Population figures in Vardø have halved since the 1970s. It has left its mark on town. For a period, the town attracted a series of property speculators expecting the petroleum industry to create a new boom in East Finnmark. That were not to happen. The oil boom never came, and investors pulled out. Left behind are empty and in part derelict industrial facilities.
The municipality has spent a few millions on liquidating some of them, ye the mayor describes a challenging process to be able to continue cleaning up. Both regulations and the economy slow things down.
North Pole pub
Vardø seems perhaps more abandoned than usual during the pandemic, yet the people I meet confirm that terms such as generous and frank are descriptive of the local population.
At Nordpolen kro, the North Pole pub, which has been operative since 1864, opening hours are corona regulated during my stay. For a few hours in the middle of the day, people still meet for a cup of coffee. Meeting the proprietor Bjørn Bredesen is in and of itself worth the entire trip to Vardø.
He knows the town better than most, and all the wall space available at the historical North Pole pub is decorated with historic memorabilia.
At the mayor’s office, visiting Ørjan Jensen, answers about empty houses and abandoned shops are answered in a direct and affirmative way.
Yet he has a different vision, that mayor, one of restoring Vardø’s former glory as a fishery port. He has received state funding for a new breakwater already, there will be dredging and a new quay.
Wants more reward
He is not troubled by the American presence in the form of an increasing number of new radars monitoring the neighbor to the east. They provide jobs and income. But he wants the town that for centuries has taken on the role as front-line defender to be better rewarded.
He specifically points to how the radar makes it impossible to set up wind power in a landscape in which constant wind is an ever-present friend.
Watch the entire interview with Green Party Mayor Ørjan Jensen on top of this page. (English subtitles available.)
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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.