November 12, 2019
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Sommarøy: The island that wants to abolish time

By Anxo Lamela

Copenhagen, Jun 24 (efe-epa).- Inhabitants of the Arctic Norwegian island of Sommarøy have launched a campaign to become the world's first time-free zone in a bid to adopt a more spontaneous way of life during their 70-day-long period of sustained sunlight.

Every year from May 18-July 26, the people of Sommarøy enjoy 24 hours of sunlight, something that affects the lives of islanders and has led them to launch a petition, created by local Kjell Ove Hveding, and which aims to establish a more flexible system that accounts for their curious circumstances.

"Over these years I have met many people who would complain about being tired and of not having time and that made me think: how do I live?" said Hveding, who decided in autumn to take a pause from his corporate lifestyle in a bid to "recover lost time."

"I took a decision to remove my watch," the 35-year-old told Efe in a telephone interview.

Hveding started rallying fellow locals during the winter to try and get them on board with his campaign.

During the cold and dark winter months many escape to the Spanish island of Gran Canaria to ail their bouts of depression, he added.

The just-under-400 people who inhabit the island, which is some 50 kilometers from Tromsø, asked themselves what it meant for them to enjoy sunlight throughout the summer.

"It means nothing, it is almost ridiculous," Hveding said.

During the summer the islanders, like citizens of other Arctic regions, live at a very different pace.

Domestic chores, such as painting the house or mowing the lawn are often done at dawn and timetables are considerably more relaxed.

"If young people in Oslo did what ours did, someone would have called the police to go and search for them," the Norwegian joked.

"For us, it is so natural for them to not have a curfew. We can't ask them to return when night falls, because then we wouldn't see them until August," he added.

And so, in a bid to formalize the peculiar circumstances and lifestyle in Sommarøy during these months, they started meeting regularly and contacted a government innovation and tourism agency for an expert opinion.

By the end of May, the neighbors agreed at an assembly that they would launch a petition and send it to the central Oslo government requesting for their island to be declared the world's first time-free zone.

Hvedig traveled to the capital to hand in the petition to a member of Parliament, with lawmakers now set to debate the initiative after the summer break.

"What we want is more flexibility over when schools should open, and working hours," the activist continued.

Although the petition focuses on the summer months, the idea would be to extend it to the rest of the year when light is scarce.

Core to the project's philosophy is the notion that life should be less stressful and people should be more impulsive.

Neighbors have launched groups on social media sites where they organize midnight activities, for example.

"We have a unique energy, we are so fortunate," Hveding said.

As the petition has gained momentum, many other Arctic communities have backed the initiative and shown much interest in it.

The concept of becoming time-free has taken the symbolic form of people discarding their watches and tying them onto a bridge, like what happens in Prague (Czech Republic) and Krakow (Poland) where tourists put padlocks on them.

Neighbors have launched the tradition on a bridge that connects the timeless island with Brensholemn on the island of Kvaløya and they encourage tourists to follow suit and abandon time whilst on the island.

As the islanders say in their campaign video: "We do what we want, when we want."

"We hope more people come to visit us, but under our premise that they should come to enjoy the area, not just consume," Hvedig concluded. EFE-EPA

alc/ch/sh

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