Dear High North News reader!
75 years ago, and after fierce fighting, Soviet forces from the Red Army marched across the border to the eastern parts of Finnmark County in Northern Norway and marked the beginning of the end for the German occupation of Norway, six months ahead of the rest of the country. Four Soviet soldiers appeared in the mines of the A/S Sydvaranger mining company near Bjørnevatn and said to the thousands who has sought refuge there: "You are free! Hoist the Norwegian Flag!"
The day was duly celebrated in Kirkenes, and those present included – amongst others – HRH King Harald V, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
At a joint press conference with the two foreign ministers, neither of them made any secret of there still being issues on which they disagree. "We never have and we never will threaten Norway's security", said Lavrov and continued: "However, NATO forces on Norwegian territory is something Russia has to respond to.
Ine Eriksen Søreide, on the other hand, raised the issue of GPS jamming occuring over the past few years, incidents for which Norwegian authorities have placed responsibilty firmly with Russia.
Both ministers nevertheless emphasize that Norway and Russia cooperate well in many areas.
One example of dialogue and "good neighborly relations" is the fact that Norway and Russia are resuming hitherto shelved talks about human rights.
It was further underlined by Lavrov's inviting Søreide to Russia next year "at her convenience".
"Perhaps we should stop nagging about lack of contact between Norway and Russia?" asks Arne O. Holm in his op-ed following the press conference.
Friday's commemoration is important for other reasons than the purely nostalgic ones too. The relationship between Russia and Norway, and also Russia and the West, is too often reduced to a kind of “New Cold War” in which fear, regulation violations and suspicion capture the headlines. In particular after 2014, which in this respect marks a new era when we speak about or discuss Russia.
However, the fact is that people-to-people cooperation between Norway and Russia, in particular in the High North, has always been good, whether we talk about cultural exchanges or business, despite the sanctions introduced against Russia following its annexation of the Crimea. Sadly, though, that does not lead to the sexiest headlines.
High North News has been present in Kirkenes during the Neighborhood conference, the lead-up to the liberation anniversary.
“[The Neighborhood conference is] Important because it reminds us that the border between Norway and Russia is a peaceful one. That is a rather notable exception along the borders of the Soviet Union and Russia. We should be on guard against basing our security policy analyses on conflicts elsewhere in the world. Not all experiences are transferable from southern to northern borders”, our Editor-in-Chief Arne O. Holm writes in his Friday op-ed.
It is all about people
We have a.o. met Trond Eriksen, grandchild of Trygve Eriksen from Kiberg, Finnmark. Eriksen sr. was awarded the Soviet Union’s Red Star for his liberation fight, though the Norwegian government has never recognized the efforts of the Norwegian partisans. – Stortinget [the Norwegian parliament] has let people down and it is about time to set the table straight, says Eriksen’s grandson to High North News.
There is also Alexandr Feduhin (61), who saw eight of his relatives being sent to the front and disappear. 75 years after the end of the war, he is volunteering to dig out fallen soldiers from the bloody battles on the Litsa front. Feduhin himself has found 70 persons who fell in battle, but who never got a proper burial until now.
One can only hope that more of these stories will finally get their well-deserved place in news history, with 100 press representatives present in Kirkenes to cover the liberation anniversary. I fear, however, that it will be overshadowed by a certain Norwegian convicted of espionage, who allegedly will be shown clemency in the very near future and return to his family in Finnmark.
The Frode Berg case is a most embarrassing case for Norwegian authorities, and both Norway and Russia are keen for it to be resolved. It is also without doubt an important case for the local community in Kirkenes, where Berg lives.
Today, however, I hope that the press focuses on the reason why it is there; a tribute to our good neighbors in the East who came to our rescue in a most difficult time.
They deserve it.
Ever more about Greenland
Last week’s newsletter was largely dedicated to Greenland. This week, we follow up with an exclusive interview with Greenland’s former premier Kuupik Kleist, where he frankly and candidly – and for the very first time – reflects upon Trumps infamous offer to buy Greenland.
“What is it that one in fact is selling? One is selling the soul to the devil," he says – amongst others.
In part two of the interview, he talks about the Danish Realm, exactly ten years after he introduced self-rule on Greenland.
“Unfortunately, the Act on Self Government has since then only been implemented by something like a half percent. The subsequent governments have done everything they can to eliminate those initiatives which my government started, such as taking over of fields of responsibilities from Denmark,” he says.
Brought the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic
We have not quite let go of Arctic Circle this week either.
Astonishingly enough, delegates from Fiji and Niue were also present in Reykjavik. Or perhaps not that astonishing? They argue that one can draw clear parallels between the Pacific and the Arctic.
Iceland, Fiji and Niue are all three small island states with large maritime zones. All three are completely dependent on the fishing industry, struggle with employment levels and are very much affected by climate changes, which in turn leads to changes in fish stocks and ocean levels.
Another similarity is the fact that they are not heard in the larger global debates. “We need to look after the people who are sinking under the ocean,” said Fiji’s Fisheries Minister Semi Koroilavesau to High North News.
“To us, this is a chance to build empathy for the challenges posed by climate change for Pacific nations. It is an opportunity to enable people to understand our situation and where we come from,” Dalton Telagi, Niue’s Minister of Natural Resources, added.
The questions about whether the Arctic Council shall discuss security politics is regularly raised off-the-record.
During this year’s conference in Reykjavik, however, it reached the main stage. Iceland’s PM Katrin Jakobsdottir even revealed that she had discussed the issue with US Energy Minister Rick Perry. But many fear that this will impede the Arctic Council as a forum for dialogue and cooperation.
This week’s potpourri
Other stories from this week that we would like to mention:
While shipments of oil and gas are booming in the Arctic, the Northern Sea Route has seen little interest from global container shipping companies. Now Russia is studying the possibility of a state-run operator, effectively subsidizing container shipping along the route.
Justin Trudeau gets to continue as Prime Minister in Canada, even though he performed worse in last Monday’s elections than he did four years ago. But northern Canada was barely mentioned during the election. Only Justin Trudeau visited the High North during his campaign, though it did not help – he lost Nunavut.
High North News wishes you all the best for your weekend from 67 degrees North!
Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke
News Editor, High North News