Newsletter: Greenland- From Obscurity to Fame

At the center, Ane Lone Bagger, Greenland's foreign minister. Also present, amongst others: Jacob Isbosethsen, Ambassador to Reykjavik, Mininnguaq Kleis, Ambassador to Brussels, Inuuteq Holm Olsen, Ambassador to Washington D.C., and Lida Skifte Lennert, Ambassador to Copenhagen. Photo: Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke

Dear High North News reader! 

This week has, not surprisingly, been marked by the Arctic Circle, the world’s largest Arctic conference that took place in Reykjavik, Iceland last week.

For those of us who were there for the first time, the experience was rather overwhelming. As if the whole Arctic and all near-Arctic, no-so-near-Arctic and really-far-from-Arctic states were gathered in one and the same building for three whole days.

Large contrasts on the same stage

The icing on the cake was John Kerry former US Secretary of State under the Obama administration, who entered the stage and gave a speech for the history books – one that moved us all.

He kicked at the Republicans when he said: “You do not need a PhD to understand that higher temperatures are bad news to the ocean ice levels. Yet there are climate deniers in the Senate. And a President who says climate changes are a Chinese hoax.”

And further: “You have the right to form your own opinions, but you do not have the right to create your own facts. What is the problem, you ask? Look in the mirror.”

He received the Arctic Circle Award for his engagement for the Arctic and his work on establishing the Paris Accord. The award itself consist of a sculpture of an iceberg. A symbol of the glaciers, the ocean ice and a reminder about what we are about to lose.

In grim contrast; the present US Energy Minister Rick Perry, who had the honor of opening the ball. That was about the same time as he was subpoenaed as a witness in the potential impeachment process prepared against Donald Trump. Perry spent a lot of his time speaking about a large-scale hunt for oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s outback.

In this manner, the change in American policy became very clear at the conference. From John Kerry and Barrack Obama to Rick Perry and Donald Trump in less than 48 hours”, our Editor-in-Chief Arne O. Holm writes in an op-ed.

The Prom Queen

Despite Prominent Ministers and Heads of State being present – only one country remains the Prom Queen: Greenland.

Or as the conference’s leader, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, writes on Twitter: “In history it will be remembered as the #Greenland Assembly!”

A country 52 times larger than its “owner”, yet with fewer inhabitants than Tromsø.

A country lining up four first-generation Ambassadors in Reykjavik, Brussels, Copenhagen and Washington D.C., respectively, together on stage for the first time ever in Reykjavik, ambassadors who spend much of their time explaining to interested investors that yes, Greenland actually decides for itself, not Denmark.

A country that not that long ago so post distributed by kayaks, but also one that is now at the center of attention for the world’s superpowers, both from the East as well as the West.

A country that in the shorter term is chasing separate representation for itself in the Arctic Council, and one that is crystal clear about its long-term ambition: Independence.

Yet also one that is clear that they will not let anyone dictate who they are to do business with, and that it is not for sale – just open for business.

Greenland is a small nation, but a big land, and the majority of its inhabitants are indigenous people. Today, the indigenous people have resumed control and the country is at the center of attention, at least in the Arctic.

With this year’s Arctic Circle, Greenland is firmly placed on the world map (even though its language is not yet available on Google translate). And that’s good. Because what happens on Greenland – in particular as far as ice melting is concerned – has consequences for the whole world and all societies everywhere.

Several strategies announced

High North News also sat down with the Scottish Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who announced the Scottish strategy for the Arctic during the conference.

We recognize we are not in the Arctic region as such, but we are a gateway to the Arctic. We have many of the same challenges as neighbouring countries and so it makes sense for us to work together”, he said, amongst others.

The Swiss Arctic policy draws parallels between the altitude of the Alps and the Arctic, and coins yet another term: “In many ways, Switzerland represents a vertical Arctic”, said Ambassador Stefan Estermann.

Other stories from the Arctic Circle include:

Arctic mayors want to be more present on the arenas where the big questions are asked and important decisions made. Now they gather with one goal in mind: Being seen, heard and listened to.

Marie-Anne Coninsx, the EU’s Ambassador at Large for the Arctic, reveals what she believes will be the key ingredient of the upcoming EU Arctic Strategy: - You cannot put up a “do not disturb” sign, she says.

The victims of the garbage war

However, there is more going on in the Arctic than just the Arctic Circle assembly. Russian authorities are planning to construct a 5,000 acre waste landfill near the Shies train station in northwestern Russia, which has sparked the largest wave of protests in Russia in modern time.

This week, the garbage war took two major turns. The authorities clearly do not like that the demonstrations receive such widespread attention.

On Tuesday morning, four policemen came at the door of 21-year old Yaroslav Varenik in Arkhangelsk. Varenik is a journalist at the online newspaper, which has covered the big protests against the planned landfill near Shies, northwestern Russia, extensively during the past year.

“Russian authorities try to scare off opposition politicians and gag activists. This is just the beginning of a process”, Varenik says to High North News.

The incident came only days after the flat of a prominent lawyer in Arkhangelsk was searched by the police following their finding “porn” on her social media accounts seven years ago. “These are construed accusations made to intimidate her”, says one of the protest leaders.

Several actors boycott sea routes in the Arctic

With the melting of ocean ice, new sea routes emerge, in particular along the Russian coastline. Earlier this year, French CMA CGM container shipping company, the world’s fourth-largest, became the first major operator to withdraw from shipping along the new Arctic routes.

The company cited environmental concerns about operating in the challenging and vulnerable waters of the region as an important driving force behind its decision. Now other actors follow the example of CMA CGM.

With Hapag-Lloyd, the world’s fifth-largest container carrier, and the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), the global #2 added to the list, three out of the world’s five largest container carriers are boycotting the sea routes in the region.

Exciting commemoration days in Finnmark

We have put the Arctic Circle behind us and have another great event coming up next week: The liberation anniversary in Kirkenes, Norway.

Friday is the big day, and Sergey Lavrov is among the guests. He will a.o. have talks with his Norwegian counterpart Ine Eriksen Søreide.

This is The Major Event in Finnmark and Northern Norway this year, and more than 100 representatives from the press at home as well as abroad have been accredited. High North News too, of course.

Prior to the liberation anniversary, it has been confirmed that Frode Berg, a Norwegian who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in Russia for espionage, has applied for clemency. There are also speculations that Berg may be part of a prisoner exchange agreement between Russia and Lithuania, though it remains to be seen whether this is correct.

True and important, and most real, is the fact that there will be a high-level meeting between Norway and Russia on Friday 25 October in Kirkenes. That is how both countries reinforce the significance of day-to-day and people-to-people cooperation as well as high level political dialogue. In a time when weapons replace dialogue, the Norwegian-Russian neighbor conference is the only correct answer to the challenges of our times”, our Editor-in-Chief Arne O. Holm says in the closing of his Friday op-ed.

We are curiously waiting and wish you all the best for the weekend until then.

Or, as they say in Greenland: Akunneq naalluariuk!

Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke
News Editor, High North News