Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Great Svalbard Bank Robbery of 2018

If Norway's Slow TV special on Svalbard, 24 hours per day for nine days starting tomorrow at 18:00 should prove too soporific we do have something a bit crazier.
In a February 2019 post on Svalbard snow crabs I mentioned in passing:
Finally, one of the better stories to come out of Svalbard last year—not counting the sweepstakes prize of a weekend with Martha Stewart at the seed vault—was the guy who robbed the bank for some Christmas money.

From, December 21:
BREAKING: Man arrested after armed robbery at bank; believed to be first bank robbery in Longyearbyen’s history
One of the reasons people don't rob the bank is that Svalbard is an archipelago. ~600 miles to the Norwegian mainland at Tromsø, ~800 miles to the North Pole.
But in December 2018 a guy did rob the bank and here's the story.

From Outside Online, January 13, 2020:

The Bizarre Bank Robbery That Shook an Arctic Town
As one of the northernmost settlements on earth, the Norwegian hamlet of Longyearbyen has become a magnet for adventurous souls looking to start a new life. But when an unsettling crime happened, it brought home a harsh reality: in the modern world, trouble always finds you.
Maksim Popov needed a gun.

It was late fall 2018, and the single, unemployed 29-year-old was descending into darkness. He was living in Volgograd, the large industrial city in southwestern Russia where he’d grown up, and as he later explained, he’d become desperate, even hopeless. It’s not clear what caused his downturn or if he’d sought help, but at some point he decided he wanted to shoot himself. To get a firearm legally in Russia required a psychiatric evaluation, which is presumably why Popov found himself online, reading about a remote outpost in the Arctic that’s popular with Russian tourists and is also one of the easiest places on the planet to rent a gun: Longyearbyen.

The tiny town of some 2,200 residents is among the northernmost settlements in the world, situated about 800 miles from the North Pole on the island of Spitsbergen, in the isolated Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Nestled at the end of a mountainous valley where it meets the shore of a small fjord, Longyearbyen was for centuries an icy base for whalers and trappers. Beginning in the early 1900s, it became a lonely coal-mining community populated by Norwegians and Russians, closed to visitors because of the limited infrastructure.

But after the Svalbard airport opened just outside town in 1975, Longyearbyen emerged as a tourist destination, and today some 150,000 travelers come each year by plane and cruise ship. Russians have been especially interested in seeing the archipelago, with their numbers jumping 500 percent since 2016. Many venture into the frozen wilderness on snowmobiles or dogsled tours. Others visit the most famous structure in the Arctic: the Global Seed Vault. Built inside a mountain, the so-called Doomsday Vault opened in 2008 and stores nearly a million samples of plant seeds, so that crops might be restored following a global catastrophe.

Then there are the polar bears: at least 2,000 of them live in the region, and the local tourism board likes to claim that they outnumber the residents. A number of outfitters run expedition cruises to observe the animals safely from the water. On the edges of Longyearbyen, warning signs dot the snowy plains: “Gjelder hele Svalbard” (“All Over Svalbard”), they proclaim below an illustration of a polar bear silhouette. People are required to carry a rifle for protection when leaving town, and tourists frequently walk the streets with guns slung over their shoulders, though they are supposed to be unloaded in town. The grocery store, city hall, bank, and other establishments post no-rifles signs outside and provide lockers in their foyers for storing weapons. If a visitor is at least 18 years old, renting a rifle for protection from bears requires only the completion of a simple permit application and the ability to remain sober long enough to visit either of the sporting-goods stores in town that supply firearms.

For Popov, it seemed like the perfect place to end his life....

Back to Slow TV, here's one of the project managers, Thomas Hellum:
«We believe everyone in one or another way has a dream-relationship to Svalbard».
Well there you go.