Thursday, May 14, 2009


"We are moving because of the cracks; they're moving because of the water coming in."

No, this is not a quote from some tragic victim of sub-standard plumbing featured on the televisual barrel bottom that is ITV1's New Homes From Hell, it is a quote from the Mayor of the town of Kiruna, situated 90 miles North of the Arctic Circle, in the very North Sweden. Kiruna is the place people fly to when visiting Santa's Grotto or the Ice Hotel. The Mayor of Kiruna, appropriately named Kenneth Stålnacke (Stålnacke literally translated means Steelneck), was quoted in reference to an international conference on the demographic consequences of Global Warming scheduled to take place in Kiruna in 2008; it is estimated that tens of thousands of people inhabiting coastal regions of the developing world will have to be relocated onto higher ground due to rising sea levels in the next few decades. Even though Kiruna is neither coastal, nor located in the developing world, Mayor Steelneck and his local government see themselves as veterans in the relocation stakes; you see, the whole of Kiruna is being moved a couple of miles Northwest of its current location because of "The Cracks."

In the coverage I have looked at concerning this bizarre matter, all of the interviewees, irrespective of who they were, what company they represented or community they belonged to, they have all referred to "The Cracks" as though they were caused by a clumsy and misunderstood, but essentially benign mountain troll, this is obviously not the case, as mountain trolls are long since extinct. The real reason Kiruna is running an increasing risk of being swallowed by the earth is that the town sits on some of the best iron ore in the world. Or sat, as the case may be, most of the ore has already been blasted out with liquid explosives 3000 ft under the citizens of Kiruna, while they have been going about their business for the last 100 years. The chasms left behind were filled with shattered waste rock, which, with no great surprise, turned out not to be quite adequate enough replacement for solid iron.

Luossavaara Kiirunavaara AB, or LKAB as it is more commonly referred to, for obvious pronouncing reasons, have been mining the area referred to as Malmberget (Ore Mountain) since1892 and the company has almost single-handedly ruled the labour market and, consequently, the demographics of Norrland. Norrland takes up 2/3rds of Sweden's land mass but is only home to 12% of its population, a caucus famous for their moonshine production, subsequent alcoholism, isolation, sartorial hopelessness, suicide, poverty and a tobacco product known as snus, it is bitterly cold in winter and in summer it is infested with a particularly fierce type of mosquito. You have to be a certain kind of person to find these conditions agreeable, and that type seems to be a badly educated, overall wearing, baseball-cap-style-hat-with-farm-supply-logo-sporting, dull, socially remedial, turps-swilling half-wit with a rifle and a snowmobile. It is hardly surprising then, that the graduate retention in Norrland is virtually non-existent, as are the women folk.

Oddly, Kenneth Stålnacke and his deputy, Hans Swedell, along with Kiruna City Council, seem to consider the move, the completion of which is estimated for 2099, as a great opportunity for Kiruna and its people rather than a massive pain in the arse. They hope that the relocation will create new, highly skilled jobs which will attract women and young people; this in turn, it is thought, will make the town less dependent on the mine and LKAB, who are paying for the bulk of the move. Which basically means that the new, young, highly skilled workforce will be, albeit indirectly, working for LKAB. Which will render Kiruna and its surrounding area as, if not more, dependent on LKAB. To me this does not appear to be Kiruna diversifying so much as LKAB growing. Anyway, Stålnacke and Swedell are very excited, and who am I to piss on their fireworks? By 2013 the railway along with 450 residences are scheduled to have moved, followed in the next decade by 1700 – 3000 residences, the hospital and a high school. Busy, busy, busy!

It is not the fact that the town is being moved that interests me so much any more; that, apparently, happens all the time when large companies want to get their greedy little hands on some natural resources (or indeed when the city of Liverpool fancies water from the Welsh valleys and floods a whole community, what a stroke of pure genius!) No, what I find riveting is that the people of Kiruna seem so excited about being uprooted and flung 1.25 miles North West of where they are now. They must really be stuck in a rut if they don't realise that having a big hole under your house is more fundamentally depressing than it is a wonderful opportunity to work in IT. I wonder if Stålnacke and Swedell can make this absurdly optimistic attitude, towards an impelled move, rub off on the delegates from the coastal regions of the developing world at the conference next year.

Mia Tagg 2009®

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