Norway refuses to give mountain to Finland as anniversary present

'This creative proposal received a very positive response from the public'

Adam Withnall
Sunday 16 October 2016 12:41
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Halti, on the border of Norway and Finland
Halti, on the border of Norway and Finland

After months of deliberations, Norway has decided not to gift a mountain peak to Finland to mark its 100 years of independence from Russia, in a decision that will disappoint campaigners.

Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg rejected a proposal brought by members of the community living on the border, which dissects the area of Mount Halti.

Most of the mountain already resides in Finnish territory, and moving the border just a few hundred feet to the northeast would have seen the 4,478-foot summit change hands.

The change would have made little - campaigners say zero - difference to Norway, which has countless higher Arctic mountains, some almost twice as tall.

But it would have made the peak of Mount Halti the highest point in Finland, overtaking the current highest point, a spur a short distance down the mountain.

In a letter to the local mayor of Kafjord, Ms Solberg welcomed the idea as a sign of strong cross-border relations, but said it was too legally contentious to change the border of Norway.

“This creative proposal has received a very positive response from the public,” she said, referencing the more than 17,000 supporters of a Facebook group calling for the move.

The prime minister said: “I welcome this and I see a clear sign that Norway and Finland have a close relationship,” adding that “the alteration of borders between countries causes too many judicial problems that could affect, for example, the Constitution”.

Article 1 of Norway’s constitution says the kingdom of Norway is “indivisible and inalienable”.

“We will think of another worthy gift to celebrate the occasion of [the] Finland centenary,” Ms Solberg added.

The idea of gifting the mountain was formed in 1972 by Bjorn Geirr Harsson, a now 76-year-old retired employee of the Norwegian Mapping Authority, who was conducting flights across the border.

He called it “geophysically illogical” that the straight line border separating Norway and Finland, drawn in the mid-18th century, gave most of Mount Halti to the Finns but the peak to Norway.

“We would not have to give away any part of Norway. It would barely be noticeable. And I’m sure the Finns would greatly appreciate getting it,” Mr Harsson told the broadcaster NRK last year.

There is still some time to go before the centenary, with Finland declaring independence from Russia on 6 December 1917, and supporters of the campaign are not giving up hope just yet.

In a post on the Facebook group, they said Mr Harsson and Svein Leiros, the Kafjord mayor, have completed a new report which might make the government change its mind.

Geologist Bjorn Geirr said the campaign would not take “no” for an answer, and suggested the government had not fully considered all the facts.

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