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KEY POINTS: Why has the go ahead for the Kallak mine caused a stir in Sweden?

Sweden's government gave the all-clear for the Kallak mine to go ahead last week, but that by no means marks the end of the story. Why is the mine so controversial?

KEY POINTS: Why has the go ahead for the Kallak mine caused a stir in Sweden?
The area where the Gallók/Kallak mine is planned. Photo: TT

What happened last week? 

The government last Tuesday announced that it was finally giving the go-ahead for the British company Beowulf to push ahead with its Kallak iron ore mining project outside Jokkmokk in Swedish Lapland. The company has been granted a bearbetningskoncession, or exploitation Concession, for the Kallak North Iron Ore Project. 

The company’s Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB subsidiary first submitted its application in 2013, meaning it has taken nine years for it to get to this point. 

What was the reaction? 

Kallak, or Gallók in the Sami language, is the biggest ongoing Sami rights struggle in Sweden. The local Jåhkågasska, Sirges and Tuorpon Sami reindeer herding districts, are bitterly opposed to the project, which they complain will cut their herding district in two, making it difficult to move their herds between their summer and winter herding areas. They also worry that the mine tailings will pollute local water. 

Mikael Kuhmunen, a local Sami community leader, told Sweden’s TT news agency he was “shocked” and “disappointed” by the announcement. Climate activist Greta Thunberg on Twitter called the decision “shortsighted, racist, colonial and

Beowulf’s chief executive, on the other hand, criticised the “unacceptably long time” it had taken Sweden to come to a decision. “It’s good that the concession has been given the approval, but why couldn’t we have got it in 2017.”

“Doing good business requires transparency and predictable process, which has not been the case,” he continued. 

Listen to a discussion about Sami rights in the context of the Kallak mine on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Who supports the mine? 

The local municipality in the nearby town of Jokkmokk supports the mine, which it claims will bring much needed employment to a municipality which has long faced a slow population decline, as do many of the local citizens. 

“If there’s mine, you may as well close the curtains on Jokkmokk. There will be nothing left,” Rickard Eriksson, a local who commutes to mining jobs in other municipalities, told TT. “I know a lot of people who if it’s a ‘no’, plan to take their families and move elsewhere.”

What’s the history behind the mine struggle? 

Beowulf already faced protests back in 2013, when Sami and environmental activists tried to stop it carrying out geological exploration and test boring at the site. Activists managed to temporarily stop the company’s test boring, by climbing up to the top of pine trees, and pouring petrol over themselves. 

As well as attracting the attention of Greta Thunberg, the mine has also become a cause pushed by the Sami singer songwriter Sofia Jannok, and become the focus of a renewed struggle for Sami rights. 

What’s the history of discrimination and colonialism in the Sami lands?

But mine is just the latest project in the industrialisation of Sapmi, the Sami people’s traditional homeland, which stretches between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Northern Russia. The Sami have traditionally been nomadic, herding their animals between the mountain regions right down to the Baltic Sea. 

The mines in Sweden’s most northerly country, Norrbotten, are home to 93 percent of the European Union’s iron-ore production, and as the mines were discovered and built-up at the end of the 19th century, Sweden justified the exploitation of Sami areas by developing a racist ideology, which contrasted the Swedish race with the “inferior” and “primitive” Sami people. 

Researchers travelled to the Sami areas and measured the skulls and bodies of the local people, often in humiliating ways. 

The country established a State Institute for Racial Biology at Uppsala University in 1922, whose research often sought to demonstrate the negative impacts of racial mixing between Swedes and Sami people. Sami children were also for a long time banned from speaking their language in schools. 

What safeguards did the Sami receive as part of the government’s approval? 

On the face of it, fairly significant ones. Sweden’s government has ordered the company to only carry out construction during periods “when the least possible negative impact arises for the ongoing reindeer husbandry”, for example, when the reindeer are elsewhere. The mine should “use as little land as possible”, and “avoid, as far as possible, impacts on reindeer migration routes”, and build “fences, dikes or other facilities” to cut the risk of accidents involving reindeer. 

The company has also been ordered to “continuously consult” with the local Sami herding districts, and to pay compensation for any additional costs they incur as a result of the mine. 

What happens now? 

The company said in a press release that it would now push ahead with a Scoping Study before the end of the year, create a “roadmap for environmental permitting”, and seek new investment and additional partners. 

After the Dagens Nyheter newspaper wrote a story alleging conflicts of interest in the business department, the Green Party reported Sweden’s business minister Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson to the Committee on the Constitution, the parliamentary committee which scrutinises government actions. 

While the company seeks approval from the environmental courts, the issue should quieten down, but the moment it tries to do anything on the ground, it is likely that the protests will far exceed those seen in 2013. 

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Huawei loses Swedish appeal over 5G ban

A Swedish court on Wednesday rejected an appeal from China's Huawei over the government's decision to ban the network equipment giant from the rollout of 5G mobile network infrastructure in the Nordic country.

Huawei loses Swedish appeal over 5G ban

The administrative court of appeal in Stockholm said in a statement it believed it was fair to assume that the use of Huawei’s products in central functions of the 5G network “can cause harm to Sweden’s security.”

After the UK in the summer of 2020, Sweden became the second country in Europe and the first in the EU to explicitly ban Huawei from almost all of the network infrastructure needed to run its 5G mobile network.

Beijing warned at the time that the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority’s (PTS) decision could have “consequences” for the Scandinavian country’s companies in China, prompting Swedish telecom giant and Huawei competitor Ericsson to worry about retaliatory measures.

The PTS’ decision also included a provision that equipment already installed had to be removed by January 1, 2025, which the appeals court also confirmed.

“Sweden’s security is a particularly strong interest and the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority’s decision is based on a real, current and sufficiently serious threat to Sweden’s security,” judge Anita Linder said in a statement.

Huawei first appealed the decision to a lower court which also sided with the PTS in June 2021.