Dear High North News reader!
“Nobody” quite believed it to be possible. Yet on Wednesday, it happened anyway:
Bodø became the European Capital of Culture 2024. Without any help whatsoever, in fact rather the contrary, from the Norwegian Ministry of Culture, with Culture Minister Trine Skei Grande in the lead.
“The opponents of Norwegian membership in what back then was EEC used culture as one of its key tools. "Move over, EEC, you are blocking the sun" was the title of a record released in 1972. Today, Norwegian Minister of Culture Trine Skei Grande is blocking the sun when cultural cooperation between the Arctic and Europe is strengthened”, Editor-in-Chief Arne O. Holm writes in his Friday op-ed this week.
I was at the event in downtown Bodø in the early Wednesday afternoon to watch the decision from Brussels live.
I was never at the forefront of the support group for the Bodø2024 project, I willingly admit that, though I have not been amongst its opponents either.
I guess one can say I have been one out very many who have been lying in wait, not quite understanding what the goal of this ECoC thing has been nor what benefits and ripple effects it may lead to for the city and the wider region.
However, when the Chair of the EU’s cultural expert jury, Jiri Suchanek, named Bodø as the winner of the bid for European Capital of Culture 2024, and when wild cheers got the upper hand of the attending crowd, my tears started flowing uncontrollably. Emotions took over and I felt an immense joy and pride in what my little city and all those who have worked on the project for years have been able to achieve – having the building of bridges between the Arctic and Europe as its main weapon.
“I do not understand what happened”, I said to a friend afterwards. “You are a Bodø patriot, that is what happened”, he said.
Patriot. Taste the word. In the dictionary, patriotism is described as “a feeling of love, attachment and commitment to one’s own country”. Or, in this case, my town.
So why does the word have such a grim flavor?
Why, because it has been tainted and tarred, even as late as this week, when US President Donald Trump in a UN Assembly speech used it as a synonym to nationalism – rather than in the word’s positive meaning.
“We reject the ideology of globalism and accept the idea of patriotism” he said, and kept arguing why the Americans place themselves first, before encouraging other countries to do the same.
American military experts and politicians have for a long time already pointed out that increased presence in the Arctic is a requirement to respond to Russia’s increased activity level in that area, and also Chinese interests.
Right now, a US Navy Surface Action Group consisting of a cruiser, three destroyers and a helicopter squadron operates in Arctic waters around Iceland, another sign that the USA intends to take a more active military role in the region.
The gateway to the Arctic
It is nevertheless positive that some nations chose a different approach towards the High North from that of military escalation. Last Monday, Scotland launched its first-ever Arctic policy strategy in which the country promotes itself as “a European gateway to the Arctic”.
“Scotland transforms the map. Rather than being geographically peripheral in Europe’s northwestern corner, Scotland is strategically located and has the ability to serve as a bridge between the Arctic region and the wider world”, they write in the document.
In the strategy, the Scottish government promises even closer cooperation with its Arctic neighbors, both when it comes to education, trade, culture and tourism.
Many consider this a strategy to open up other doors in a time where Brexit chaos mars Great Britain, a process to which the Scots are very much opposed.
The strategy is 46-pages long, though it is easy to read and full of positive cooperation examples as well as nine case studies.
“The policy does not mention the Arctic Council or Arctic Economic Council as mediums for cooperation and Scottish involvement in the Arctic matters. Time will tell the acceptance of the Scottish Arctic identity by the world. We are yet to see how much of the policy aspiration will spring to life and how much remains merely as a beautiful to read document", Alexandra Middleton, researcher at the University of Oulu, concludes in her analysis.
Climate at the UN summit
Last Monday, the UN’s high-level week in New York opened – with a summit about climate.
- We have to do more and act faster. That is the message from young people all over the world, said Norwegian PM Erna Solberg in her remark during the summit.
The summit is one of the final opportunities for Norway to push in what is described as its most important current diplomatic initiative:
The election campaign to secure a seat at the UN Security Council table for the 2021-2022 period. Norway is competing with Ireland and Canada for the seat.
On Wednesday, a rather gloomy report from the UN’s climate panel IPCC was presented, the first report about the oceans and the Arctic, and scientists warn that the world’s oceans are in dire need and their ability to protect the planet against the consequences of climate changes has ended.
“The effects of rising sea temperatures have been most dramatic in the Arctic. The Arctic Ocean has lost around 75 percent of its sea ice over the past two decades. Just last week, the region recorded its second-lowest sea ice extent since satellite record-keeping began in 1979", the IPCC concludes.
Paradoxically, however, the fight against climate changes may be Norway’s strongest card in the game about the seat on the Security Council. Four UN Ambassadors from coastal states that are all severely affected by climate changes and marine pollution have declared their support of Norway’s candidacy.
The Norwegian MFA announces that investments in sustainable development is one of Norway’s campaign issues in the UN Security Council.
And who knows? Perhaps a small start-up company in Lofoten, Norway may hold the key to how the world can successfully fight the enormous problem of plastic pollution of the world’s oceans?
Oil and gas development is often connected with harmful emissions and the climate changes that the world is facing. This was the background for Seattle’s last week adopting a resolution “with regards to indigenous’ people’s rights” that boycotts any company entering into drilling contracts with companies operating in the Alaska National Wildlife Refugee on the Alaskan coast.
Though expert on indigenous people’s rights Heather Exner-Pirot refers to the decision as an insult to the very groups it is meant to protect: “So all of a sudden it's the American people that get to say how development proceeds in the north, in the Arctic” demands Exner-Pirot. “And it's a big, homogenous place, as if all people in that area agree, and it's just not fair", she says.
This week, we also wrote about:
North Sea Cod is to Lose its Sustainability Certification
Icelandic-Norwegian Joint Venture to Sell Salmon in China
Working Out a Puzzle: Transport Connectivity a Top Priority in the North
With these articles we wish you all the best for the weekend!
Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke
News Editor, High North News