The overall population of Longyearbyen increased by 161 persons, from 1,966 residents in 2006 to 2,127 at the end of last year. But the growth notwithstanding, the number of Norwegians has gone slowly downward.
In 2006, 1,699 Norwegians were registered as residents in Longyearbyen. That decreased to 1,569 last year, a reduction of 130 people.
Kjerstin Askholt, director general of Norway's Ministry of Justice and Public Security's Polar Affairs Department, said she has long been aware of the trend. She said the issue is part of the new "white paper" outlining policy goals for Svalbard now being drafted.
Why does she consider Norwegians residing in Svalbard as important?
"There is nothing mysterious in it," she said. "Norway has considered it as a robust policy for the archipelago to be properly present with Norwegian settlements," she said. "The best guarantee for that, again, is to have robust communities, particularly in Longyearbyen."
"We do not want depopulation in Finnmark either," she added "Svalbard is the northernmost region and it is important for the country that we have a vibrant Norwegian community in the archipelago."
Askholt isn't declaring the trend of fewer Norwegians and more people from other nations undesirable. That is due to the duality that Svalbard is governed by.
"On the one hand, we want the maintenance of Norwegian communities in Svalbard, but on the other the archipelago shall be governed by the Svalbard Treaty," she said. "That states that citizens of all treaty countries shall have equal access to Svalbard. Therefore, it becomes inhospitable to say that this is an undesirable development. But this is a situation we are carefully monitoring."
The director general declined to comment about possible measures that could be implemented to increase the proportion of Norwegians in Svalbard. Instead, she referred to the process underway with the drafting of the new white paper and the work done by local officials.
"The Ministry of Justice and Public Security and Ministry of Trade, Industries and Fisheries have contributed funds to develop an industry strategy for Longyearbyen and a harbor strategy," she said. "Those are valuable contributions that can be used in future work."
Longyearbyen Mayor Christin Kristoffersen (Labor Party) said considerable work is being done to ensure a Norwegian community. The long-term industry strategic plan and the proposal for expanding Longyearbyen's port are being done with an eye on developing a future community with a Norwegian foundation. She said it is not worrisome the number of Norwegians has declined in recent years, and is committed to the value of having many people from different countries and continents living in Longyearbyen.
"We develop the community with the Norwegians as a starting point, but it is an incredible enrichment to have a large international population," she said. "Crown Princess Mette Marit declared Longyearbyen an 'international city' back in 2007 and that we should be proud of. We have been proof that multiculturalism works in practice."
Altogether, non-Norwegians account for 26 percent of the residents in Longyearbyen. The mayor said the reason multiculturalism clearly works well here is, to a certain extent, the specific terms that apply to residency in Svalbard. The "work society" in Longyearbyen ensures there are not the social challenges many mainland municipalities experience with the integration process.
Why are no foreigners elected to the local council?
"It's something I've been working quite actively with, but it has proven challenging," Kristoffersen said. "It is, among other things, linked to background and language skills. We have had foreign nationals who have been active in political party groups, but so far no positioned for election."