How Greenland's prime minister gets around his icy territory and how the Swedes have found a way to grow vegetables vertically. Switzerland considers removing minarets and the power of a good hairstyle on Ukraine's Yulia Tymoshenko.
Eighty per cent of Greenland is covered in ice, and with only 70km of asphalt in the capital Nuuk, there is no road network to speak of. Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist catches the ferry to get around the country when he can spare the time.
Kuupik Kleist won a landslide election victory this summer and has got straight to work not only on accelerating the process towards full independence from Danish rule after 300 years but, more urgently, attempting to tackle the country’s serious social problems. This remote and icy country has a higher dose than most of unemployment and alcoholism. Being in charge of an Arctic island eight times the size of Britain, but with only 57,600 inhabitants, creates unusual logistical challenges.
If Kleist wants to meet his people, his preferred option is to get on the public ferry. On the ferries that link the villages along the western and southern coasts, he gets plenty of time to work in peace as the only mobile phone reception is in the harbours. Trips along the coast take several days and schedules are subject to change, as a result of the harsh weather. The faster option is the Dash-7 but the smaller villages are only accessible by helicopter.
In office since June, the Greenlandic politician laughs when asked how many planes he has. “Zero!” he says on the phone from his home in Nuuk. “I have a car, but I only use it to drive to work and to drop off the kids at the daycare centre and school.” In August he made his first trip abroad – on a scheduled flight with Air Greenland. The destination was Geneva, where he delivered a speech at the United Nations conference for indigenous people.
The trip home was in economy class. “There is not much leg space, and limited possibilities to work,” he chuckles. This is a man who spent much of his younger life skimming around the north-western coast of his remote, icy homeland on a dog sled. And it’s made him a lone traveller to this day.
The ‘M/S Sarfaq Ittuk’ – ‘Sarfaq’ means sea current and ‘Ittuk’ suggests the sound of the heavy ship motor – is one of three Danish-built ferries that were custom-made in 1992 for the Home Rule government of Greenland. They were designed specifically to sail in icy waters. The ‘Sarfaq Ittuk’ is the only one of the three still operating and it was modernised and lengthened in 1999/2000.
The prime minister prefers the ferry, but when time is short he gets to the bigger towns usually in an Air Greenland Dash-7 plane. For the more remote villages and settlements, the state-owned helicopters are the only option.
He sometimes uses the state airline’s Airbus 330s or Boeing 757s for international journeys. Kleist flies without an entourage, not just to keep costs down but, he says, because he enjoys it.
“I don’t need anybody to carry my suit cases.”
Greenland’s road network might be small, but cars are extremely popular. Each car drives an average of 40km a day. Later this year, electric cars will be tested to see how they perform under Arctic circumstances. Considering the local potential for hydro power, these cars have excellent potential.
For hunting seals, reindeer, birds or just for a tour with his family, the premier uses his private boat, an Aquador 25C Walkaround. “The best moments of my life are those spent in nature,” he says.
Switzerland prides itself on its plurality – it is famously a nation of four official languages. However, a move is afoot to declare officially that this inclusivity goes only so far. On 29 November, Swiss voters will consider an initiative to ban the building of minarets.
Among those backing the initiative is the Swiss People’s Party (SVP). “This has nothing to do with freedom of religion,” says SVP spokesman Alain Hauert. “Anyone can be a practising Muslim, but the minaret is not part of the religion – it is a symbol of power, of victory, for Islam.” Approximately 400,000 of Switzerland’s 7.6 million people are Muslim.
The concerns Hauert cites are now familiar throughout Europe – essentially, the degree to which benchmarks of civilisation, such as freedom of speech and female emancipation, may be threatened by Islam.
“There are values which must be respected by everyone in this country,” says Hauert. While the Swiss may be reviled for the absolutist nature of the debate in their country about how and whether Islam is compatible with secular democracy, at least they’re having it – out loud and in public.
Campaign power: In Switzerland, 100,000 signatures can force an issue to a national plebiscite – a “citizens’ initiative”. Campaigns against the building of minarets have also occurred in Sweden, France, Germany and the UK.
Bringing feminine aggression and glamour into a political life filled with dull middle-aged men, controversial prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko delights as many Ukrainians as she horrifies. Her critics call her a manipulative opportunist, while her admirers see her as a nationalist crusader, but they all agree that she is one of a kind. Her style is idiosyncratic; a sexualised Victorianism embodied by high necklines and puffy shoulders, with liberal use of bows, buttons and often lace, and dresses cut at the knee or above – a good few centimetres higher than one might expect from a prime minister. One Ukrainian newspaper described her look as “severe yet sexy”.
Most of her dresses are designed by young Ukrainian Aina Gase, who says that Tymoshenko often takes part in the design process. From foreign brands, she wears Louis Vuitton regularly; the French fashion house is also her choice on the rare occasions she carries handbags.
The 48-year-old politician has gone through almost as many incarnations as Madonna. During perestroika, a rather frumpy Tymoshenko opened her first business with her husband – a video chain. By the early 1990s she had moved into energy and by the mid-1990s was dubbed the “gas princess” after making a large fortune in the energy sector. In 2001, after she had entered politics, she spent a few weeks in prison on charges of forging customs documents and smuggling gas, before being released and cleared.
The biggest change of all came shortly before the Orange Revolution of late 2004, when her hair morphed from straight chestnut locks that fell over her shoulders into the trademark blonde braid for which she is now famous. Pulled across her crown like a thick sheaf of wheat, it evokes the golden halos of Ukrainian Orthodox saints and plays with ideas of both Ukrainianness and womanhood. “It evokes the image of Ukrainian women from fairy tales – a housekeeper, a mother and wife,” says Daria Zveriak of Marie Claire Ukraine. “It significantly softened her image as an ‘iron lady’.”
In 2005, she posed on the cover of Ukrainian Elle, which was the same year Forbes magazine named her the third most powerful woman in the world.
Hair: The famous plait takes Tymoshenko seven minutes to do each morning, she has claimed. When the hairdo first appeared, there were so many doubts about its authenticity that she untied it in a press conference to prove that it was her own hair.
Make-up: Tymoshenko rarely appears without a good coating of cosmetics, designed to emphasise her femininity. Her dark eyes are offset by milky pale skin and girly features.
Dress: Long, light dresses designed by Aina Gase, or occasionally top western fashion houses, bring out the homely “school teacher” look prescribed by her former image consultant.
Legs: Her dresses rarely come below the knee, adding a dose of sexuality – otherwise she could look a frump.
Shoes: The shoes always perfectly match the outfit, in a sign that she takes care over wardrobe choice, a decision that plays well in a country where women are expected to look beautiful. “She has achieved success in politics while keeping a sense of style and femininity, and many women admire that,” says Zveriak of Marie Claire.
Decorative gardens are going vertical and, if one Swedish entrepreneur has his way, so are vegetables. Hans Hassle’s firm, Plantagon, has created a greenhouse (pictured) inside which vegetables move up and down on a spiral mechanism.” The only way to grow vegetables rationally in cities is to do it over several storeys,” says Hassle.
Helsinki has been named Europe’s best city for new businesses. Stockholm is second, according to the European Entrepreneurship Ranking. And Munich is snapping at the Scandinavians’ heels.