Border Municipality Will Not Terminate Russian Friendship City Agreements

Lena Norum Bergeng. Foto Hogne Bø Pettersen, NOS.
Mayor of the border municipality Sør-Varanger in Northern Norway, Lena Norum Bergeng (Labour), gave an emotional speech at the Kirkenes Conference 2022 on the fatal Thursday the war in Ukraine was a fact, where she emphasized the importance of friendship with the Russian people. (Photo: Hogne Bø Pettersen/The High North Center for Business and Governance)

The border municipality Sør-Varanger in Northern Norway is keeping its friendship agreements with the Russian cities Petsjenga and Severomorsk, but the cooperation will still be on hold. "We do not sanction against the Russian people," says Odne Stunes in the Finnmark Labour Party.

The border municipality Sør-Varanger in Northern Norway will not terminate its friendship agreements with the Russian cities Petsjenga and Severomorsk. That was decided during the municipality council in Sør-Varanger last Wednesday.

The proposal to terminate the agreements was put forward by the Conservative Party. The proposal failed with 21 votes. The cooperation agreements are currently on hold.

Those who votes against terminating the friendship agreements were the Socalist Left Party, the Centre Party, the Labour Party, the Red Party, and the Progress Party. The Conservative Party and the Green Party voted in favor.

In addition to terminating the friendship agreements with Murmansk and Petsjenga, the right-wing politician in Sør-Varanger municipality Brede Sæther also wanted to remove Russian signs, as well as to raise the Ukrainian flag outside the town hall in Kirkenes and on the Hurtigrute quay until the war in Ukraine is over.

All proposals failed.

Sør-Varanger cannot be a supporter of Putin's regime.
Brede Sæther, Sør-Varanger Conservative Party

Ahead of the vote, Sæther took a tough stance on local politicians in Sør-Varanger and believed that all agreements with Russia are part of Vladimir Putin's propaganda and are therefore directly supporting the regime.

"Sør-Varanger cannot and will not be a supporter of Putin's regime. If we do not terminate our friendship agreement with both Petsjenga and Severomorsk, we support the despot Putin and his regime," said Sæther.

Against own values

The Conservative Party met resistance from the Labour Party, among others, which was clear that imposing sanctions on the Russian people is not a positive contribution. 

Odne Stunes from the Finnmark Labour Party also reacted to the rhetoric at the meeting and the direction it has taken in society in general recently and reminded the city council that the Norwegian government has not distanced itself from the friendship agreements.

"The Norwegian state has not terminated any bilateral agreements either," said Stunes.

Odne Stunes
Odne Stunes i Finnmark Arbeiderparti. (Foto: Ap)
Odne Stunes, Finnmark Labour Party (Photo: the Labour Party)

"People in Nordland and Finnmark county are portrayed as naive in this debate if they do not have a black-and-white view on this issue. We will not continue that narrative. It is empty rhetoric. And it is used everywhere where one is trying to polarize positions and views on the matter," said the Labour politician.

He reminded the council that Norway will still be neighbors with the Russian people when the war is over.

"Then all contributions will be important for the re-establishment of cooperation between people."

Hopes to resume contact

The agreements Northern Norwegian cities have with Russia have been a hot topic the last few weeks after Tromsø municipality unanimously chose to terminate their friendship agreements with Murmansk and Arkhangelsk.

Shortly afterward, Bodø municipality announced that they ar keeping their agreement with Vyborg, and will rather continue to keep their agreement on hold.

"We are choosing to put the agreement on hold in the hope that we will end the war and that we can talk together again," said Bodø Mayor Ida Pinnerød.

Wants to cut off

Although Harstad has frozen the cooperation with Kirovsk, Mayor Kari-Anne Opsal (Labour) now wants to cut off the friendship city agreement completely.

"I myself have never been to Kirovsk, nor has anyone else from the municipality been in official duty for years. When I now want the municipality to discuss the matter, one of the topics will be whether we should cut or discontinue the entire friendship agreement," says Opsal to Harstad Tidende.


The Norwegian state has not terminated any bilateral agreements either
Odne Stunes, Finnmark Labour Party

In Narvik municipality, a hearing is now taking place regarding the suspension of the friendship agreement with the Russian city Kingisepp, at the request of Mayor Rune Edvardsen (Labour).

The hearing will be completed before the municipality council on the 17th of November, says Councillor Lars Skjønnås to Fremover.

"We are happy to discuss an end, but I am a bit uncertain what effect it will have later if the cooperation is already discontinued," says Socialist Left Party Politician Vegard Lind-Jæger.


Rana municipality is evaluating its friendly ties with Petrozavodsk and in Sortland, Green Party Politician Toine C. Sannes wants to terminate the agreement with the city of Montsjegorsk.

Moss municipality also chose to put the friendship with the Russian city Novgorod on hold in March, following a request from the Ukrainian embassy.

Kautokeino's Mayor, Hans Isak Olsen, thought in March that it was wise to freeze the relationship with the friendship city Narjan mar at an authority level. 

Rovaniemi in Finland and Szcecin in Poland have both without doubt terminated similar agreements with Murmansk, both after the 24th of February.

Other Northern Norwegian municipalities with Russian friendship cities are:

  • Vardø - Severomorsk
  • Hamarøy - Kirishi
  • Gildeskål - Lodeynoye Pole
  • Vefsn - Volkhov
  • Steigen - Podporodge
  • Ballangen -Tosno
  • Alta - Apatity

Friendship city:

  • A friendship city - also calle Sister City or Twin Town - relationship is a form of cooperation between two geographically and politically distinct localities for the purpose of promoting human contact and cultural ties.
  •  The modern concept was first established and adopted worldwide during World War II.

  • In many Nordic countries, many friendship cities were established in the 1940s-1950s to strengthen Nordic contact.

  • The aim was, as mentioned, to make contact and exchange culture. This was supposed to have a conciliatory effect on states and cities that had previously been enemies. It would also encourage trade and tourism.

  • In modern times, friendship city agreements have increasingly been used to create strategic and international connections between cities.

  • Two friendship cities often, but not always, have similar characteristics: similar geographic conditions, similar history or industry, and friendship cities often have roughly the same population size. 

  • In order to strengthen the European identity, the European Union has since 1989 given financial support to project linked to European friendship cities.


Source: Wikipedia

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.