Gunnar's children Sarah and SimonGunnar's children Sarah and Simon

Meet Gunnar Somby, the only Sami in Serbia

As Sami people celebrate their National Day on February 6, we spoke with Gunnar about the rights and habits of Sami people, as well as his experiences from Belgrade.

Municipal administrative buildings in Norway are flying the Norwegian and the Sami flag on February 6. The municipalities have also prepared cultural performances to mark the Sami National Day. According to Gunnar, particularly notable is the celebration in Oslo which holds the largest Sami community in Norway. “The city government runs a reception for all Samis in the City Hall, so when I am in Oslo, this is where I would be together with my family. In the evening we would gather at home for a nice meal, very often reindeer meat.

February 6 marks the first Sami gathering which was held in Trondheim, Norway, in 1917, and celebrates the day when the Sami jointly set up a common framework for Sami questions and affairs across the national borders.

As an indigenous Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia, the Sami are the only indigenous people of Scandinavia recognized and protected under the international conventions of indigenous peoples, and are hence the northernmost indigenous people of Europe.

According to Gunnar, the Sami Parliament works well, and representatives are elected in the same manner as for the national parliament, but from local Sami political parties. “As with all politicians, there are disagreements and infighting between the different parties, but overall the parliament works very well, and is supporting and sponsoring activities strengthening the Sami culture.”

Being the only Sami in Belgrade seems to be exotic in a certain sense. Gunnar says that as a Norwegian he has always been treated very well in Serbia. But telling people that he is a Sami raises an additional interest, as they think this is something exotic, as he says. “People very often asks questions about the cold weather and the aurora borealis (Northern Lights). I also tell them about how it was growing up without sunlight during two winter-months, and the opposite two month period with midnight sun during summer,” Gunnar explains.

He came to Belgrade back in 2006, and started working for Telenor as a project manager. After many countries he had lived and worked previously, he found Serbia to be the best of all. “It has to do with the climate with its short winters, the excellent food and the good rakija, but mostly it is related to the people, who I find warm and friendly. In fact I have many very good local friends.”

Gunnar splits his time between Oslo and Belgrade, and is currently looking for a job in Belgrade. “Because of my vast international experience, I feel I could help and contribute to build an international marketplace for Serbian startup companies,” he concluded.


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