Sveinung Lystrup Thesen definitely didn’t consider himself a candidate for Longyearbyen’s top citizen award. In fact, the honor kinda screwed up his family vacation plans during Norway’s biggest holiday.
“We had already made plans to spend the holiday on the mainland,” said Thesen, who was notified a few weeks before the award ceremony so he could write a proper acceptance speech. He took an early-morning flight back to Longyearbyen a day early because “there’s no question I had to be here.”
Thesen, 41, is the 44th winner of the annual Tyfus Statuette, presented to a person or organization whose contributions “have kept the community out of typhus.”
“The year’s recipient says yes often when there is a question of getting involved as a singer, master of ceremonies, speaker and athlete,” said Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen during the Syttende Mai gala announcing the winner. “In addition to being a ‘yes man,’ the Tyfus Statuette recipient is a person with a unique ability to bring an audience alive with his humorous and locally-based comments and jokes.”
Thesen, a standout in a crowd for his towering height as well as his multitude of stage personas, helped launch the now-iconic Store Norske Men’s Choir a decade ago and the local bluegrass band Blåmyra 12 years ago. He’s also part of the Longdrinkbyen Boyband, Brødrene Dalton Band and “Longyear,” the latter of which is based on the mainland and has released a Svalbard-based album.
“Through his musical contributions and in his role as conference host, the recipient soon became a bridge between the cultural life in Barentsburg and Longyearbyen,” Olsen said. “The musician, the singer, the humorist and the interpreter became a very popular interpreter for The Governor of Svalbard.”
Thesen has lived in Svalbard since 2005, aside from a six-month stay in Afghanistan. He is currently Store Norske’s property manager, a far more somber element of his life than his cultural activities due to massive downsizing by the company in recent years and an uncertain future.
But Thesen said he remains optimistic about his future and the community’s.
“It’s hard to tell, but I think the core of Longyearbyen will stay,” he said. “The spirit will be the because it’s still a place where people come to of their own free will.”