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Monday, May 27, 2024

Protesters win meeting with the king

Norway’s indigenous Sami people continue their protests against the Norwegian government’s decision to allow wind turbines on Sami grazing land. They blocked entrances to 11 government ministries in Oslo on Friday morning, and then marched to the Royal Palace with a direct appeal to King Harald V.

Sami protesters marched up this main boulevard leading to the Royal Palace in Oslo on Friday, in the hopes of meeting King Harald V. They have put up lavvo (tents) all along the route, where they’re camping out and blocking streets to protest the state’s refusal to remove wind turbines placed on Sami grazing land. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

The demonstrators, many from the youth organization for the national Norwegian Sami organization NSR, noted that they have a centuries-long tradition of taking problems directly to a reigning monarch. “We therefore humbly hope that His Majesty King Harald will meet with us and listen,” said NSR youth leader Elle Nystad.

By late afternoon came word that he will. Representatives of the demonstrators including Nystad have been granted an audience on Monday with both King Harald and his son, Crown Prince Haakon. “We are so grateful,” stated Nystad in a press release Friday evening. The palace also confirmed the meeting, wedged in between royal meetings with the head of the military’s operative headquarters and, coincidentally, two Supreme Court justices.

Nystad and hundreds of others have gathered in Oslo from around the country to once again demand that the government acts on a Supreme Court ruling from 2021 declaring that the contested wind turbines violate Sami human rights. They began their third day of demonstrations by sitting down in front of the entrances to the Finance Ministry and 10 others. Some of them were chained together, others simply huddling in the morning chill.

After police physically removed some of the demonstrators, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, they all started marching towards the Royal Palace in connection with the king’s weekly 11am Council of State with the government. They set up another of their lavvo (tents) in front of the Palace and said they intended to sit quietly and wait for the monarch to meet them. He soon will, marking a major victory in their cause.

King Harald, shown here speaking at the Sami Parliament in Karasjok, has long been sympathetic to Sami interests. His power to help them, though, is limited by the constitution. PHOTO: samediggi.no

Historian Harald Lindbach of the state archives in the northern city of Tromsø confirmed how the Sami people have appealed directly to monarchs from as early as the 1600s. He stressed to state broadcaster NRK, however, that it’s now much more difficult to succeed with such appeals, since the monarch no longer has any political control in the Norwegian democracy. King Harald has, however, long been sympathetic to the Sami cause and issued an official apology shortly after he assumed the throne for the injustices faced by Sami over many years.

The Sami spent most of Thursday protesting at Statkraft, the state power provider that’s the major owner of Fosen Vind at Fosen in Trøndelag. It in turn operates 80 of the 151 wind turbines that tower over the landscape that also is traditional winter grazing area for reindeer. The Sami have objected to the wind power project since its inception, and the Supreme Court ruled in October 2021 that it had indeed violated Sami human rights. Licenses granted for construction of the turbines were deemed “invalid” but two years later, they continue to operate and the government has refused to dismantle them since there was no specific court order to remove them. It’s thus proven to be a hollow victory for the Sami, and led to ongoing uncertainty and aggravation.

Sami reindeer herders including Terje Haugen are frustrated and angry that the government continues to violate their human rights. He’s shown here at a demonstration in front of Parliament this week.  PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

Christian Rynning-Tønnesen, chief executive of Statkraft, met with the protesters and claimed their demonstrations “made an impression” on him. He admitted that reindeer herders’ interests “were not sufficiently considered when we started up at Fosen. We must find a solution.”

Reindeer herders including Terje Haugen were not impressed. They’re frustrated, angry and, according to Haugen, on the verge of pulling out of mediation with the state that hasn’t produced any solutions so far.

The demonstrators repeatedly question how long the state and Statkraft/Fosen Wind will continue to violate Sami human rights. They still want the turbines to be torn down and the land restored to its natural state. Oil & Energy Minister Terje Aasland flatly refuses to do so, and the Supreme Court stopped short of ordering that the turbines, now an important source of wind power, be taken down.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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