Photo of Spitsbergenmila 2020 race on Saturday, a 10K organized on short notice in place of the cancelled Spitsbergern Marathon, courtesy of Eugenio Regato.
After nearly three months of isolation and cancellations, there’s finally something resembling a normal weeklong calendar of community events. But a lot of locals adversely affected by the shutdown are no longer here to participate.
A total of 91 residents in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund have moved to the mainland since March, Svalbardposten reported Sunday, citing figures from the Norwegian Tax Administration. While that’s a fraction of the several hundred people who have been laid-off since the crisis began, resulting in the highest unemployment rate in Norway, a significant number more may be facing short-term moves since temporary unemployment assistance benefits to many foreign workers expire this month and the government is only willing to provide more funding in the form of travel costs for those moving back to their home countries.
At the same time, the newspaper noted, Svalbard’s overall population of 2,935 as of June 3 is only four fewer than the total of 2,939 on Jan. 1, due to people who have moved to the archipelago during the period.
But while the loss of existing residents are just one of many local impacts from the COVID-19 crisis, and relatively few visitors and other problems during the first week of “reopening” indicate recovery will be anything but speedy, a vibrant effort is making made to bring those who are still here together in a variety of ways – sometimes in attempts to compensate for opportunities lost.
A total of 147 people, for instance, participated in a Spitsbergenmila 2020 race on Saturday that was hastily arranged in place of the annual Spitsbergen Marathon that was cancelled. Instead of the full- and half-marathon courses that typically attract a range of international participants the first week of June, the near-total field of local runners (a few from the mainland also signed up) competed in 10K and children’s “mini-marathon” events.
“No marathon has ever been cancelled since 1996,” the race’s official Facebook page noted. “But still we MADE it!!”
This week is getting off to a busy and diverse start, with a trio of events Monday evening for the fun- and seriously-minded. Highlighting the evening is a “preview show” of the concert/theater performance “Spor – Svalbard Movements” at 7 p.m. in Taubanesentralen by a trio of of artists in collaboration with Longyearbyen Culture School. The performance in the restored coal-processing facility is a follow-up to a portion of the show staged last September led by creator June Dahr with themes including the first women trappers and explorers in Svalbard. A maximum of 50 people will be allowed to attend.
A second preview performance is scheduled at 8 p.m. Tuesday, with the official premier at 4 p.m. Wednesday as part of the annual Longyear Day celebration.
Also, in yet another sign of “normalcy” resuming, weekly trivia quiz nights are resuming beginning at 7 p.m. Monday at Fruene. Teams are limited to five people and the 30-kroner entry fee is payable only via Vipps.
For more serious-minded types looking ahead to Longyearbyen’s development during and after the crisis, a meeting to discuss the new university student housing complex at Elvesletta is scheduled at Kulturhuset at 6:30 p.m. As with other public gatherings, a maximum of 50 participants are allowed.
The full calendar from Tuesday, with updates as they are known:
• 6 p.m.: Evening Mass and social at Svalbard Church.
• Longyear Day celebration. Free admission to Svalbard Museum (open 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Galleri Svalbard (10 a.m.-5 p.m.). Museum will feature project by filmmakerAdam Sébires with themes about the climate footprint of man and changes in the anthropic age. Line Nagell Ylvisåker, a local author and journalist, will read from her new book “Verda M Smeltar” at 6 p.m.at the gallery.
• 7 p.m.: Movie “Klovn 3: The Final” at Kulturhuset.
• 1-3 p.m.: Open time at Svalbard Church.