Svalbard has been under Norwegian administration since the Svalbard Treaty of 1921. Accordingly, the country had established an administrative apparatus in 1925 to ensure that all activities were conducted in accordance with the laws and articles of Norway and the Svalbard Treaty. This administrative unit was previously called “Sysselmannen” and usually translated as “Governor”. But in Norwegian, the title with -mannen nowadays is no longer conform. Therefore a new name was searched for and now found: Sysselmester.
According to the Ministry of Justice and Public Prepardnesss, the new name will be officially in use from July 1, 2021. Until then, the name “Sysselmannen” will still be the official description. The new name had been shortlisted after a long search and suggestions from the public and a language council and was later chosen by the responsible ministry. The change had become necessary after the Norwegian government had passed a law stipulating that public offices and designations should be gender-neutral by July 1 next year.
The change will cause quite a lot of work over the next months. Because not only the letterhead or mailbox will be re-labelled, but all public displays and mentions, vehicles, clothing with the emblem and the internet pages must be provided with the new name. It is assumed that not everything will be ready by July 1, as Minister of Justice Monica Maeland told the local newspaper Svalbardposten. But the joy of having found a suitable name for the administrative unit is great. Because the search for a suitable name had led to great headache and an official call during the name finding had also caused many mocking comments.
The new name is at least appreciated by the current head of the administration, Kjerstin Askholt, as she says to Svalbardposten She is only the second woman to head the administration in the 95-year history of the Sysselmannen. However, other commentators have already expressed their views in the other direction on the choice of words. The term “-mester”, which can be translated literally as “master”, is a bump in the road and is therefore considered by some to be politically even more incorrect and delicate. But in Norwegian, the word can also be translated as “chief” and refer to the title of the police chief, which describes part of the tasks of the Sysselmannen. All in all, however, the discussion is probably nothing more than quibbling, as the tasks will not change and the name will continue to be translated as “Governor” in German and other languages.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal