Dressing Up: Arctic Council at 20
Let me start with an image. An image that I thought was rather odd. There was a meeting of Senior Arctic Officials (SAO) at Fairbanks Alaska in March 2016.
As part of their deliberations a dinner was organized at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. On the official website of the Arctic Council, it is noted that, “Many delegates took the opportunity to dress up in period outfits and pose on one of the cars. This photo features Canadian delegates [with the Canadian SAO Susan Harper in the driver’s seat]”. I have never really understood the appeal of dressing up as an adult, even though there is a long-standing British tradition of polar explorers doing so in the Antarctic.
While I appreciate the museum invites this sort of activity, it is interesting to think about what might be at stake. Ultimately it is about dressing up in ‘white clothing‘ rather say donning gear more associated with native Alaskans. Otherwise that would have been potentially embarrassing or at the very least awkward. But then as I went further into the photo collection, I noticed another image with the caption, “This photo features a few of the Indigenous Permanent Participant delegates”. Everyone appeared to have taken up the opportunity to dress up. Well nearly everyone, there was no dressing up to be done by state observers because it was not that kind of meeting.
Why focus on dressing up? Let me be clear I am using this episode as a way of exploring something of wider import rather than passing a judgement about that evening in March 2016 per se.
Dressing up as a cultural practice is potentially significant because it offers insights into how people imagine themselves, and a prevailing consumptive/visual culture, while revealing geographies of dressing up – where to do it and where not to. Dressing up can also be constitutive of identity and group politics – some do it and some do not. Some are invited to participate and others are not. But the choice of clothing, especially when looking backwards, is revealing. Donning Victorian or Edwardian era clothing in an antique motor museum, which celebrates the role of cars and roads in the ‘opening up’ of Alaska to white American industrial and resource-led development is an intriguing choice. So it might have a been a bit of fun at the time but it strikes me as odd that those attached to a progressive-body, the Arctic Council, celebrating its 20th anniversary would wish to do that. Maybe the dinner was a good one. But did it convey at that moment a forward-looking vision for the Arctic and all its residents?
The practice of dressing up could be helpful in thinking about the Arctic Council and the futures that it might face and even anticipate. Over the last twenty years, it has developed an impressive array of activities ranging from SAO meetings, a permanent secretariat, and the scientific and technical work of working groups and task forces dedicated to the ‘dressing up’ of the Arctic region – assembling a region in a manner emphasising science, environment, international co-operation, economic opportunities, and crucially the long-standing autonomy and rights of indigenous peoples.
But one of the things that dressing up as a practice can do however is unleash the role of play and the imagination. Maybe looking ahead, future Arctic Council meetings should include other opportunities to dress up – and in doing so take a moment to reflect on the colonial and gendered histories and experiences of the Arctic, and how future ‘Arctics’ might be ‘dressed up’? Will AC representatives dress up in SAR costumes next year and pose next to equipment used to manage the aftermath of a disaster involving oil spillage? Silly? Inappropriate? Or perhaps it represents a future that we don’t really want to contemplate; an Arctic characterised by the worse case scenario and the worst kind of clothing.
When the representatives of the Permanent Participants attend meetings and workshops dressed in traditional clothing such as the Sami gákti, it is performs an important cultural and political statement regarding indigenous occupation of the Arctic and indigenous culture.
When Canadian indigenous representatives wear sealskin waistcoats, the choice of attire reminds others not only of the vital importance of subsistence hunting (and the role of seal in providing food and clothing) but also the harm that is done by seal exports bans by others. ‘Dressing up’ as a political practice, is anything but a joke. It serves as a visual and affective reminder that whatever future faces the Arctic, there are people and organizations determined to fight for their rights, their land, their autonomy, and their very existence in the light of challenges that at their worst could be existential in the future.
So forgive me if I do not offer you lots of bold statements about the Arctic Council and its future. Whatever future is involved and invoked, there will surely be some ‘dressing up’ somewhere and by someone.
Obituary - Alyson Bailes
Dear Alyson, I played this song “Hold the Heathen Hammer High” by the band Tyr for you, since this is music that you liked and liked to listen. The Faroes heavy metal music is a good example and indicator of how open-minded you were and how broad were your interests, also crossing the borders of your profession and expertise. Being a Finn I don’t want to use superlatives or praise a person’s merits too much – you knew this well after living for a few years in Finland and learning the language – only would like to say that you were a unique person, even ‘extraordinary’ (the word which a few who knew you are using). I was happy to be your friend, that we enjoyed each other’s company and had a fruitful cooperation for years.
I’m honoured to have this tribute to You.
The Faroes heavy metal music is an example to show, even manifest, that Alyson Bailes was a character that you cannot put into a box. She was simply too bright (intelligent) and curious for that. Alyson Judith Kirtley Bailes was born on the 6th of April 1949 and died at the age of 67 of cancer on the 29th of April 2016. She had a rich life and a long, successful career.
It began in 1969, when Alyson joined the Foreign Office of the UK as a junior diplomat. After serving in several positions there, she later became the British Ambassador to Finland for about 30 years. She was not, however, looking for higher rank in diplomacy for its own sake and was curious and eager to do something else. As a surprise to many of her colleagues she jumped out of diplomatic circles and became the director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in 2002. The last 10 years or so she lived in Iceland and was teaching at the University of Iceland, and also a few times here at the University of Akureyri (UNAK). At the same time, she served as member in several boards of many academic institutions across Europe.
We were friends and colleagues.
Strange enough, I only met Alyson after her years of serving in Finland as Ambassador. I met her for the first time in 2007 in Reykjavik, a few months after she had moved to Iceland. Since then we cooperated until her health had already been dramatically weakened. I annually lectured on environmental politics and security in her course “Non-State Actors and Non-Military Security” which had a broad approach. She lectured on security institutions and non-state actors in my module “International Cooperation, Geopolitics, Security” at the Polar Law MA study program at UNAK.
She also invited me to become a speaker or panelist in several conferences, seminars, workshops she organized in Reykjavik. Correspondingly, she attended a few Northern Research Forum (NRF) open assemblies. I also invited her to become a member of the Editorial Board of the Arctic Yearbook, and she had already contributed to the Yearbook before.
I recall the first seminar on business and security in the North she invited me to as a speaker, alongside several senior scholars and former policy-makers. I had introductory remarks on “The Way Ahead: Challenges and Options in the Arctic.” I noticed that a part of the audience was not so happy with my talk because I hadn’t emphasized the role of NATO in the region. Alyson defended me by saying that Lassi meant that in addition to NATO, new non-military problems and challenges in the Arctic (pollution, climate change) are emphasized. Well, I didn’t really mean that; I had only emphasized new challenges. And Alyson guessed that, while acting as a middleman to get the two sides to agree – she had good skills for that.
Our cooperation was cumulative by nature, being much based on the theory of ‘functionalism’ (by David Mitrany) to start slowly aiming to build trust, and with more confidence the further you can go. After one year at UNAK, she asked me if I would consider, as I did, supervising an Icelandic PhD candidate, one of her former MA students. The paradox here is that, although there was no doubt she was highly qualified for being a supervisor, she didn’t have the formal mandate to do so. I later began supervising other PhD candidates that were Alyson’s students, and another, and another – and the first of those will defend her doctoral dissertation in December.
Alyson did this first of all for her students. She really liked her students: they were like her children (she didn’t have her own). I saw this several times, and was always impressed. It was touching to see how much she did for her students.
When it comes to substance areas – I don’t talk about theories, she didn’t emphasize, maybe not even believed in, any one theory, though diplomacy is all about the unified state system and ‘real politik’. She was an expert on security studies, particularly security- and military-policy, and foreign policy. Even more she became one of the best experts on small states and small state policies, because she liked the Nordic countries – she lived in Finland, Sweden and Iceland the last 15 years of her life. As well she much liked Scotland, where she bought her latest flat a few years before she passed away. In the last years, she was much talking about the flat and its renovation, and looking forward to living there.
When we met for the first time she was not really interested in the Arctic and did not do Arctic studies. After a few years, however, Alyson became interested in Arctic geopolitics – I think I might be partly guilty for that! Though she was one of the newcomers on the field, she did it her way, which much shows her high skills and experiences: she didn’t copy but applied her expertise on security and small states studies into Arctic security studies and those of Arctic geopolitics. Our joint book Strategy Papers on the Arctic or High North: A Comparative Study and Analysis is a nice example of that. Unfortunately, her time ended before we were able to finalize one more joint publication.
Those of you who did not know Alyson personally might think that she was first of all a hard worker. Well, she was a hard worker, but she also knew how to enjoy life and did that with style. Heavy metal music is already mentioned. She also sang in a chorus and studied foreign languages. She much liked travelling, not only for business but also for pleasure. Or, she used to combine the two things, when travelling she used to have a couple of extra days before or after a conference/seminar/workshop and rented a car to explore. For organizers she was a much-liked speaker both giving an excellent presentation and often covering a big part of her travelling costs by herself.
She had her own car in Reykjavik, and often when she picked me up from a hotel she apologized that the car was messy – indeed, it was full of scraps of food due to her latest excursion to some part of Iceland.
Well, she liked good food and wines. Our habit in those years was to have a joint lunch or dinner together, when I visited Reykjavik, with good food and wines, and good conversations. We hardly ate in the same restaurant twice, she wanted to test a new restaurant if only possible (in Reykjavik there were, and are, several new restaurants all the time). I much enjoyed myself having these restaurant tours with Alyson, and now miss these nice moments and her generous mind, her brilliance and good sense of humor.
Dear Alyson, have a peaceful rest!
We, who were lucky enough to know you, miss you. Your death, though we were prepared for that, was a big loss to us and the academic community. As tons of messages by your friends after your death show and manifest, we have nice memories and warm thoughts about you. We also know that you did more than anybody can expect for politics and academia, and to make the world a better place to live.
You are with us in our memories.
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