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Each Monday, we give a brief run-down of some of the events and issues affecting the Arctic we’ll be paying attention to in the coming week. If you have an event you think should be included next week, please contact us.
It is easy to overlook, but the Nordic region includes five of the eight Arctic Council states.
That is why it will be worth taking note when the Nordic Council of Ministers, an inter-governmental body that counts Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden among its members (the other members are the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland), holds a half-day seminar in Copenhagen on Wednesday looking into the state of the economy, society and living conditions in the region.
The Nordic Council of Ministers has funded Arctic programmes since the 1990s. Much of that work, explains Nauja Bianco, a senior advisor, has paralleled the Arctic Council’s goals of improving co-operation in areas like nature, marine resources and the climate.
But as the Arctic has become increasingly important politically and economically, so too has the emphasis the Nordic Council of Ministers places on matters like sustainable development.
“The global agenda has been linked to the Arctic. We want to make it clear that the Nordic Council of Ministers has done quite a bit for responsible and sustainable development of the region,” Ms Bianco says.
One example of this, she notes, is NordMin, a programme set up by Sweden in 2012 to promote sustainable development of mineral resources.
A third leg of the Nordic approach to the Arctic is its focus on improving living conditions and educational opportunities for the indigenous and non-indigenous population living there.
When addressing these issues, the Nordic Council of Ministers, Ms Bianco notes, benefits from several factors, including a tradition for collaboration, a membership that spans much of the region its and the organisation’s flat structure.
“We deal very swiftly with issues, and back up political objectives with funding for projects,” Ms Bianco says.
For those attending the seminar on Wednesday, that would be the most important reason of all to pay attention.
When niche becomes mega Even for those who know the difference between a knit and a purl, knitting festivals, even the largest of the sort, are generally small potatoes. However, when such an event can attract 300 visitors to a town with a total population of 1,500, they suddenly have the potential to be a big deal.
Such is the case with the knitting festival in the village of Fuglafjørður, Faroe Islands. Inspired by the experience it and similar communities have had holding small events, Nora, an inter-governmental group focusing on North Atlantic issues, has made niche tourism the topic of its annual conference on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
In addition to being remote, communities like Fuglafjørður often lack the infrastructure and tourism facilities (Tórshavn, the Faroese capital, has just 300 hotel beds, for example) required to host even small-scale events. That presents a special challenge for planning and logistics, often requiring residents to open their homes to visitors.
That and themes that typically are in keeping with the nature of the location add to the authentic feel of such events. All the more reason, then, to make sure that event sizes remain proportional to their host communities, says Morten Stemre, the managing editor of Nora Region Trends, a news outlet.
“Women who come to the Faroe Islands to knit want to interact with Faroese women, not meet people from their own country,” Stemre says.
Eye on the Observer For many, following the Arctic is synonymous with following the BarentsObserver. “If you know the Arctic, you know the Observer. And maybe the other way around, too,” quips one diplomat.
For more than a decade, the BarentsObserver has been one of the most widely read sources of news about the region, often serving as the source of Western reports about Russia’s doings.
The dismissal of the website’s editor last week has drawn even more attention to the value of its reporting. The situation is the culmination of a dispute over editorial independence and an organisational restructuring implemented by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, an organisation established by Norway’s three northernmost counties, which owns the website.
The timing, of both the firing and the restructuring, is unfortunate. Firstly, with increasing interest in the region comes an ever greater need for reliable, trustworthy sources of news. Meanwhile, critics, in both the west and Russia, can point to the situation as a sign that Western praise for a free press runs only skin deep.
The two remaining staff members of the BarentsObserver pledged in an editorial last week to continue to work, though for now they are writing anonymously.
“We are one less person, but will do our best keep up our work with BarentsObserver,” Trude Pettersen and Atle Staalesen wrote.
Closely as their work was watched before, it will be even more so now.