... we need to finally pay attention to the Artic

commented by Paul Gilroy

Someone else's paradise (Issue IV/2019)


We need to start thinking about this entire region of the world, because a lot of our future is being settled there, right now, in this very moment. The question at stake is what happens to this very big, very empty region with small population in the North.

Layer one of its importance is of course the ice-opening as obvious result of the climate catastrophe that we are witnessing right now. The melting ice gives access to the minerals and other resources under the arctic ocean for the very first time. Thus, it is a question of access. Additionally, it implies a transformation of global trade, as new routes are opening. Without any doubt, the conflicts about these questions will increase in the near future.

Layer two is that we need to talk about the history of the arctic. And this implies to speak about colonialism. People tend to think about tropical life, when they hear the word “colonialism”. But when the colonizers were exploring the so-called “new world”, they were obviously also exploring the North. Even today many states are thinking in a colonial way about what is going on in the north and whose resources are lying under the ice.

When I walked around at the very end of it up north, close to the Russian border, lots of refugees have been relocated

Layer three is the question of living space, “Lebensraum”. I was in Norway recently. When I walked around at the very end of it up north, close to the Russian border, lots of refugees have been relocated; and that is something we also need to think about. Over the past years, the question of living space became very prominent between Europe and the Global South. Migration is a topic all over Europe and wherever it appeared, there has been incredible resistance and violent opposition towards it. In the Scandinavian countries, refugees were sent to the arctic regions because they are not supposed to become a social problem in more populated areas further south. The Scandinavian countries disperse them. But there is living space for them at the end of the world, in the parts of Europe which are not really accessible at the moment, unless you are a refugee and are being send there.

So, what needs to happen? I think, rather than allowing different nation states to establish their spheres of influence on the sea bed and other places where they haven’t really been before, we need a proper global conversation – about the melting ice, the living space and about these resources which have implications for everybody in the whole world. You might say: If we can’t have a real conversation about the climate catastrophe so far, how should we ever have a conversation about this? I’m not naïve, but if I could just dream about something, that’s what I’m dreaming. I think this conversation should be called by all national states that have geographic interest in the region. Let the sovereign governments of these arctic territories call it and let them go and sit in Spitzbergen and let them have a conversation, while watching the ice melt.

Sami youth taking possession of their own cultural life – not in English, not even in Norwegian, but in their language

When I was in Norway, I listened to some Sami HipHop. It is very exciting to me: Sami youth taking possession of their own cultural life – not in English, not even in Norwegian, but in their language. However, when you listen to the music, it is in some way just really generic HipHop music. I’m interested in that tension: between what it means to find your voice, the tools you use to articulate that voice and how that speaks to each other internationally. Music travels too, it’s not just the people, or the books, or the ideas. I do think that cultivating attentiveness, learning to listen carefully, which a lot of musicians have to do, has wider applicability in society and in life. People should learn to listen carefully. And they should familiarize themselves with the colonial history and the contemporary geopolitical significance of the arctic.

Transcribed by Gundula Haage



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