April 12, 2017
(You have to click through for the real polar bears.)
North is a travelogue of illustrations and photographs detailing Christoph Niemann’s journey to Svalbard as part of a National Geographic cruise (which looks ace but also seriously out of my price range).
Had you asked me about Svalbard a month ago I would’ve told you about the home of the Panserbjørne, about those two episodes of Fortitude I watched before I forgot it was a thing, and how its name comes from 12th Century Icelandic records of islands visited by Vikings that may not actually be Svalbard.
Now, however, fresh from reading Prisoners of Geography it’s all about fishing territory, coal mining (or not), and the scramble for the Arctic.
Most countries and international organisations recognize the islands as being under (limited) Norwegian sovereignty, but the biggest island, Svalbard, formerly know as Spitsbergen, has a growing population of Russian migrants who have assembled around the coal-mining industry there. The mines are not profitable, but the Russian community serves as a useful tool in furthering Moscow’s claims on all of the Svalbard islands. At a time of Russia’s choosing it can raise tensions and justify its actions using geological claims and the “facts on the ground” of the Russian population.
It’s a genuinely fascinating read, I had no idea the extent to which Russia and China maneuvre their population en masse into foreign or disputed territories, or the importance of warm water ports. It was written pre-Brexit/Trump but with speculation on what could happen if UK or US foreign policy changed which adds an extra layer of interest.