Over 60% of the population of Svalbard are Norwegian and since the Svalbard Treaty, drawn up in 1920, Norway has full sovereignty over the islands. The treaty came into effect in 1925, following the Svalbard Act which established a Governor of Svalbard. The Governor holds the responsibility as both county governor and chief of police. The currency is Norwegian Krone and the main language (including all administration) is Norwegian but, citizens of any country which signed the treaty can live and work here. Longyearbyen is the largest settlement on Svalbard and my home for the next two years. Of the 2560 people living in Svalbard and over 2000 of these live in Longyearbyen. The second largest settlement is Barentsburg; the population of around 500 people is almost entirely Russian and Ukranian. Other settlements include Ay-Ă…lesund, made up almost entirely of researchers with a winter population of only 35, and Sveagruva, a mining town with no permanent residents.

Summertime in Longyearbyen

In many ways Longyearbyen is a regular town, there is a hospital, primary and secondary school, university, sports centre and swimming pool, library, cinema, hotels and bars, a bank, a variety of shops and several museums. There is even a weekly newspaper Svalbardposten. The town has a road network of around 50 km but this does not connect any of the other communities. Travel outside the settlement is restricted to snow scooter or ski in winter and boat or foot in summer.

The main street in Longyearbyen
Looking down to Longyearbyen from Nybyen, the student accommodation

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