The Norwegian government is caught in a storm of increasingly angry protests over wind power turbines on the Fosen Peninsula, and over how government ministers are responding. As demonstrations spread to other ministries in Oslo on Tuesday, opposition parties in Parliament demanded that the turbines finally be torn down.
At the center of the storm are the 151 turbines, erected with government permission on a scenic mountain plateau in Fosen that’s been used by the indigenous Sami for reindeer grazing for years. The turbines disturb the reindeer and environmentalists who’d also tried to block their construction to preserve the local nature.
It’s all led to another tough week for Oil & Energy Minister Terje Aasland, who now faces not only the demonstrations by Norway’s indigenous Sami and environmentalists but also harsh criticism from other top politicians and the media over how he’s handling the uprising that began last week. On Tuesday he tried to speak with demonstrators forcibly evicted from his ministry by police, and later from outside the ministry’s offices.
The minister got the ultimate cold shoulder. The protesters, mostly from the Sami organization Norske Samers Riksforbund (NSR) and the environmental organization Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth), weren’t interested in hearing more of what climate activist Greta Thunberg (who joined the protests in Oslo this week) calls the government’s “blah-blah-blah” from him. He and the rest of the government now have little if any credibility after failing, in the protesters’ view, to respect a Supreme Court ruling from 2021 that the turbines violate the Samis’ human rights and were set up illegally with permission from the state that was ruled “invalid.”
The Sami and environmentalists have already been waiting for nearly 18 months to see some results from their Supreme Court victory, only to be disappointed by repetitive government statements that the ministry still “needs more information” and still seeks ways of finding a means for coexistence between the turbines and the Sami reindeer herders. Both the protesters, several legal experts and many politicians see absolutely no need for more studies. They’ve lost patience and firmly believe the state is intentionally dragging out the process and won’t admit to defeat.
“We’re exhausted and can’t tolerate you sitting here and making the same empty statements to us that you’ve made for the past 505 days (since the court ruling was handed down),” singer, songwriter and Sami activist Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen told Aasland Tuesday morning, as state broadcaster NRK’s cameras rolled. She’s among those who first occupied the Oil & Energy Ministry’s lobby on Thursday, remained through the weekend, was physically carried out by police and reappeared outside the ministry to block its main entrance.
By Tuesday afternoon the protesters had expanded their demonstration, also blocking entrances at the Finance Ministry across the street and the Agriculture Ministry around the corner. Police showed up in another show of force and forcibly carried several away again, but they regrouped and were back throughout the afternoon.
Isaksen isn’t the only one speaking out strongly now against the government’s inaction on the turbines. “A (Supreme Court) ruling (from 2021) declares that the Sami People’s human rights have been violated by construction of the turbines,” declared Member of Parliament Lars Haltbrekken of the Socialist Left Party (SV) once again on Tuesday. “Therefore we think the wind power facility must be removed and the area’s nature restored.” Norway’s Labour-Center minority government relies on SV for support in Parliament, but now they’re on a collision course.
The Greens Party is also fed up with the government’s inaction. “We claimed the turbines should be taken down when the verdict was announced (back in 2021),” Kristoffer Haug of the Greens told news bureau NTB. “Every day that’s gone by since is a new day in which Norway is violating human rights.”
The Reds also are calling for the turbines to be torn down. The government has “had more than 500 days to do that,” Reds MP Sofie Marhaug told NTB.
Media commentators also widely support the demonstrators, have accused the government of arrogance and note the irony of yet another “assault” on Sami rights just months before the state is due to receive a report on how to reconcile with the Sami after decades of injustices. Several were also appalled that the peaceful demonstrators have been removed from the ministries by force.
Newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized on Tuesday that it was “stupid” of the government to “throw out young demonstrators while they’re sleeping” (the first raid came at 2:30am on Monday) and “even more stupid” to not quickly act on a Supreme Court decision.
“It doesn’t look good when the authorities use force to remove those who don’t agree with them,” Dagsavisen wrote, “especially when the demonstrators have a very good case and the central question in the case is the state’s lack of ability to follow the law.”
Oil & Energy Minister Aasland insists he respects the decision, the Sami’s human rights and the importance of reindeer herding for the Samis’ culture and traditions. “I want to have a dialogue with you,” he told the protesters, and invited them to meetings in mid-March. Aasland will also be meeting with the president of the Sami Parliament on Thursday, which Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre reportedly will join.