South Pole parties mixed pride, PR

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Norwegian officials made the most of the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen’s arrival at the South Pole on Wednesday, with the king, the crown prince and the prime minister strategically placed to hail December 14, 1911 as “a proud day for Norway.” The celebrations reflected pride and public relations (PR), as Norwegian interest in both ends of the globe has moved from being a nation-building exercise to one propelled by territorial and big business issues.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, at Wednesday's 100th anniversary celebrations of Roald Amundsen's arrival at the South Pole. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor/Erik Edland

The planting of the Norwegian flag at the geographic South Pole 100 years ago had a lot to do with building up Norway’s place in the world, after finally emerging as a sovereign nation just six years earlier. “Amundsen’s expedition was a very important historic event for the young country of Norway,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told newspaper Aftenposten, which itself had supported the expedition at the time and still proudly displays in its lobby a copy of its famous front page reporting the news nearly three months later: Norges flagg plantet på Sydpolen! Alt vel! (Norway’s flag planted at the South Pole! All well!)

“An important part of Norway’s national identity was created on the ice,” Stoltenberg said in hailing Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen and other Norwegian polar explorers. “We wouldn’t be a polar nation as we are today, without them.”

He spoke at 4am Norwegian time on Wednesday at the celebrations going on way down under, at the South Pole itself, also being careful to pay tribute to British expedition leader Robert Scott, who arrived at the South Pole a month after Nansen and perished on the return trip. Stoltenberg also thanked the US National Science Foundation, which runs the Amundsen-Scott Base for research at the South Pole, for hosting all the visitors as the anniversary celebrations disrupted normal base operations.

Royal recognition back home
Meanwhile, Crown Prince Haakon was sent up to the other end of the world, to take part in noontime anniversary celebrations in the far northern Norwegian city of Tromsø, home of the Norwegian Polar Institute. King Harald stayed closer to home, and was on the party program at the Fram Museum in Oslo, which houses the historic vessel Fram that carried Nansen into the far north and Amundsen to Antarctica.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, second from right, also took time for a ski tour at the South Pole with three of the many Norwegians who have gone on expeditions over Antarctica: Jan Gunnar Winther, Stein P Aasheim and Børge Ousland. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor/Ole Mathismoen

All three Norwegian leaders clearly feel it’s important to remind the world of Norway’s role in polar exploration, and its territorial rights at both ends of the globe. Modern-day Norwegian adventurer and publisher Erling Kagge, who became the first person to ski alone to the South Pole in 1993, told Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday that territorial rights play a major role given the natural resources that can be found under the ice.

“This is about prestige, nationalism, our history and money,” Kagge told Dagsavisen. While the South Pole is protected through the Antarctic treaty, the Arctic is more vulnerable and attractive for its seafood, shipping routes, tourism and oil and gas reserves.

“There’s more money to get out of the Arctic than the Antarctic,” noted Bjørn Fossli Johansen of the polar institute in Tromsø. While Norwegian officials are concerned with environmental protection issues, they’re all acutely aware of the value of research and resources in both the north and the south, along with commercial possibilities.

“I dream that Antarctica will be spared for development that will threaten it,” Kagge said. He said he’s glad Stoltenberg traveled to the South Pole to stress Norway’s interests in both the northern and southern polar areas, citing the ongoing importance of “territorial rights, security and control of resources.”

Polar promotion paying off
Official efforts to publicize Norway’s role at the poles seem to be paying off. A full “polar year” of jubilee events has unleashed a stream of books on Amundsen, Nansen and polar expeditions, the foreign ministry is backing special polar-related exhibits all over the world and a traveling version of Arven etter Nansen (Nansen’s heritage) is making the rounds in St Petersburg, Berlin and other cities. One of the largest exhibits is in St Paul, Minnesota, home to a large Norwegian-American population, and another called Cold Recall was opening this week in Seattle.

All told, exhibits related to Nansen and Amundsen are being held in 30 countries while the Fram Museum in Oslo has undergone a major renovation and reports a large increase in visitors.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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