What role do the Svalbard Islands play in Norwegian history? Until not long ago, less than a hundred years, let’s say, it was a no-man’s land, occupied by a few Russian or Norwegian whalers, a couple of scientists and a handful of miners. We will look back over the highlights in the history of the Svalbard Islands to discover what happened in these magical lands.
The Svalbard Treaty and Norwegian sovereignty
It is said that the Svalbard Islands had been discovered at the beginning of the 12th century, but the first to officially speak of them in Europe was the Dutch explorer Willem Barents, in 1596. Between the 17th and 18th centuries, a number of flourishing international whaling centres were set up, and it was also the best location for the start of many Arctic expeditions. But peace in this area was not to last for long. From the beginning of the 20th century, the increasing necessity emerged to bring an end to the continuous diplomatic incidents which took place in the political field with regards to mining activities, where clashes broke out among workers with contrasting interests due to their diverse origins. It was not until after the end of the First World War, in 1920, with the Svalbard Treaty and the Soviet regime notwithstanding, that the sovereignty of Norway over these islands was officially recognised.
There was just one condition: the demilitarisation of Norway
Looking back over Norwegian history, we discover that the Svalbard Treaty set out a number of precise rules: Norwegian sovereignty was recognised, but only on the condition that the zone was rendered fiscally independent. The demilitarisation of Norway on the Svalbard Islands was the first act that set the foundations for an economic and civil society on these islands, which were previously, as said above, in the hands of whalers and mining companies from all over the world.
What happened after the recognition of Norwegian sovereignty
The sovereignty of Norway now guarantees that companies from other countries can operate in the archipelago, including not only Russia and the United States, but also the Netherlands and Germany. It is however clear that Russia has benefited from this situation more than any other country, setting up two mining centres in Barensburg and Pyramiden. The islands became part of Norwegian history only from 1925 onwards, when the name of the archipelago was officially changed to Svalbard, while the main island, or rather the only one to actually be populated, has kept the name of Spitzbergen. If you come to Longyearbyen to retrace the steps of these historical adventures, don’t forget to take warm clothing, better still if it is wind and waterproof, such as, for example, our Svalbard Islands Nobile N1 jacket.