Category Archives: Svalbard

SYTTENDE MAI IS NEARLY NORMAL THIS YEAR AND ‘WE ARE SO HAPPY’: Longyearbyen’s May 17 celebration has fewer Covid limits, but keeps last year’s ‘virtual’ gala show for world to see

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Screenshot from video of 2021 Syttende Mai gala by Longyearbyen Lokalstyre

The traditional parade through town won’t require masks (but they’ll be recommended and the “paraders” are still limited to students). Unlike last year the evening music/awards gala will allow an audience (but considerably smaller than normal) and one of last year’s best “adjustments” will continue by streaming the gala online live. And since the usual afternoon of indoor family activities isn’t yet possible, another addition this year will feature a first-ever church-directed performance appropriately titled “We Are So Happy.”

This is how the upcoming Syttende Mai (Norwegian Constitution Day) on Monday looks in the world’s northernmost town as Longyearbyen tries along with everyplace else to get somewhat back to normalcy more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Furor at city’s ‘sudden’ 10-day cutoff of electricity to cabin dwellers at Hotellneset/Bjørndalen leads to delay, overnight outages on select days only

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Christoffer Spørck has a couple of freezers full of meat from hunting and other food in his cabin just outside town, plus a group of workers who are going to need heat when they begin painting and adding an extension to it soon. But things quickly turned rotten when he got a notice from the city Tuesday saying the electricity was being cut off for 10 working days – starting the next day.

WANT A PIECE OF ME? New art exhibit debuting Friday features slice of originality as featured painting will allow buyers to use scissors to cut off sections they like

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Painting by Elizabeth Bourne

“Have it your way” is generally not a concept offered to customers of fine art, but those attending the debut of a new exhibit of paintings at Galleri Svalbard on Friday evening will be offered the opportunity to customize their order by literally taking scissors to a featured piece to cut off sections they like.

CRUISE SHIP LIMITS EXTENDED INDEFINITELY: Svalbard voyages limited to 200 passengers/crew on vessels that don’t dock, 100 that do – with lots of conditions

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Photo by the Port of Longyearbyen

Hopes of a somewhat revived summer season for tourism in Svalbard suffered a setback this week as Norway’s government announced it is extending tough COVID-19 restrictions on coastal cruises indefinitely, although the decision will be reevaluated as the country goes through a phrased reopening planning during the coming weeks and months.

The decision essentially means 1) ships can carry only 200 passengers and crew (at 50 percent or less occupancy) for voyages to Svalbard with no port stops, 2) only 100 passengers and crew are allowed on voyages with port stops (with strict infection control rules), and 3) tour operators regardless of size will need detailed infection control plans approved by The Governor of Svalbard.

‘WOMEN OCCUPY SVALBARD’: Longyearbyen/Ny-Ålesund population up slightly from last year to 2,459, continues trend of women representing 75 percent of newcomers since 2009

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The population of Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund increased by 31 during the past year to 2,459, despite the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced many existing residents to depart, according to new figures released Tuesday by Statistics Norway.

It continues a long-term gradual increase in Svalbard’s Norwegian settlements and near-zero growth in the Russian settlements that features one clearly dominant trend: three-quarters of the growth has come from women in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund since 2009.

A MAY DAY FOR REMOVING MASKS: Longyearbyen’s increasingly fragmented workforce finds unity in gathering honoring their many shared struggles and achievements

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Photo by Siv Limstrand

Growing up during the communist regime in Czechoslovakia meant May 1 was just another day for Zdenka Sokolickova, who “first felt something special in international celebration of value of labor” shortly after moving to Longyearbyen two years ago. She’s since compiled a vast social profile of the town as it undergoes huge transitions on many levels, most notably a past workforce of Norwegian coal miners being largely replaced by foreigner tourism/service industry employees.

But as one of the featured speakers during a May Day gathering in the town square at midday Saturday, she said the community’s long-term struggles – made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic the past year – means there is an immense solidarity among the working class despite their occupations becoming increasingly fragmented.

ANOTHER EVACUATION EXTENSION, ANOTHER AVALANCHE: Mountainside of Nybyen off-limits for another week; risk-level for area drops, but avalanches still happening

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An evacuation of the mountainside buildings and traffic ban on the snow trail in Nybyen was extended for a third week on Thursday afternoon by The Governor of Svalbard, just a few hours before the latest of numerous avalanches in recent weeks was observed in the well-traveled valley of Fardalen southeast of Longyearbyen.

Nobody was caught in the avalanche and the risk-level for the entire region has been lowed to Level Two (“Moderate”) as of Thursday. The Nybyen evacuation was ordered when there was a Level Four risk level – one below the maximum – due to snow and wind that resulted in cornices up to seven-meters high on the mountains at the south end of town.

SVALBARD A HAVEN FOR DOMESTIC ABUSERS? Report says foreign woman have few options due to exemptions from mainland social programs, leaving them in violent relationships

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“Jasmin” is a foreigner who moved with her children from Asia to Longyearbyen several years ago to live with her Norwegian husband – but the relationship turned into one where she alleges she has long been abused by him. But because many of Norway’s social programs and the Immigration Act don’t apply to Svalbard, she’s essentially being told the only effective solution is to return to her homeland.

Her story, first reported Monday by NRK (in English via Google Translate*), is one of multiple instances of women in the archipelago who are in abusive relationships with few means of support or escape, according to the Crisis Center for the Troms region, the closest agency dealing with domestic violence matters to Longyearbyen.

WHAT PART OF ‘CLOSED’ DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND? Snowmobile tracks found at Mine 2B despite avalanche ban – on same day one is seen nearby; barriers now blocking route

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Photo by Elizabeth Bourne

Some snowmobilers took a ride to the off-limits Mine 2B in Nybyen and yet another avalanche was triggered from the dangerously snow-laded mountains on Sunday – although fortunately for the trespassers not at the same time.

But the city, accepting the reality that some people obviously can’t grasp reality themselves, set up barricades on the snow trail after the tracks were spotted in order to make it clear the area is extra-extra off-limits.

NO SKI MARATHON, BUT A MARATHON SKI (FOR FREE): 36km course w/ prizes and other activities offered during weekend ski festival

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The Svalbard Ski Marathon, the area’s biggest local annual event, has been cancelled for the second straight year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But for those able to appreciate the experience in a non-competitive way (and appreciate not paying the usual race fees), a near-marathon ski course will be offered Saturday and Sunday as part of an “alternative” Longyearbyen Ski Festival.