Barents Anniversary 2013

This year we are marking the 20th Anniversary of the Barents Cooperation. The festivities started in January 2013 in Kirkenes at the same venue where the Foreign Ministers of the Barents member states signed the Kirkenes Declaration on 11th January 1993. A conference was held that reflected on the achievements of the 20-year work and on the challenges ahead. It is worth mentioning that the forerunner of the Barents Cooperation was the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who held an important speech in 1987 in Murmansk stating the willingness to rebuild interstate relations in the High North. The then Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorvald Stoltenberg, a man of vision, seized the opportunity and launched an initiative aimed at establishing a new kind of multilateral cooperation, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. The passing of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union were developments that hastened the emergence of the Barents Cooperation.

Today, over 20 years later, it is obvious that a number of issues listed by Gorbachev in 1987 have been dealt with quite successfully: the threat of nuclear war has eased off; grave environmental concerns are being addressed in North-West Russia; regional cooperation is being conducted. The significance of the Northern Sea Route is on the increase. There are also expectations that have not been met which relate foremost to economic cooperation and production of oil and gas at the Barents Sea. It is though a fact that offshore activities remain beyond the land-based Barents Cooperation.

It should be noted that the former Finnish Foreign Minister Paavo Väyrynen was the only one of the signatories of the Kirkenes Declaration present at the mentioned conference last January. In a compelling presentation he outlined the developments in Europe that led to the establishment of the Barents Cooperation.

The “Barents Spektakel” week organized annually in early February in Kirkenes fell this year on the Day of the Sami people. The visit of HRH Crown Prince Haakon Magnus added some glamour to the many Barents-related events and fetes under the auspices of the “Spektakel”. The Norwegian Minister of Transport and Communications Marit Arnstad gave the opening speech at the “Kirkenes Conference” that was arranged already the sixth time. As always, the “Barents Spektakel” illustrated the importance of the people-to-people cooperation in various ways.

The Joint Working Group on Health and Related Social Issues organized on 20th March 2013 in Kirkenes a symposium to mark the 20 years of cooperation in this field. It is self-evident that this working group has achieved a great deal in its activities such as programmes on combating HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and on alleviating the situation of children and youth at risk. The Joint Working Group on Culture is also expected to mark the 20th anniversary of the Barents Cooperation.
However, the most important Barents anniversary event is still ahead: the Prime Ministers of Norway, Finland, Russia and Sweden are expected to meet on 3-4th June in Kirkenes. Understandably this “Barents summit” is a major undertaking not least from the logistic point of view. There will be i.e. an outdoor concert for all participants and local residents alike. By far the most interesting thing is a new Kirkenes Declaration now under preparation. The intention is not to replace the original one nor to revise its wording but to take a glance at future challenges and to give fresh impetus to cooperation. By all appearances, we have reason to be confident of the further development of the Barents Cooperation.
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Kirkenes in February 2013. Photos by Arto Vitikka / Arctic Centre

 Text by Ari Sirén, IBS

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