Sunday 27 December 2015


Norwegians generally have a good press nowadays although people associate them with Vikings and associate Vikings with looting and pillaging things that didn't belong to them.  But, shucks, that's 1000 years ago and neither your ancestors, nor mine, back then would no have had squeaky-clean white gloves by today's standards. It's true I was recently having a bit of a sideways swipe at the Norwegian treatment of children 75 years ago. But again, it's only useful to bring that up if if helps us reflect on the shakiness of our own ethical stance.

It's an anniversary of sorts at this time of year because 24 Dec 1969 was the date of the first discovery of oil under the Norwegian sector of the North Sea.  In the subsequent 40 years, the Norwegian government has prudently used this unexpected windfall to clear the national debt and set in place infrastructure to benefit future generations of Norwegians. In contrast, the British pissed it all away on tax-cuts and a mad spending spree which has all gone up in smoke with containers full of consumer tat (boosting economies at the other end of Asia) and foreign holidays.

This month has seen a crowd-sourced social-media driven give-away from Norway to Finland which is kind of daft and kind of sweet.  As Hitchhiker fans will know, Norway is particularly rich in fjords; it has a helluva lot of mountains too. When Finland was established as an independent republic, they surveyed their borders with Sweden, Norway and Russia.  Obviously they had to liaise with their opposite numbers in those other countries so that everyone knew where to pay their taxes.  We've seen that casual surveying, or too much arm-waving at peace conference tables, or allowing medieval peculiarities of land-holding to endure can cause all sorts of problems: Baarle; Point Roberts; Berlin; Cooch Behar; Palestine; Llivia.  It turns out that at a prominence called Halti, the boundary between Finland and Norway skirts across the shoulder of the mountain peak rather than going to the top.  Nobody is quite sure why it turned out like that. 
But the current Norwegian folk-movement wants to cede 1.5 hectares of sovereign Norwegian territory to Finland as a present to celebrate Finland's centenary as a nation. Finns tend to celebrate 6th December 1917 as the date the country secured independence from proto-Soviet Russia. Although that ignores a bitter and protracted civil war that ran more or less at the same time Ireland was having its own internecine melt-down. ANNyway, if that is the date, the Norwegians have just under 2 years to get their act of the generous hand together. One of the things that stokes the Norwegians is that the transfer of this sliver of tundra will give Finland its highest point above sea-level. They are as short on mountains as Norway is short on lakes.

This will be a tiny symbolic redress for a major loss of territory that Finland suffered after the mess of WWII. In 1920 at the Treaty of Tartu, it was agreed that Finland would have direct access to the Arctic Ocean at Pechenga. The province of Petsamo Petsamon lääni, was ceded back to Russia under duress  in 1944.  That was small potatoes compared to the loss of the heartland of Karelia down in the South at the same time. You may want to listen to the Karelia Suite by Sibelius, in sympathy.

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