Arne O. Holm says A Conversation Looking for Answers is Better than Answers that Cannot Stand Conversation

Panel om samisk kultur Festspillene i Nord-Norge
From the debate about the Sami. From the left; Piera Heaika Muotka, Head of Communications and Dáiddadállu; Ane Margrethe  Ugelvik, Manager and Producer of Márkomeannu; and Anki Gerhardsen, Art Critic. (Photo: Astri Edvardsen)

Harstad, Norway: He puts the fishing rod down while opening a new can of beer. Meticulously and detailed, he explains to me how to catch halibut from the pier in Harstad. I listen and learn.  “Though I never caught any halibut” he says in the end, emptying his beer can.

He has, however, carried his dream for a long time. And still does.

I have parked my mobile office and home in Harstad, this North Norwegian town that founded the last Norwegian top politician borne by poor parents. Her name was Hanna Kvanmo.

Unknown to most of your younger and foreign readers, I believe, yet nevertheless one of Norway’s most infamous politicians through all times. She grew from extreme poverty into the inner corridors of power. She carried that dream, Hanna Kvanmo.

From the debate about cross-border cooperation. From the left; Kari Scheie of Barents Press; Ragnheidur Skuladottir, Director of the North Norway Festivities; Guro Brandshaug from the Kirkenes Conference and Orinor; and Astrid Fadnes of Pikene på broen. (Photo: Astri Edvardsen)

There is something about Harstad

There is a certain je ne sais quoi about Harstad, I cannot quite define it. What I do know, however, is that town dresses up once a year for its annual festival, the Arctic Arts Festival. That is also why High North News is here.

For one week, we have organized – together with the Festival – a series of meetings about art, culture, and politics. That is how our paper is and should be. A meeting place for people with opinions and a heart for what goes on in the High North.

There is a difference between a comedian and a comic politician

It is one of the things I bring with me into the summer holidays after this week’s conversations in my mobile home as well as on stage.

The North is where we find our border against Russia. This is where we physically run into the despotic Putin, yet this is also where we have developed cross-border cooperation in journalism, art, culture, and business.

That is also why we have a responsibility to provide for the oppositional and free voices in Russia. Even when they have to go underground out of fear for their own lives.

Panel om satire og politikk Festspillene i Nord-Norge
From the debate about politics and irony. From the left; Egill Pállson, Director of Hålogaland Theatre; Kine Yvinnne Kjær, Illustrator; and Jon Gnarr, Comedian, Actor and former Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photo: Astri Edvardsen)

The distance is too long

When the distance between the powerful and the citizens in Iceland in 2010, an actor and comedian took the political stage. When the power of money and corruption in the Icelandic society was revealed, the people elected and artist as their mayor.

Kind of like in Ukraine, where President Volodymyr Zelensky has the same background as my Icelandic friend, Jon Gnarr. If power gets too arrogant, there is – fortunately – always a comedian ready to take over. There is a difference between a comedian and a comic politician.

I also made new friends when I invited a debate about what is Sami. A hunch of strong polarization between indigenous people and the majority community was quietly answered with a challenge right back at me.

Around him, Europe is on fire

Perhaps it is my own choice of Sami voices that reinforces the polarization rather than builds bridges.

Hooking the halibut soon

And at the end, a sobering conversation about how we of the Arctic are to govern our almost immeasurable abundance of energy. What industries should we build, and how are we to share our natural resources with the rest of the world.

Conversations looking for answers are better than answers that cannot stand conversation.

My friend the fisherman has once again found his place at the pier. Still not halibut, but with the dream still alive. Just a little adjustment and he will hook the halibut, he is sure of it.

Around him, Europe is on fire, and it will take more than minor adjustments to quench it.

But we cannot give up our hopes and dreams.

Have a great summer!

More from Arne O. Holm

This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Elisabeth Bergquist.