public ser­vices and infra­st­ruc­tu­re. Inha­bi­tants with main­land con­nec­tion will often have con­tri­bu­t­ed to the­se finan­ces. The requi­re­ment for a main­land con­nec­tion is also to be seen in this light.”

Norwegian Longyearbyen and voting rights

Lon­gye­ar­by­en is beco­m­ing more Nor­we­gi­an. Exclu­si­on of non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants from local demo­cra­cy is a pri­ce that the Nor­we­gi­an government is appear­ent­ly wil­ling to pay.

Com­ment

So far so clear: tho­se who (poten­ti­al­ly) have paid are to deci­de; tho­se who have paid poten­ti­al­ly less (local taxes are low) and to not have the right pass­port are exclu­ded from poli­ti­cal par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on whe­re it real­ly mat­ters.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re is a com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil and no more than that. Lokalstyre’s decisi­ons con­cern local traf­fic, kin­der­gar­ten, school, other local infra­st­ruc­tu­re – just what a com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil gene­ral­ly does, and no more than that. Lokals­ty­re does not have any influ­ence in natio­nal legis­la­ti­on – bey­ond try­ing to be heard, which too often does not hap­pen, other­wi­se the decisi­on in ques­ti­on would not have hap­pen­ed as it did. Lokals­ty­re does not make decisi­ons con­cer­ning Sval­bard out­side the com­mu­ni­ty of Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

So one may ask what kind of pro­blem the Nor­we­gi­an government assu­mes to sol­ve. Or, same ques­ti­on in other words: what are they afraid of? So far, Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re is firm­ly in Nor­we­gi­an hands. The­re is cur­r­ent­ly exact­ly one local coun­cil mem­ber who is not Nor­we­gi­an, and that is Oli­via Eric­son from Swe­den. Who is afraid of Oli­via? And even if, one future day, Danes and Swe­des, Ger­mans and Thai would make up a visi­ble pro­por­ti­on of Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re and thus have a say in mat­ters con­cer­ning local road buil­ding of kin­der­gar­ten – so what?

Last year, a local coun­cil mem­ber of Høy­re (“Right”) said some­thing like “This is about secu­ri­ty. Thus, we can not make any com­pro­mi­se.”

It would be inte­res­ting to know more about whe­re poli­ti­ci­ans from the quo­ted local coun­cil mem­ber up to Minis­ter of jus­ti­ce Emi­lie Enger Mehl see Nor­we­gi­an secu­ri­ty threa­tened.

Let’s just assu­me they would be able to give a con­vin­cing ans­wert to this ques­ti­on (noting that not­hing points to this actual­ly being the case): the cur­rent decisi­on is, at best, pre­ven­ti­ve. As men­tio­ned, the­re is cur­r­ent­ly exact­ly one local coun­cil mem­ber who is not Nor­we­gi­an, and not­hing points towards an incre­a­sing trend of inter­na­tio­nal diver­si­ty in Lokals­ty­re.

For this pre­ven­ti­ve mea­su­re, the Nor­we­gi­an government is wil­ling to pay a high pri­ce – or rather, to let others pay the pri­ce: the exclu­si­on of a lar­ge group from local demo­cra­cy. Many of tho­se feel like second class citi­zens now.

Nor­we­gi­an poli­ti­ci­ans usual­ly not let an oppor­tu­ni­ty pass unused to point out that Sval­bard and Lon­gye­ar­by­en are Nor­we­gi­an (and I haven’t heard anyo­ne ques­tio­ning this, with some excep­ti­ons of bizar­re claims made by Sovjet/Russian poli­ti­ci­ans, but that’s a total­ly dif­fe­rent issue and by no means rele­vent in a local demo­cra­cy con­text). But sud­den­ly, Lon­gye­ar­by­en is not Nor­we­gi­an enough to give tho­se who have been living the­re for years good know­ledge of the Nor­we­gi­an poli­ti­cal frame­work for Sval­bard poli­cy? That is, in my opi­ni­on, bizar­re.

Jus­tiz­mi­nis­te­rin Mehl said (author’s trans­la­ti­on): “Nobo­dy is exclu­ded from the demo­cra­tic pro­cess, but you must have lived on the main­land for 3 years to be elec­ted into Lokals­ty­re.” (Sval­bard­pos­ten).

It is hard to say what is more worry­ing. That the government plain­ly igno­res most of the opi­ni­ons being rai­sed during the public hea­ring – the voices from Lon­gye­ar­by­en whe­re by far sin­ging the same song of demo­cra­cy and poli­ti­cal par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on.

Or that Mehl pre­ten­ds that nobo­dy is exclu­ded from the demo­cra­tic pro­cess while this is exact­ly what hap­pens, which is eit­her a con­cer­ning lack of know­ledge or plain­ly fal­se. The­re are very few non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en who have spent at least 3 years as regis­tered inha­bi­tants of a main­land com­mu­ni­ty. And the desi­re to do this has pro­bab­ly not grown for many whom the Nor­we­gi­an government has now given the fin­ger. This may be per­cei­ved as a strong descrip­ti­on of the recent decisi­on, but this is exact­ly how tho­se who are direct­ly con­cer­ned may well feel about it (so does this aut­hor, in any case).

Which other modern, demo­cra­tic, Euro­pean coun­try has retrei­ved lco­al voting rights from for­eign inha­bi­tants who used to have the­se rights befo­re, some for many years? This decisi­on appe­ras poli­ti­cal­ly dis­gus­ting, right-wing natio­na­list and xeno­pho­bic. With this decisi­on, the Nor­we­gi­an government has joi­ned a cir­cle of Euro­pean gover­nemnts whe­re, I am sure, they do not wish to see them­sel­ves.

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