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'I have been bitten by a powerful polar bug'

FOTO: Geir Barstein

Kjerstin Askholt, 53, is the new governor:

'I have been bitten by a powerful polar bug'

Looking forward to starting this fall.

"I decided when I came: If I ever get the opportunity to apply for a job here, then I will do it" she told Svalbardposten. "It's not only the fantastic nature, but also the wonderful people up there."

Askholt is an attorney who graduated from the University of Olso in 1988. She has a long resume of working for law-and-order agencies including correctional facilities, serving as the assistant director for the prison in Bredveit.

But she takes delight in cold coastlines and for the past 12 years has worked as the general director of Norway's Polar Affairs Department, a branch of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

"I've become very fond of the politics of the area after all these years and thought that when the kids leave home it would be exciting if the opportunity presented itself," Askholt said.

"And now I've made it there."

Happy and humble
Odd Olsen Ingerø is departing as governor on Sept. 15 after two three-year terms, serving a total of nine years due to previous term from 2001 to 2005. Seven applicants – some more qualified than others – sought to replace him and the Council of State announced its decision last Friday. Askholt is the second woman to be appointed to the position.

"I am, of course, very happy and grateful for the confidence, but at the same time humbled," she said. "It is an exciting and varied job, with a great many clever people gathered under one roof. I think that much good comes out of several groups that are working closely together. "

Continuity and stability in the community are essential, even though Svalbard is changing on many fronts, she said.

"This is a period of many challenges, such as the situation at Store Norske," Askholt said. "It seems a bit intense to make a policy statement now, but I think that Svalbard is in a time where it is important to pull together."

"With my extensive experience from the Polar Affairs Department, I hope to contribute positively to that," she said.

'Svalbard is Norwegian'
Sovereignty over the archipelago is a topic that has come up frequently in recent times, especially after Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, 51, arrived unexpectedly this spring and tweeted a selfie of himself from the polar bear sign at Svalbard Airport.

Rogozin is on the European Union's sanctions list due to his role in Russia's annexation of Crimea and is therefore considered an undesirable Norway.

But no one could prevent his apparently unannounced flight to the archipelago because the Svalbard Treaty ensures equal access for all citizens of signature countries.

Gov. Odd Olsen Ingerø spent his final May 17 speech in Svalbard emphasizing Norway's sovereignty over the archipelago is not threatened.

Askholt said she takes the same stance.

"Svalbard is Norway's northernmost region," she said. "Svalbard is Norwegian. Period. The governor's job is exercising authority, and all who come there have to deal with Norwegian constraints and regulations. We will help ensure that happens in a proper way."

"And when it comes to the Russians, the governor has a long tradition of good communication with Barentsburg. I hope that continues. It's always nice to go there and I see no reason why that should not continue."

Sights on snowmobiling
On the more personal level, said Askholt she is looking forward to experiencing nature as well as the settlements.

"Longyearbyen is fascinating. You have this beautiful scenery, while at the same time there is a rich social and culture life with many pleasant folks," she said, confessing she doesn't have extensive experience driving a snowmobile – yet.

"I would not say that I'm really good at snowmobiling, but find it fun. I like to get out in nature in that way and I'm looking forward to it," said Askholt, who visited the archipelago this week. Her stops included the Svalbard Satellite Station and a trip to Ny-Ålesund aboard the Polarsyssel.

Translated by Mark Sabbatini

"Look how nice it is here," she told Svalbardposten while at Longyearbyen Harbor. "I cannot wait for the fall."


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FOTO: Eirik Palm

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