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Home → November, 2023

Monthly Archives: November 2023 − News


Mobi­le net­work in Ny-Åle­sund

If you have visi­ted Ny-Åle­sund in recent years, then you have expe­ri­en­ced some­thing of a tech­ni­cal-cul­tu­ral para­dox: a sett­le­ment that, in many ways, is very modern and tech­ni­cal­ly advan­ced, but you couldn’t use your mobi­le pho­ne becau­se the­re was no mobi­le net­work.

Was. That is a mat­ter of the past now.

Ny-Ålesund Mast, mobile network

Ny-Åle­sund: a mast, but no anten­na.
Things have chan­ged. Now you can use your mobi­le pho­ne the­re as else­whe­re.

It has always been said that the elec­tro­ma­gne­tic field that comes with mobi­le net­work dis­turbs cer­tain high­ly sen­si­ti­ve sci­en­ti­fic tech­no­lo­gy. But that does actual­ly not app­ly for the fre­quen­ci­es of mobi­le net­work. It is inde­ed the case, howe­ver, for other fre­quen­ci­es, inclu­ding tho­se in the ran­ge of wifi/WLAN and Blue­tooth. The­se remain for­bidden in Ny-Åle­sund.

Cul­tu­ral­ly, this is a major step for the small sett­le­ment which has been mobi­le-pho­ne-free until the ear­ly win­ter of 2023. It is con­side­red to keep social places such as the mess­room mobi­le pho­ne free.

But for ever­y­day life, it is safe to assu­me that most peo­p­le will wel­co­me it, both tho­se who live and work the­re as well as tou­rists. Also sci­en­ti­fic work will bene­fit from easier com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons, for exam­p­le as some mea­su­ring devices can now send their data rather than che­cking them regu­lar­ly in the field. Field safe­ty will obvious­ly also bene­fit.

And as men­tio­ned abo­ve: Wifi/WLAN and blue­toth will remain for­bidden.

Pep­per spray for defence against polar bears?

This is about an issue which is about life and limb poten­ti­al­ly of polar bears and humans, so let’s make a few things clear befo­re we get into it: pep­per­spray (or bear spray) is curr­ent­ly not recom­men­ded by Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties as a tool of deter­rence or defence against polar bears and it is curr­ent­ly not legal­ly available in Nor­way inclu­ding Sval­bard for pri­va­te per­sons.

And: this is not a dis­cus­sion about using pep­per­spray against aggres­si­ve polar bears in open ter­rain. Attemp­ting this would lite­ral­ly be sui­ci­dal.

Having said that: the­re is an ongo­ing dis­cus­sion about the use of pep­per­spray in Spits­ber­gen, even though it is, so far, an enti­re­ly theo­re­ti­cal one and aut­ho­ri­ties do not appear to be very enthu­si­a­stic about it. But cases like the one in August whe­re a polar bear was shot in Kross­fjord as he attempt­ed to break into a hut with peo­p­le insi­de cer­tain­ly con­tri­bu­te to the dis­cus­sion.

polar bear, hut

“Hel­lo, anyo­ne at home?” Pep­per­spray may well save the life of a polar bear in a situa­ti­on like this. Here, ever­y­thing went well in the end.

And it is actual­ly exclu­si­ve­ly about cases whe­re peo­p­le can act from the rela­ti­ve safe­ty of a hut (or a clo­sed vehic­le etc.). The polar bear in August was not the first one that was shot while brea­king into a hut by peo­p­le insi­de.

So what it is about now? Fred Skan­cke Han­sen is safe­ty offi­cer at UNIS and respon­si­ble for field safe­ty cour­ses and safe­ty during field work of stu­dents and sci­en­tists. As such, he has gathe­red rele­vant expe­ri­ence and know­ledge over years. Han­sen told Sval­bard­pos­ten that he is open for the dis­cus­sion about pep­per­spray and posi­ti­ve about its use in cer­tain situa­tions. It talks about an “addi­tio­nal tool” in the tool­box that may pre­vent lethal shoo­ting in situa­tions whe­re peo­p­le would have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to use pep­per­spray out of a situa­ti­on of rela­ti­ve safe­ty. Also Han­sen points out that the idea is not to be in the field with pep­per­spray as the only tool of self defence against polar bears.

The point of pep­per­spray is that it may safe a polar bear from being shot and at the same time the bear would most likely take with him that the vici­ni­ty of huts and peo­p­le is some­thing to avo­id in the future. And this would be the best pos­si­ble out­co­me of such a situa­ti­on.

The reason for Hansen’s recent state­ment is a paper published in Decem­ber 2022 in Wild­life Socie­ty Bul­le­tin, which adds fac­tu­al weight to the argu­men­ta­ti­on that pep­per spray is effec­ti­ve against polar bears.

A speaks­per­son of the Sys­sel­mes­ter said that pep­per­spray is not legal­ly available in Spits­ber­gen. It would requi­re a chan­ge on a legal (govern­ment & par­lia­ment) level to chan­ge this. Until this pos­si­bly hap­pens, the dis­cus­sion will remain a purely theo­re­ti­cal one, at least for Sval­bard.

Coles­buk­ta and Gru­mant back in use again? And: sci­ence cent­re plan­ned in Pyra­mi­den

The Rus­si­an pre­sence in Sval­bard was alre­a­dy sub­ject of the last artic­le on this page, but the­re is more to it.

Accor­ding to Sval­bard­pos­ten the­re are Rus­si­an plans to refur­bish and use seve­ral old buil­dings in Gru­mant and Coles­buk­ta. In con­trast to other con­s­truc­tion pro­jects, the Sys­sel­mes­ter recei­ved an appli­ca­ti­on for the pro­ject befo­re work star­ted on site. Befo­re appr­oval might be given, aut­ho­ri­ties need, howe­ver, more infor­ma­ti­on – a usu­al pro­ce­du­re in such cases.

The idea seems to be that the Rus­si­an want to be able to offer pro­per accom­mo­da­ti­on to their peo­p­le when they stay in Coles­buk­ta and Gru­mant for work.

Gru­mant (often cal­led Gru­mant­by­en) and Coles­buk­ta tog­e­ther used to be a Rus­si­an coal mining sett­le­ment which was, howe­ver, aban­do­ned in 1961. All buil­dings are accor­din­gly in an advan­ced sta­te of decay. Put­ting any buil­dings the­re back into use wit­hout com­ple­te­ly remo­ving them and buil­ding new ones seems to be quite ambi­tious.

Grumantbyen, building

Buil­ding in Gru­mant­by­en. It may need more than a bucket of paint.

It has been known for a while that the Rus­si­ans have plans to increase their sci­en­ti­fic acti­vi­ties. So far, they have been run­ning a sci­ence cent­re in Barents­burg (south of the hotel). Now the Barents­ob­ser­ver wro­te that the Rus­si­ans plan a major sci­ence cent­re in Pyra­mi­den, which is to invol­ve part­ners from „fri­end­ly count­ries“ such as Chi­na, Bra­zil, India, Tur­key and Thai­land.

Both Chi­na and India alre­a­dy run a pre­sence each in Ny-Åle­sund. Accor­ding to Nor­we­gi­an experts, it is not cer­tain that the­se count­ries are real­ly inte­res­ted in even fur­ther cos­t­ly sci­en­ti­fic pre­sence at ano­ther place in Spits­ber­gen. It also remains to be seen of Bra­zil, Tur­key, Thai­land or other count­ries are inte­res­ted in such a pre­sence on a long-term basis at all. But it is inte­res­t­ing to noti­ce that Pyra­mi­den is back in the focus for such plans. Also the Rus­si­ans are con­side­ring new acti­vi­ties bey­ond coal which is obvious­ly not a future-ori­en­ta­ted pro­ject and tou­rism which for obvious reasons is not doing well in the Rus­si­an sett­le­ments.

Pyramiden

Pyra­mi­den: may beco­me an inter­na­tio­nal sci­ence cent­re, accor­ding to Rus­si­an plans.

Local Rus­si­an-Nor­we­gi­an rela­ti­onships more dif­fi­cult now

Rela­ti­onships bet­ween Rus­sia and many other count­ries are obvious­ly dif­fi­cult, to put it mild­ly. It is true to say that this includes Nor­way on various levels from Oslo to Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

But the­re is still cont­act and at least some coope­ra­ti­on. Recent­ly in Octo­ber, the Joint Nor­we­gi­an-Rus­si­an fishe­ries com­mis­si­on has agreed to lower most important fishing quo­tas in the Barents Sea, whe­re both count­ries share lar­ge are­as. The com­mis­si­on exists sin­ce 1975. The agree­ment is not only remar­kab­le in its­elf seen from the per­spec­ti­ve of cur­rent glo­bal poli­tics, but also the results are wort­hwhile having a look at: the voice of the sci­en­tists was lar­ge­ly heard. Cod quo­tas were lowe­red by 20 % for the third time in a row. In 2024, the total cod quo­ta will be 453,427 tons (Nor­we­gi­an share: 212,124 tons). The hali­but quo­te was also lowe­red, while the cape­lin quo­te was stron­gly increased.

As could be expec­ted, Rus­sia was quick to threa­ten with a uni­la­te­ral can­cel­la­ti­on of the agree­ment if Nor­way took any steps con­side­red unde­si­ra­ble from a Rus­si­an per­spec­ti­ve. Sin­ce the lar­ge Rus­si­an inva­si­on in the Ukrai­ne star­ted in Febru­ary 2022, Rus­si­an ships are only allo­wed into three Nor­we­gi­an ports (Trom­sø, Båts­fjord and Kir­kenes). But experts con­sider the risk that Rus­sia will actual­ly retre­at from the agree­ment and even the com­mis­si­on as such rather low. Most of the bet­ter fishing grounds are within Nor­we­gi­an waters and access of Rus­si­an fishing ves­sels to the­se waters is based on the agree­ment.

Russian fishing ship, Bellsund

Rus­si­an fishing ship in Bell­sund.

But else­whe­re, things are more dif­fi­cult. In Barents­burg and Pyra­mi­den, Rus­si­an pro­pa­gan­da has beco­me much more visi­ble in 2023 than it used to be in the post, for exam­p­le during the cele­bra­ti­ons for vic­to­ry day and the day of the navy.

Curr­ent­ly, Nor­we­gi­an-Rus­si­an local rela­ti­onships have to deal with Rus­si­an con­s­truc­tion pro­jects that are sub­ject to Nor­we­gi­an appr­oval. But rather than play­ing accor­ding to the rules, the Rus­si­an have obvious­ly cho­sen to make a state­ment. Super­fi­ci­al­ly, it is at least in part about tri­via, such as illu­mi­na­ted adver­ti­sing on the „Russ­kiy dom“, the house of the Rus­si­an tou­rism depart­ment in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It is also about the huge woo­den Rus­si­an-ortho­dox cross that was put up last sum­mer in the vici­ni­ty of the har­bour in Pyra­mi­den. Nor­we­gi­an experts war­ned that here Rus­sia wan­ted to make a sym­bo­li­cal­ly char­ged state­ment that includes the demons­tra­ti­on of a his­to­ri­cal­ly long con­nec­tion to the fat­her­land, with important cul­tu­ral and reli­gious aspects – a prac­ti­ce that is a pain­ful remin­der of pre­pa­ra­ti­ons for Rus­si­an aggres­si­on else­whe­re in rather recent times. And in any case, erec­ting a cross out­side is not legal wit­hout per­mis­si­on by rele­vant aut­ho­ri­ties.

Sym­bo­li­cal­ly not as high­ly char­ged, but nevert­hel­ess an issue for the aut­ho­ri­ties, is the case of mobi­le homes in shape of a pile of con­tai­ners that were set up recent­ly in Pyra­mi­den to house workers. Cle­ar­ly a pro­ject that requi­res aut­ho­ri­sa­ti­on given in advan­ce by the Sys­sel­mes­ter (hig­hest local repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment). Nor­we­gi­an law is valid ever­y­whe­re in Sval­bard, inclu­ding the Rus­si­an sett­le­ments. But in all the­se cases, the Rus­si­ans have obvious­ly deci­ded to make facts and talk later. Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties seem to try to keep the­se issues on a fac­tu­al level, not show­ing any desi­re to move them up to a poli­ti­cal level.

Barentsburg

Barents­burg: curr­ent­ly a bit of a dark affair, seen from a Nor­we­gi­an per­spec­ti­ve.

Mean­while, tou­rism lar­ge­ly keeps a distance from the Rus­si­an sett­le­ments: the local inter-trade orga­ni­sa­ti­on Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd said in Octo­ber that they recom­mend their mem­bers not to visit Barents­burg or Pyra­mi­den. This is, howe­ver, not bin­ding for the indi­vi­du­al com­pa­nies. Rei­se­livs­råd-chair­man Ron­ny Brun­voll also advi­sed indi­vi­du­als with con­nec­tion to the tou­rist indus­try not to visit the Rus­si­ans pri­va­te­ly. Brun­voll says that the­re is a risk of data theft when using Rus­si­an wifi or mobi­le pho­ne net­work, and pho­tos might be used for pro­pa­gan­da.

It seems that the situa­ti­on is quite bog­ged down and it is hard to ima­gi­ne how rela­ti­onships might beco­me bet­ter again befo­re the war – here, obvious­ly espe­ci­al­ly the Rus­si­an war against the Ukrai­ne – has come to an end.

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