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Aug 15 2007

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The Faroes: Periphery in the Centre

As people living in an increasingly globalised environment the Faroese, much like the rest of the world, need to embrace change to whatever extent necessary. The ability to cooperate effectively and develop strong networks is becoming more important. And still it is crucial for us to hold on strongly to our unique identity if we want to stay competitive.

By Elin Heinesen, Managing Director of SamVit – Faroe Islands Enterprise

The burning question is: What role can a little nation like the Faroe Islands play in a globalised world? In my view information, communication and technology are creating a new reality. It’s the ‘levelled playing field’ where small companies and nations can now compete, whereas before they simply did not stand a chance. Things like innovation and creativity are becoming essential in every area of business, and a nation like the Faroes has a distinct strength in this context. I think it’s crucial that we use this as an opportunity.

To stay competitive, we have to be inventive and learn how to develop new concepts and fresh thinking. And when setting our goals and objectives, we have to be strategic and think ahead – yet in following through on plans we have to be consistent. But nobody can be an expert in every field and that’s why networking is so important… knowing who to turn to when… With all this new technology – and the Faroes are very much up-to-date – we’re looking at something quite interesting.

The World is Hungry for Originality
But what contribution can the Faroe Islands make? In my view, it seems that remote places like the Faroes are becoming more and more interesting to more and more people. I believe that in a world of increasing globalisation the periphery inevitably becomes interesting because it is so different. Just think of Iceland and Bjørk. I believe that people are hungry for originality and authenticity – maybe mainly on the mainland where globalisation has levelled out cultures almost to the point of lost identity. That might be the reason why peripheral countries like the Faroe Islands can now become the focus of attention and therefore – in a way – become a new centre.

A New Frontier
There are still new frontiers to be discovered in the world – and the Faroe Islands might be just that: a new frontier – an unspoiled treasure. People are becoming aware of that. Tourism is now the fastest-growing industry in the Faroes. But what’s so attractive here on this rain-ridden, wind-torn archipelago? So much so that some of our guests return every year, and some even decide to settle down for the rest of their lives? Words like powerful, intense, peaceful and authentic are often used when trying to describe the feel of the Faroes – and the fact that everything is close, whether you want it or not. People are fascinated by the contrasts and the Faroe Islands are truly a land of contrasts: romantic and dramatic – a modern society, in an unforgettable timeless setting.

The New York Times published an article about The Faroe Islands by the journalist Stephen Metcalf on the 25th of March this year. The headline went: “Into the Mystical Unreal Reality of the Faroe Islands”. I’ll quote from this article:

Like Reality and Fairy–Tale in One
“The Faroe Islands is easily the most moodily beautiful place I have ever been. Each island is a giant slice of elaborately tiered basalt, tilted to one side and covered in green, tussocky felt. Streamer clouds, almost mannered in their perfection, encircle the mountains. Rocky cliffs, topped in arêtes and tarns, plunge into the sea, while up from the water jut massive, looming sea stacks. It rains here a lot, and waterfalls flow pretty much continuously.”

This is – in my view – a beautiful poetic description of The Faroes. And let’s stay in the poetic corner. Danish author and jazz singer Suzanne Brøgger, who visited the islands in March this year, described her experience in a radio programme in this way: “It’s a cosmic experience. The Faroe Islands is a country which is – and is not. It is in constant flux. It keeps disappearing: One moment it’s lost in the fog, and suddenly – there it is again in all its magnificent beauty. Like magic. Like reality and fairytale in one. In these majestic surroundings you become almost painfully confronted with life’s vulnerability – and that is really inspirational. That is probably why creative people thrive here and why such magnificent art on an absolute top international level is created here. Actually, I was invited to the island Antigua to sit under a palm tree, but I preferred to visit the Faroe Islands – maybe because it seems to suit my temperament more.”

Bad Weather Has Become Our Advantage
Indeed, the Faroese have a very rich culture and history. We all share a profound love for our country and our heritage. But we have not been so proud of having what we think is probably the worst weather on earth. We cannot imagine that people from countries with warmer and sunnier weather would be interested in visiting a place like this. So even if this country has developed into a modern society fully in line with our neighbours, we have been keeping a low profile outwards for a long time. Living tranquil is living well, they say here.

That is the main reason why the Faroese have kept the secret to themselves, and why the Faroe Islands have not been culturally affected by the outside world as much as many other countries in this part of the world. Consequently the Faroese have a very strong cultural identity, which is one of the things that often amazes visitors. In a world where globalisation – as I said – levels out cultures to the point of lost identity, things have actually combined in favour of the Faroese. In that sense bad weather has formed the surroundings, the skills and the very soul of the Faroese in a favourable way. If you turn it around this way – ‘bad weather’ might just be the reason why you should visit the Faroes!

The Country Holds Many Surprises
For millions of years the roaring ocean with its heavy waves has been slowly eating away at these rocks in the middle of the North Atlantic in a constant battle with the cliffs – leaving almost vertical hillsides that suddenly drop hundreds of meters straight down into the deep blue sea. The ocean climate and the small size of the Faroes may make them one of the wettest countries on earth, so the landscape is traversed by rivers, brooks and waterfalls wherever you go. It is a miracle that people and creatures have managed to survive here in this seemingly inhospitable place for more than a thousand years. You’ve got to be creative to do that.

But there is more to it than first meets the eye. This misty fairy land hidden out here in the North Atlantic holds many amazing surprises. If you travel just a bit deeper into it you will find narrow fjords and straits and soft sappy grass in bright green valleys complemented by cosy small villages by the seaside with closely-packed houses in all colours of the rainbow, where people live together in peace, feeling content and safe. The crime rate here is among the lowest in the world, the average life expectancy is among the highest in the world, and the birth rate (2.6 children) is the highest in all of Europe.

If you delve even further, you will discover that this nation – once so isolated – has moved to a new level. Today, highly educated Faroese people work all around the world – scientists, engineers and hundreds of sailors navigating heavy tankers and carriers across the five oceans. So even if other people might be unaware of the Faroes, the Faroese themselves are very aware of the outside world. So what advantages do we have in comparison with the outside world?

A Modern Society in the Middle of Everything
The Faroe Islands might seem remote and peripheral, but they are actually in the middle of everything – strategically located along important sea lanes in the north-eastern Atlantic right between the two richest continents on earth – only a one-hour flight away from the UK, Norway and Iceland and two hours from Copenhagen, Denmark.

We have other advantages as well. Today, the islands are fully up-to-date in terms of modern technology. Almost everyone is online, connected to the outside world by satellites and fibre-optic cables on the bottom of the ocean. Until recently, the only way to reach the remote villages and islands was either by small boats or by walking up and down steep mountains. Today the country is pierced with tunnels through mountains and under the sea, leaving 85 % of the people less than an hour away from each other. It is also worth mentioning that 45 % of the power consumption is generated by rainwater.

The Best Fish Products in the World
The waters around the Faroe Islands are said to be the cleanest in the world. The perfect mix of the warm Gulf Stream from the south and the Arctic waters from the north produce a paradise for marine flora and fauna around the Faroe Islands. Hungry fish stocks come in all sizes to graze and it is no coincidence that the Faroe Islands is a nation where fish accounts for more than 97% of the total export volume. Actually the Faroe Islands is one of the world’s leading nations in terms of sustainable fishery.

If we don’t find exploitable oil, fishery might very well still have a future as our strongest industry – especially if we focus on the right themes in our marketing: As an example – an English research paper concludes that if you eat fish you get smarter babies. Recently a scientific research project made here on the Faroes concluded that haddock caught in the ocean surrounding the Faroe Islands contains up to ten times as much folic acid and twice as much selenium as haddock caught in other parts of the world. Folic Acid and Selenium are very important – especially for pregnant women. Right now, a very interesting project is going on here on the Faroes where a special fish traceability system is being developed. The system will be launched next year. For us consumers it means that we will know exactly where and when and by whom the fish on our table was caught. All this should give our fish products a significant competitive advantage.

Heading Towards a Creative and Knowledge-Based Economy
Since late 19th century, when fishery replaced agriculture and wool as a driving force in the Faroese economy, almost all of our economy has been built on fishery and manufacturing fish products for export. And we have been successful in doing so. This historical fact is probably the reason why economic and political leaders in this country believe so strongly in building success on primary products and on manufacturing. I also do believe that it is important to maintain a viable fishing fleet and a strong manufacturing sector. But when we’re dealing with a globalised market where demands change every other day, this is not enough. I think the Faroese people and our economic and political leaders understand that it is vital to increase the diversity of our businesses and that we must also rely on a more creative and knowledge-based economy in the future.

Effective Communication Strategies are Crucial
I believe in the idea of looking toward the future with confidence yet with realism. In today’s extremely fast-changing world, it is essential to develop and apply strategies for staying on top of things. Using information and communication technology effectively can make virtually any project so much smoother, quicker and less expensive and what’s more, it will define the very nature of projects – you can’t afford to miss out on it. But technology alone won’t do the job. It’s people that shape technology and business processes and the human element remains the most important element. This is interesting because everything is about people and how we interact. And it is crucial that we use our human resources and the creative potential, we all possess, to the fullest.

Succes in Creative Businesses
We do have some success stories in creative business that have inspired others. I am referring to successful musicians like Teitur and Eivør – you may have heard of them – and fashion designers such as Guðrun & Guðrun – or the G!-festival which has been named as one of the best music venues in Europe today by several Music Magazines. Their success has been an eye-opener to the rest of us. Suddenly we see potential and possibilities which, before, we could only find in our dreams. I think we are only beginning to understand the impact that our ability to harness our own creative assets will have on our future.

Faroe Islands – a Melting Pot of Creativity
These are fascinating times. The Faroe Islands is a melting pot of creativity. Music, singing and songwriting, fashion & design, alternative music festivals and modern art play a very active role in daily life on the Faroes today. The Faroese are thought to have a special creative Viking gene, especially bearing in mind the modest population of around 50,000 inhabitants. From this creative gene pool the menu has it all: Traditional Faroese chain dance, choir music, folk music, jazz, blues, rock and punk. Almost every village has its own choir and/or up to several rock bands. The Faroe Islands Symphony Orchestra perform at least two concerts a year in the Nordic House of surprisingly high quality. A new generation of young musicians, artists and fashion designers is also taking on a new and different scene – or catwalk. With one foot rooted in tradition and the other in a creative sphere, they are taking the leap for international success. And they might just have a chance merely because of the fact that their inspiration comes from a life far away from trend-setting cosmopolitan lifestyles. It is just real. And you can feel it.

FACTS:
Did you know that the Faroe Islands…

  • … are located north of Scotland between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Norway and Iceland – situated at approximately latitude 62° N, longitude 7° W
  • … are an archipelago of 18 islands, of which 17 are inhabited. The islands extend 113 km from north to south and 75 km from east to west.
  • … highest elevations reach nearly 890 m above sea level and are found in the northern islands. The precipitous terrain limits habitation to small coastal lowlands.
  • … climate is greatly influenced by the warm Gulf Stream and by the passage of frequent cyclones, which arrive from the south and west depending on the position of the polar frontal zone. Consequently the climate is humid, unsettled and windy, with mild winters and cool summers. Mean temperatures are around 3-4°C in January and February and about 10-11°C in July and August.
  • … have a land area of 1399 km2 (545.3 square miles).
  • … have a population of 48,164 (December 2005).
  • … capital is Tórshavn with a population of 19,282 (2004).
  • … have their own language: Faroese is the national language, rooted in Old Norse. Nordic languages are understood by most Faroese, and English is also widely spoken.
  • … religion is Evangelical Lutheran Church: 80% – Christian Brethren (Plymouth Brethren): 10%.
  • … population is largely descended from Viking settlers who arrived in the 9th century. The islands have been connected politically to Denmark since the 14th century.
  • … is a self-governing territory since 1948 within the Kingdom of Denmark.
  • … Prime Minister is Jóannes Eidesgaard (since 3 February 2004).
  • … cabinet (Landsstýri) is appointed by the Prime Minister.
  • … Parliament (Løgting) is unicameral.
  • … main industries are fishing, fish processing, ship building, construction and handicrafts.
  • … labour force counts 24,760 (December 2005).
  • … labour force by occupation is fishing, fish processing, and manufacturing (33%), construction and private services (33%) and public services (34%).
  • … has a total export of DKK 3,579,300,000 (2005).
  • … has a total imports of DKK 3,911,600,000 (2005).
  • … GDP is DKK 9,699,000,000 (2003).

Do you want to know more?

If you would like to get to know the Faroe Islands, you can e.g. visit:
http://www.faroeislands.com
http://www.visit-faroeislands.com

For more information on the Faroese business environment and Faroese trade and industry, please visit:
http://www.trade.fo

Read Mr Stephen Metcalf’s article in The New York Times about the Faroe Islands “Into the Mystical Unreal Reality of the Faroe Islands”:
http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/03/25/travel/tmagazine/03well.faroes.t.html

Here is an interesting broadcast about the Faroe Islands from PBS, mainly focusing on the killing of pilot whales, but covers a lot of other ground. The website is also a great introduction to various Faroese issues, such as music:
http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/faroe605/video_index.html

Read an article on the Faroe Islands on CNN.com:
http://edition.cnn.com/2007/TRAVEL/DESTINATIONS/06/27/faeroe.islands.ap/index.html

One of the most exciting music events in the Faroe Islands is the annual music festival in Gøta, G! Festival. Below is the link to the official website:
http://www.gfestival.com

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