Commentary: Last winter, I traveled Northern Norway for three months. It was a journey in the shadow of the pandemic. Now, I start a new tour under the label of “The High North Tour”. This time, in the shadow of a war.
On 15 February last year, I started a journey through a shut-down Northern Norway. I wanted to talk to people affected by the ongoing pandemic, yet still absent from the news flow. The restrictions hit us; however, the pandemic was more absent.
Not all borders are open
The borders to our neighboring countries were shut, businesses struggled with in-migration restrictions. There were no more meeting places.
However, there was a life behind the statistics that told a story of a mortal pandemic affecting everything we did. Some kept the wheels running. These were the stories I wanted to tell when I last winter hit the road in a mobile newsroom.
Now the High North Tour goes on, however, this time not quite as planned.
The pandemic has, at least, withdrawn. The borders are open.
Compassion is mixed with fear for our own border
But not all of them.
This year, the trip was to go to Northwestern Russia. I was to spend a few months on the road among our Russian friends on the other side of our shared border.
Eyes towards the Arctic
That was not to happen.
The pandemic was replaced by an inhuman and incomprehensible war right in the middle of Europe.
Even though the brutality of war plays out a bit away from the Arctic and the High North, Russia borders on several Arctic countries. That is why the news coverage is different this time around.
The gaze is also very much directed towards the Arctic.
American generals point to the Arctic when they are to describe the international vulnerability. Norwegian defense chiefs point to the High North, the government’s crisis packages – both civilian as well as military – look north towards the border against Russia when what was once long-term plans are no longer good even for the next few days.
The history should also be told from the North
Researchers fight over who was right and who was wrong. State finances, which were already strained during the pandemic, reach for new and unknown highs as the Russian war machinery continues its uncontrolled journey into and through Ukraine.
Businesses along the Norwegian border towards Russia in the North depend on public breathing assistance to replace their loss of Russian customers.
Shut-down refugee reception centers are re-opened at breakneck pace.
A new everyday life
Compassion with the suffering Ukrainian people is mixed with border residents’ fear for how the war may develop along their border.
This year’s “The High North Tour” today heads for Kirkenes, the town that from our political leaders is described as the frontline against Russian aggression. For some weeks, and later months, it will move around people who live along the border. Norwegians, Finns, Swedes.
In a number of different ways, everyone who live in the North have woken up to a new everyday life, one that has taken a different direction. Perhaps towards a lasting change of Europe.
These are the people I hope to bring into our online newspaper. A business sector that once again has to readjust, artists who can no longer move into Russia, soldiers and officers who right now are training to prepare for war in the High North, ordinary people who are to fight for attention in national budgets that are certain to find new multi-billion funds for the Armed Forces.
I am grateful for all input from our readers.
We are writing history these days. It should also be told from the North.
This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.