May 27, 2017

Mountain as a birthday present

What would you give to a close friend who already has everything? The friend, who also happens to be your next door neighbor, is reaching an esteemed age of full 100 years later this year. She already has plenty of material goods, so she doesn't need any more stuff to put on top of the mantelpiece. She has also accumulated a wealth of immaterial possessions over the years. One thing that she doesn't have yet though is a proper mountain.

Country of Finland is celebrating it's centennial year this coming December. Finland declared independence in 1917 after having being a Grand Duchy of Russia since 1809. Before that Finland was part of the Swedish Empire. The modern Finland is very much part of the Nordic countries and shares a similar set of values, political stability, education system and relatively comparable GDP among other things with Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. I often need to point out though that Finland is not part of geographical Scandinavia, which formally consists only of Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

While Finland appears on multiple lists of Top 10 countries in the world, countries with highest mountains is not one of those. The glaciers during Ice Age were thicker and lasted longer around Finland than they did further south. (Some may still believe that the Ice Age never ended in Finland.) These glaciers eroded the land mass to be relatively flat. The few higher hills and mountains are mostly in the northern parts of Finland. The mountains in Lapland are called tunturi or fell as opposed to using the word for a mountain.

The highest point in Finland is Halti fell, which reaches the elevation of impressive 1324 meters above sea level. Halti is located way up north at the very border of Finland and Norway. The sad reality though is that the actual summit called Haldičohkka is just 150 meters on Norway side of the border. So therefore the highest "mountain" of Finland doesn't even have a summit!
Haldičohkka viewed from East. The highest point of Finland seen in the middle of the picture.
Picture credit: Ari Mure. Picture used under Creative Commons license
Norwegians to the rescue! A retired geophysicist and a surveyor for the Norwegian government, Bjørn Geirr Harsson, came up with an idea to redraw the border between Norway and Finland ever so slightly, so that the summit of the mountain would be actually on the Finland side. The change would be practically unnoticeable in terms of Norwegian total land area (at about 0,015 sq km) and having a ridiculous amount of mountains, tip of Halti doesn't make it to any lists in Norway.

Mr Harsson sent his proposal to the government of Norway and a supporting facebook page was set up: Halti som jubileumsgave. The whole idea was mainly meant as a symbolic gesture between the countries. Apparently the current border line has been drawn as a straight line way back in 1750s and is "geographically illogical" according to Mr Harsson.

Map of Halti with triangle of the border change proposition by the Halti som jubileumsgave movement
The suggestion has caught the attention of global press and has been acknowledged as yet another prime example of the friendly relations between the Nordic countries. Think about all the border related disputes continuing around the world, and here we have a country that is considering to give willingly a piece of it's area just as a bit silly birthday present!

But alas! While the suggestion has been indeed formally acknowledged and considered upon by the Norwegian government, it seems that there are insurmountable obstacles blocking the way. The very first article of the Norwegian constitution stipulates very specifically that the kingdom of Norway is "indivisible and inalienable". Overcoming this level of complex legal hurdle, seems to be a complete show stopper.

In fact the prime minister of Norway has sadly officially informed that the process has been now halted and that Norway will think of another way to join the centennial celebration of Finland. All hope is not yet lost (it never is!) and the movement continues to push the brilliant idea worth of a Nobel peace prize (which is awarded yearly by a Norwegian Nobel committee) in itself.

Check out this impressive short documentary on this topic called Battle for Birthday Mountain and show your kind support by liking the facebook page linked above.

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