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Norway Has Been Trying to Give Finland a Mountain as Birthday Gift Without Succeeding

Halti peak is right across the border
Halti peak is right across the border | © David Freid, MEL Films
What do you get your neighbouring country for its 100th birthday? In the case of Norway and Finland, a geophysicist literally tried to move mountains on the occasion of the latter’s 100th anniversary of independence. Here’s what you need to know about this fascinating project and the man who almost managed to change the border between the two countries.

The ‘Birthday Mountain’ idea

It all started back in 1972. Bjørn Geirr Harsson, a geophysicist then working for the Norwegian Mapping Authority, discovered an ‘anomaly’ while conducting a survey related to the Norwegian-Finnish border. What was the anomaly? Namely that, despite Mount Halti being the tallest mountain in Finland, its highest peak actually lies in Norway – just 31 meters from the border. This happened because the border was drawn as a straight line, a common practice back in 1734 when the treaty between Sweden and Denmark was drafted (back then, Finland belonged to Sweden and Norway was under Denmark’s rule). Ever since his discovery, Harsson has been trying to convince the Norwegian government to rectify the border, so that the peak lay on the Finnish side.

Which brings us to 2016. Although retired by that time, Harsson thought that Finland’s upcoming 100-year independence anniversary in December 2017, would be the perfect occasion for Norway to give Halti to its neighbor as a token of friendship and goodwill. He started campaigning for his cause again and gained a significant number of followers; 17,000 signatures were gathered on a Facebook campaign to give ‘Birthday Mountain’ to Finland. MEL Films captured Harsson’s attempts in a beautiful short film called, “Battle for Birthday Mountain” which explains the conundrum and shows Harsson working together with the mayor of Kåfjord municipality where the peak is located, Svein Oddvar Leiros, to make the border change a reality.

The practical problems

Unfortunately, mountains are difficult things to move. Border lines may look arbitrary and irrelevant to them (or to reindeer, for that matter), but when it comes to humans and governments, any change on a border line – no matter how small – has legal and political ramifications. Ever since Harsson brought the matter to the attention of the authorities, legal experts have been trying to figure out whether moving the border like that would violate the Norwegian constitution.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg was reportedly considering the issue for a long time – but ultimately chose to decline Harsson’s request. In a letter sent to Mayor Leiros, the Prime Minister said that she welcomed the fact that the proposal had such a positive response from the public and that she sees it as “a clear sign that Norway and Finland have a close relationship.” However, she went on to explain that, “border adjustments between countries raise complex legal issues,” and that the Birthday Mountain idea was against Article 1 of Norway’s constitution, which states that “the kingdom of Norway is indivisible and inalienable.” Regardless, Harsson is not giving up hope that one day a straight line drawn, out of convenience in 1734, will be adjusted to better reflect the modern, mountainous reality.

The Norwegian-Finnish border © Maija Vaismaa, Courtesy of Visit Lyngefjord