Kirkenes: New research findings debunk the notion that Northern Norwegians have other attitudes towards Russia than people in the south of Norway – and that they would thus be more naive when dealing with the neighboring country in the northeast.
Are Northern Norwegians more naive when dealing with Russia than most Norwegians?
Researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR) at OsloMet have addressed this assumption by analyzing a nationwide survey with 1165 respondents. The survey was carried out in December last year and is part of the RE: Barents research project.
Last week, they presented their findings in Kirkenes under the title "What does proximity to the border means for Norwegian attitudes to Russia, Russians, and Norwegian Russia policy?"
"The 'Northern Norwegian myth' is not supported in the data material. There is no difference between Southern Norway and Northern Norway when it comes to attitudes toward Russia. But living in Eastern Finnmark and being in close proximity to the border has a certain significance," says Aadne Aasland, NIBR researcher, and RE: Barents leader.
Despite the closer contact with the Russian side in the north – which is natural due to the geographical proximity – the attitudes to the neighboring country are quite similar among all Norwegians.
"All over the country, people also have a desire for good neighborly relations and contact with Russia. At the same time, they operate with a clear divide between the Russian regime and ordinary Russians – and they are very skeptical of the regime. There is also great support for Ukraine and the Norwegian Russia policy in the population, continues Aasland.
"If it is naive to want a good neighborly relationship, the entire Norwegian population largely shares this naivety," writes Aasland and his colleague Marte Handå Myhre, Postdoctoral Researcher at NIBR, in an op-ed in Nordnorsk debatt.
The researchers distinguish between three populations in the study: people in Northern Norway, people in Southern Norway (the rest of the country), and people in Eastern Finnmark. The latter group is included in both the first group and has also been separated with an independent group of 100 respondents to explore if the proximity to the Russian border has a particular significance.
"Proximity to the Norwegian-Russian border, i.e. residence in Eastern Finnmark, first seems to have a certain impact on attitudes regarding some of the questions we asked, but when we use the background analysis to control the answers we find that the differences can be explained by the degree of Russian interest and contact, writes the researchers and continues:
"How interested people are in Russia, whether they have Russian family and if they have visited our eastern neighbor several times, seem to affect the answers in a more 'Russia-oriented' direction. When we control for such circumstances, there are no differences between people in Eastern Finnmark and people in the rest of the country."
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.