50: Living on the Russian Border

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Life in Norway Show Episode #50: The editor of Norway's Barents Observer joins us to talk about life in Kirkenes on the border of Norway, Russia and Finland.

High up in the country’s far northeastern corner, Norway shares a border with both Finland and Russia. From political tensions to climate change, the Barents region is full of fascinating stories.

Thomas Nilsen of the Barents Observer in Kirkenes, Norway
Thomas Nilsen of the Barents Observer

Since 2002, the Barents Observer has been reporting from the region in both English and Russian. Today I’m joined by its editor, Thomas Nilsen.

We talk about some of the big issues in the high north, Norway’s relationship with Russia and what it’s like to live in Kirkenes within a few miles of the borders.

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About Thomas

Thomas has long experience in media cooperation across the borders in the high north of Europe, both as a radio and newspaper reporter all the way back to the days of the Soviet Union.

Read more: The Norway-Russia Border

He has travelled extensively in the Barents Region and northern Russia since the late 1980’s working for different media and organisations.

He is also a guide at sea and in remote locations in the Russian north for various groups and regularly lectures on security issues, environmental and socio-economic development in the Barents Region.

Thomas on the Russian border
Thomas Nilsen at a Norway-Russia border post

Introducing the Barents Observer

Founded by Thomas' colleague Atle Staalesen in 2002, the original Barents Observer was created to give a more local perspective on news in the region. Today the Barents Observer is a journalist-owned online newspaper.

With a devotion to cross-border journalism, dialogue and mutual understanding, the Barents Observer provides daily news reports from and about Scandinavia, Russia and the circumpolar Arctic.

But that work isn't always easy! The newspaper website is blocked in Russia at the time of writing and their journalists sometimes face difficulties when reaching out to sources.

Living in Kirkenes

Everyday life in Kirkenes is heavily influenced by the town’s proximity to Russia, with bilingual street signs among other obvious influences.

Guests leaving the MS Vesterålen at Kirkenes
Hurtigruten passengers arriving in Kirkenes, Norway.

Regarding Norway-Russia relations on the ground, Thomas describes Kirkenes as a very peaceful place. “There are a lot of Russians coming here for shipping, and a lot of Norwegians who go to Murmansk. It is a good relationship between the people.”

However, while Thomas says they don't see the issues on the street, they do feel the increasing tensions in the area.

“As a consequence of higher tensions between NATO and Russia, mainly between the United States and Russia, we have seen more tensions in the Arctic. There are more military flights, more submarine and warship sailings, both from Russia and NATO,” he says.

Links from the show

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Life in Norway Show Living in Kirkenes

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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