The Barents region is sparsely populated with approximately 5.3 million inhabitants living within its geographical territory, but it is nonetheless the most populous area in the Arctic. Each county has its own distinctive socio-economic and cultural features and each plays a specific role within the nation-state and the region as a whole. Due to the extreme climate and limited infrastructure, the population is largely concentrated to certain cities.
The two largest cities are Arkhangelsk and Murmansk in Russia, with 356 000 and 307 000 inhabitants respectively. The largest Nordic city in the region is Oulu, Finland, with 144 000 inhabitants, followed by Umeå, Sweden, with a population of 114 000.
The Barents region is home for several indigenous peoples - and has been for centuries. There are around 85 000 Sami inhabitants living in Sápmi, the traditional area of the Sami people, that comprises parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Around 7000 Nenets live in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, and approximately 6 000 Vepsians in the Republic of Karelia. In the Barents cooperation, these peoples are represented in the working group established by the Regional Council. In addition, the Komi people have their own representative in the group.
There is an overall goal in the Barents region to secure the rights of indigenous peoples as well as ensuring general welfare and attract people to the region in order to enhance the regional cooperation. The Barents Euro-Arctic Council has established several working groups contributing to this development.
Cultural preservation and cultural exchange are fundamental prerequisites for enhancing the Barents Cooperation and is therefore of high importance to the BEAC. Cultural activities contribute to cooperation by promoting the region as a whole, which consequently serves as an important tool to attract investment, create workplaces and thereby enhance peoples’ welfare. Furthermore, cultural exchange across national borders creates an understanding, tolerance and proximity between the people in the Barents region, which strengthens the prospect for further cooperation also on higher political level.