Barentsburg: Place names (Svalbard fieldwork, June 2013)

Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Soviet spirit

My next stop in the Svalbard archipelago is the tiny Russian settlement of Barentsburg. How many people are living here is hard to say. The number of residents may change by the end of June and August, when an airplane from Moscow lands in Longyearbyen airport. It may bring 100 workers and take some back to Moscow. ‘I tell the tourists that there are 200 people here, my colleague may operate with different figures, tells one of the local tourists guides. Tourists have around 1,5 hours here to admire a ‘Soviet relict frozen in time’, ‘a perfectly preserved slice of a country that no longer exists’. This time is enough to have a look at the rusty Soviet heritage, buy some souvenirs and send an ‘I was there’ postcard, which will be sent with the same boat by which you arrived here.

To make the site more appealing to Western tourists the local administration decided two years ago to place an old “Our goal is communism” banner in the central square instead of the not so exotic ‘Barentsburg’ banner. It is a good accessory to the statue of Lenin, which looms over the settlement.


Lenin: ‘Our goal is communism’, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Continue reading “Barentsburg: Place names (Svalbard fieldwork, June 2013)”

The ’Svalbardianers’ community of Longyearbyen: coming and going …and maybe coming back (Svalbard fieldwork, June 2013)

Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Diversified community.

Everybody here is an outsider, but as my conversation partner in the most popular café tells me, ‘there are still status values: how long have you been living here? How far did you go? Maybe it is also about your polar bear story’. She knows everyone in the café (tourists excluded): ‘the group over there are mining workers, who are shift workers, but do not leave to the mainland when they are off their shift. They are commuting every day between Longyearbyen and the coal mine and have the most highly respected status. They are also the financially wealthiest ones here’. From time to time she greets people, who are passing by, mainly women: ‘The community is changing and the gender balance as well. It is not only a male dominated community anymore’. In the statistics I can see that, for example, permanent part-time positions are occupied more by women (This is Svalbard. 2012. What the figures say. Oslo: Statistics Norway, p.12). In the café and on the streets I see many young mothers with kids. There are 3 kindergardens and one school. Still, according to the Svalbard statistics (This is Svalbard 2012: 10) nearly six out of ten residents’ adults are men.


Longyearbyen: mining town, photo Anna Stammler-Gossmann Continue reading “The ’Svalbardianers’ community of Longyearbyen: coming and going …and maybe coming back (Svalbard fieldwork, June 2013)”