Sun, May 14, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Artist claims sovereignty of emerging Arctic island

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

There is no unemployment, no crime and no hospital waiting list. The nation of Nymark, with its unspoiled views and its quiet evenings, free of antisocial behavior and traffic noise, shines like a beacon in these troubled times. Now all that Nymark's 43-year-old leader is seeking is recognition from the UN and, of course, a decent entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.

Nymark, situated in the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic, was discovered by London artist Alex Hartley in 2004 when he was part of an expedition of scientists and artists collaborating on a project to highlight global warming. With the melting of ice, previously hidden prehistoric rocks had started to emerge and the protuberance spotted by Hartley is one of those newly visible landmarks.

"We landed on it and I staked a claim, written in English and Norwegian, which I left in a baked bean tin," Hartley said on Friday. "I also built a cairn. This was the first time I had ever stood on something where no one else had been before."

The island is about the size and shape of a football pitch, although the chances of Nymark fielding a team in the World Cup are remote as the only surface is frozen moraine which might not pass FIFA requirements.

Hartley was told by the Norwegian Polar Institute that if he wanted to name the island he would have to choose a Norwegian name, hence Nymark, which means New Ground. After returning to England, out of curiosity he started exploring the possibility of getting micro-nation status for his discovery. He applied to the UN and is still waiting to hear from it. In the meantime, the Norwegian government responded, challenging his sovereignty claim.

Yngve Melvaer, head of maps at the Norwegian Polar Institute, told the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten: "Svalbard is Norwegian, also the parts under the ice. Alex Hartley has no obvious case for his claim to ownership.''

"I had no idea that they would take it seriously," Hartley said, "but we have got a flag ready. There are serious points to the whole project, of course. There are places like this emerging all the time because of global warming."

Now all he needs is a decent Eurovision song and someone to perform it -- apparently there is a young band called the Arctic somethings who might be able to help.

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