With its geographic position and dependency on natural resources Finnmark has played an important role in international politics, especially related to the North Calotte, the Barents Region and Northwest Russia. Therefore Finnmark County has had a wide co-operation with the Russian counties Murmansk since 1987 and Archangel since 1990.
Finnmark is situated in the extreme North East of the country. Of all the counties in Norway, it has the largest area and the fewest inhabitants. Finnmark borders on the Arctic Ocean, The Barent Sea, Finland, Russia and Troms County.
Population of the Finnmark is 74 534 (1.3.2013). Most of the population live along the coast. However, the indigenous people - the saami that constitutes about 10% of the population - has a special status with its institutions, and live mainly in the inland. 5% of the population in Finnmark are of recent foreign origin, and mainly from Russia and Finland.
The Sami people constitute the majority in Finnmark’s interior parts, while the fjord areas have been ethnically mixed for a long time. The Finnic Kven residents of Finnmark are largely descendants of Finnish immigrants who arrived in the area during the 19th centuryor before from Finland, suffering from famine and war.
The municipalities in Finnmark are: Alta, Berlevåg, Båtsfjord, Gamvik, Hammerfest, Hasvik, Kárášjohka or Karasjok, Guovdageaidnu or Kautokeino, Kvalsund, Lebesby, Loppa, Måsøy, Unjárga or Nesseby, Nordkapp, Porsanger or Porsángu or Porsanki, SørVaranger, Deatnu or Tana, Vadsø and Vardø.
Vadsø is the county capital and the centre of state administration. Important towns in Finnmark:
- Alta, with 19.282 inhabitants (2012)
- Hammerfest, with 9.934 inhabitants (2012)
- Honningsvåg, with 2.436 inhabitants (2012)
- Kirkenes, with 9.860 inhabitants (2012, Sør-Varanger Municipality)
- Vardø, with 2.122 inhabitants (2012)
- Vadsø, with 6.125 inhabitants (2012)
The oldest towns are Vardø, founded in 1789, Hammerfest 1789 and Vadsø 1833. Kirkenes is the border town, and is an important communication centre at the only border between Norway and Russia. Area: 48.649 km2.
Finnmark is on the same latitude as Siberia, Greenland and Alaska, but thanks to the Gulf Stream, the harbours along the coast of Finnmark do not freeze over and the area enjoys mostly mild winters. There is a lot of snowfall in the winter, but many parts of this region are surrounded by mountains which provide shelter from the winds and cold from the sea. In the inland areas, near the Finnish border, it can get extremely cold in the winter, with dry and warm summers – the weather and temperatures can change quickly throughout the entire region.
Situated far north of the Arctic circle, Finnmark has midnight sun from middle of May until late July. And in two months of the winter, from late November to late January, the county experiences polar nights where the sun is always below the horizon. As a consequence, there is continuous daylight from early May to early August.
The coast borders on the rich fishing grounds of the Barents Sea, and the ocean is home to a multitude of bird species. The most significant water bird areas are protected as natural reserves. The fjords harbour forests of the characteristic Mountain Birch. Some of Europe’s most notable salmon rivers (for example Tana) are in Finnmark. Salmon fishing, agriculture and utilization of rough pasture form the basis of life in the valleys. The most important agricultural areas are currently in the Tana, Alta and Pasvik valleys.
The Stabbursdalen National Park has the world’s northernmost pine forest. The pine forest along the upper Tana River and Kárá-Johka and the Anárjohka is an extension of the great Finnish forests, while that of Pasvik valley is a northern pocket of the Russian taiga. This is bear territory and the elk’s winter habitat. Parts of these forests are protected national parks.
Primary industries are fishing, fish processing, sea farming, travel, reindeer herding, mining, tourism and services. The very cornerstone of habitation in Finnmark is the fishing industry.
A major challenge in years to come will be to exploit petroleum and gas in the area. It is eagerly anticipated that the development of the Snøhvit plant on Melkøya outside Hammerfest will lead to economic development that will filter through to other business sectors, generating growth and boosting employment and population in the county.
Reindeer herding is intrinsic to Sami culture and identity. In Finnmark more than 2 000 people are somehow associated with reindeer husbandry, a number that has been stable for a while, although the number of units as well as the number of reindeer has decreased. Depleted pastures in many areas have complicated matters, and herds have had to be cut back from 200 000 head in 1988/89 to 103 000 head in 2001.
Among strategic aims for Finnmark’s travel industry in 2000-2005 it is envisaged that "Finnmark should be an attractive destination all year round, that it should have a clear cut and unambiguous image based on arctic food and culture." Developing a basis for winter tourism is just as important as increasing the flow of tourists to Finnmark during the summer season.
There has been also discussions on establishing a special industrial zone in the Norwegian-Russian borderland where the fjords of Jarfjord and Pechenga becomes the centrepiece of a Norwegian-Russian zone with exclusive regulations on customs, taxation, visa and business development.
In Finnmark distances are huge, and public transport is well developed. You can travel by air, by sea on ships and catamarans, by bus and on good roads. Lines of communication with Russia are well developed.
There are 11 civil airports. There are several smaller airports (with flights to Tromsø), but only Alta and Kirkenes have airports with direct flights to Oslo.
Education in Finnmark is well organised and decen¬tralised, both for children and at upper secondary school and college levels. It is possible to study "Reindeer husbandry" in Kautokeino and "Fishing, hunting and processing" in Honningsvåg and in Vardø. The college "Høgskolen i Finnmark" in Alta and the Sami college "Sámi Allaskuvla" in Kautokeino offer decentralised education within a number of disciplines, in collaboration with the University of Tromsø.
There are many practitioners of handicraft in the county. Sami handicrafts, called "duodji" have deep-seated traditions, which should at all cost be passed on to future generations. Choirs and wind orchestras are active in most communities, while professional musicians in the institution Music in Finnmark collaborate with local musicians. The Varanger Festival, which is held every August in Vadsø, is the northernmost jazz festival in Europe. Lots of children and youngsters busy themselves with cultural activities in their spare time, and about 250 of them participate in the "Young People’s Cultural Review" every year.
In Kautokeino there is the Beaivvaš Sámi theatre, while the Hålogaland Theatre in Tromsø makes a tour of the county every year. In addition, there are three independent theatres and dance companies in Finnmark, the Samovar Theatre in Kirkenes, the Stellaris ballet company in Hammerfest and the Theatre Factory in Vadsø.
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