Translated by Richard Foley. Photo by Arto Liiti.
A lot of people visit Lapland from other parts of the Arctic and the North. The location may be new to them, but the environment is familiar. To our neighbours, the North is not exotic; it’s life as usual.
For many other visitors to Lapland, the snow, light, darkness and seasonal extremes, the spacious landscapes, reindeer, and the sparse population all represent something out of the ordinary. It is just the once that those who come to Lapland from elsewhere experience the region for the first time, with fresh eyes.
Even as an outsider, how you interpret Lapland depends entirely on your situation. Are you a tourist? Do you work for an international mining company? Are you a university researcher? Are you an asylum seeker? The answer determines how you perceive the environment, and how it reacts to you.
Here, it is not possible to disappear among the masses like you can in a megalopolis. Just who you are – your role – is far more visible, as is always the case wherever there aren’t many people. People may take a long look at you and talk about you behind your back, but it doesn’t mean they consider you all that odd. There have always been travellers in the North; people are used to them, and today, with tourism and easy transportation, there are very many of them indeed. Some of them even stay.
But where are you ultimately when you’ve come to Lapland?
Are you where the only indigenous people in the EU live and thrive, or where the majority population is oppressing that people? Or are you in what will be the last winter resort after climate change hits, or where global warming is particularly extreme?
Where the Christmas spirit is still authentic, or where Santa Claus has been commercialised into nothing more than a tourist machine? Where one can find Europe’s last untouched wilderness, or its last unexploited natural resources? Where cross-border cooperation is unusually natural, or where the nation-states are competing for vast energy resources?
Where people are friendly and receptive, or strangely silent and withdrawn? Where life is linked to all modern global networks, or where people are living on the edge of the earth?
Welcome to the North – an area they say has eight seasons and numerous parallel realities. You are definitely part of one of them; the person next to you may well belong to a different one.
Let’s assume you are stepping out of a train or plane on your first visit to Lapland. Are you on your way to let the wilderness envelop you and get away from it all, or have you just arrived in a new hub of global politics and economics? The answer is ultimately up to you.
It is precisely this that makes the North so fascinating. Choose the kind of North that you want and start making it.