"Not Enough Debate About the Specific Challenges on Svalbard"

Andreas Østhagen og Geir Hønneland under Arctic Connections i Roma i 2019. (Foto: Trine Jonassen, High North News)

Andreas Østhagen and Geir Hønneland from the High North Center for Business and Governance and the Fridtjof Nansen Institute will contribute on Svalbard next week. Here the pair is photographed during the Arctic Connections conference in Rome 2019. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

"Svalbard is the only place where we have to deal with both Russian citizens and Russian authorities," says Andreas Østhagen, senior researcher at Fridtjof Nansen Institute. Next week, a series of seminars will be organized on Svalbard to increase knowledge of Svalbard's geopolitical role. 

From the 10th to the 12th of October, representatives from several international universities, the Armed Forces, science, and the Arctic press, will gather on Svalbard to discuss Svalbard's geopolitical role. 

The Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI) is the host and researcher Andreas Østhagen says that the series of seminars is connected to FNI's research on Svalbard, the High North, and the Arctic, and aims to bring out both knowledge and nuances in regard to Svalbard.

Editor-in-Chief Arne O. Holm will also be participating with insight into both past and present developments on Svalbard.

Wants to increase knowledge

Østhagen explains that the seminar in the afternoon of the 10th of October is about community development and local industries. A so-called 'pubinar' will also be organized in the evening for a conversation with over 30 students and young researchers, as well as a closed workshop for young researchers the day after, aimed at geopolitics.

"The purpose is to increase knowledge," says Østhagen.

An earnest and fact-based debate about these issues is needed.

Senior researcher at Fridtjof Nansen Institute and the High North Center for Business and Governance, Andreas Østhagen.

Why is it so important to focus on Svalbard's geopolitical role right now?

"There is not enough debate about the specific challenges on Svalbard. When Russia makes challenging statements about Norwegian policy on Svalbard or when China is critical of Norwegian research policy, we must debate these issues and unravel what really lies behind them," believes Østhagen.

Security policy issues

Among other things, he points to the damage to one of two Svalbard cables just before the invasion of Ukraine;

"We must acknowledge the security policy issues here. An earnest and fact-based debate about these issues is needed. There are often misconceptions in both Norwegian and foreign media about which rules that apply and who is in charge on Svalbard," says the researcher.

He believes that there are several researchers and journalists who claim that Norwegian sovereignty is disputed.

"It is not. That is a conflation of what applies at sea, i.e. sovereign rights, with what applies to Svalbard as a whole. There is also no getting away from the fact that Svalbard is the only place where we have to deal with both Russian citizens and Russian authorities since there are 450 Russians living in Barentsburg," concludes Østhagen.

Read more about the seminars here.

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.