WELCOME TO BORDERLAND
As the affairs of Norway and Russia are getting more and more intertwined, the borderland is where these intertwinings find their physical form. It is the showcase of the Russian-Norwegian relationships, and a micro cosmos of the grand Barents region. This is where the petroleum establishment in Norway has found its new playground. This is where the power struggle between the Russian military, FSB and its new energy elite will prove who is on top. This is where mining giants find the origin of their billion dollar profits. And at the same time it is home to more than 53,000 border citizens.
The borderland has been the stage for world wars, border disputes, cold war tension and a continuous experiment in control and surveillance. But in spite of this, ties across the borders have prevailed throughout history. It is now time to see what the border citizens have long seen: the borderland as one.
A TURNING POINT
The borderland bears many different meanings: a politically supercharged area, an international system cocktail, a militarized territory, a common historic landscape and an increasingly strategic space in the development of the Barents Sea. The time that can become the turning point in history, when the rationale of the border towns merge with the national state’s agenda, is slowly emerging.
The borderland team, Oslo and Nikel, December 2009
(The following pages present excerpts from an ongoing project by 0047 on the Norwegian-Russian borderland)
The rebuilding of Nikel and Kirkenes after the WW2 destruction made the ideological divide between east and west subject to architecture. Whereas the reconstruction of Kirkenes and Finnmark produced single family houses with garden plots, what happened on the other side of the border was hard-core Soviet style modernism. The border towns became showcases for their respective states. Bilateral school visits were the means to display the superiority of each society. Zapolyarny was built from scratch in 1953. It was a Soviet ideal place, a workers’ paradise. Tempted by high wages, long holidays and social and cultural services, young soviet citizens set off to the outskirts of the nation to realise a collective mega project.
While the Finnmark reconstruction was the most complex and comprehensive construction project in Norway during the 20th century, the Soviet post-war urbanization was tenfold the undertaking. The legacy of these major urban experiments constitutes the framework of the border town urbanity of today.
PLAYGROUND FOR MINING GIANTS
The border towns share the same historical point of departure: all are or have been homogeneous company towns in which everything circled around the mining operations. While Kirkenes took off in a new direction after the mining ended in 1996, the Russian border towns Nikel and Zapolyarny still remain company towns, solely dependent on the activity of Kolskaya GMK, a subsidiary of the global mining giant Norilsk Nickel. In Kirkenes, however, China’s need for iron has made it possible to restart mining and the town is again a part of the borderland mining complex.
The border towns are situated in a complex landscape of international treaties and politics. The borderland is the place where NATO meets Russia, NATO meets Finland, Schengen meets Russia, the EU meets Norway and the EU meets Russia. The three time zones in the area add to the complexity.
The border areas have constantly felt the presence of big politics, from religious feuds to large geopolitical conflicts. The political desire to control has led to minute exercising of surveillance and limitations of movement for the borderland population throughout history. The constant change of frameworks has effectively reduced the fulfilment of the transborder potential. The unpredictability has caused reason for restrictiveness in planning and investing. It is a pendulum state of being, between open and closed, between interaction and separation.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the border crossings increased substantially. The number of people crossing the Norwegian-Russian border increased by more than 887 % (!) from 1990 to 1992.
In 2006 The FSB (Federal Security Service) established a 25 km Special security zone along the Russian border. Nikel, Zapolyarny and Pechenga were all located within the zone, and were closed for all visitors without a special border zone permit. The towns were swallowed in a territorial experiment of control, their interaction with the outside world (Norway) reduced. Visitors who did get access were under surveillance, visited in early hours in their hotel rooms by intimidating agents. In 2008 the FSB reopened the three border towns for regular traffic. However, the Pechenga Bay and the settlement of Liinahamari remain closed areas.
Russians and Norwegians are now working on a new border pass that would apply for locals living within 30 km from the border (on both sides). The new regime, when put in place, will create a transnational group of 53,000 border citizens who can freely cross the border, creating flexible solutions for a cross border job market and cross border shopping of culture, goods, education, entertainment and life styles.
(But as borderland waits for Moscow-Oslo law making, some take matters in their own hands. And as so many times before, culture is the avant-garde. The arts festival Barents Spektakel defines this space in a new way, using the towns of Nikel and Kirkenes as a common transnational arena for art and culture, a precedent to what will surely come. )
During the construction of hydro electric power stations along the border in the fifties, the Soviet Union gave Norwegians the opportunity to visit a small area in Boris Gleb without needing a visa. At this place was a bar, hotel and a store that sold cheap liquor and cigarettes. Kirkenes had no liquor shop at the time and Boris Gleb therefore became a sought-after destination for the locals. Being in the vicinity it made travelling easy and there was no limitation on how many times one could cross the border in the course of a day. The Soviets wished to extend the arrangement, but Norway said no, fearing Soviet agents used the place to rendezvous with their Norwegian contacts. But for 59 lively days during the Cold War the population flooded across the border to benefit from the cheap goods.
From Kirkenes in the west, towards Pechenga and Murmansk in the east, new relations are being established between governments, between companies and between people. The Barents coastal line will become a theatre of industry of which the map is currently drawn. The activity in the Barents Sea has and will with increasing force put focus on deep-water and ice-free coastal areas along the Barents Sea coast. Sooner or later the action will hit the part of the region where Norway meets Russia. Then the border areas can prove to be too valuable to remain in a gridlock of the military and FSB.
The border control is increasingly becoming an unnecessary obstacle, an illogical anachronism, and the control of the border citizens a thing of the past. The idea to create buffers to no-man’s-land corresponds poorly with the ongoing regional development. Given an open border and focus on trans-national infrastructures, the borderland can develop into a synergistic core area of the Barents region.
0047 is a platform for projects, exhibitions, publications and events in and in between the fields of art and architecture. 0047 is based in Oslo, Norway.