Just past the tracking gates for radioactive substances, on the Norwegian side of the border crossing to Russia, Ørjan Nilsen runs a souvenir shop. Here, high inside the Arctic Circle, the hand-painted matroshkas depicting Vladimir Putin (75 euros) have been unsaleable since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “No one wants them anymore,” he says with a sour smile. “I don’t really do that anymore either.” Why does he still have the Putin doll on the shelf? Nilsen opens the wooden casings one by one until he reaches the figure of Stalin. “Look,” he says. “Putin’s true nature.”
It was Liberation Day in Norway on Sunday, a day before Russia celebrates Victory Day this Monday. Normally, Norwegian and Russian guards line up on either side of the statue of a Red Army soldier, recalling that the fishing village of Kirkenes was liberated by Soviet soldiers in 1944. But the friendly atmosphere has turned into hostility.
There is nothing to celebrate at the moment; we have been thrown back in time
Norwegian-Russian Friendship Association website
For the first time since the Cold War, the Russian delegation was not welcome to the traditional joint wreath-laying ceremony. “There is nothing to celebrate at the moment,” the secretary of the Norwegian-Russian Friendship Association said on the website. “We have been thrown back in time.”
The atmosphere of the Cold War is back in this village. Kirkenes is located eight hundred kilometers as the crow flies from Novaya Zemlya, where the Soviets carried out underground nuclear tests. In the atomic bomb shelter under the school, there is room for three thousand residents, and there is food for three months.
Outside in the melting snowdrifts are yellow and red-green border markers, Norwegian versus Russian. Watchtowers are set on the hills, sensors in the tundra. The local tourist office has canceled excursions to the border, but minibus driver Michael does not care. “Do not make strange hand gestures,” he instructs his guests, pointing to the bulbous towers of a Russian Orthodox chapel. “Of course not obscene.”
No more when neighbors cross the border
Storskog / Boris Gleb, the only border crossing between Norway and Russia, is almost closed. From the Barents Sea to Finland, a new iron curtain falls quickly. Since May 1, road freight traffic has been banned; Since May 7, Russian ships are no longer allowed to dock in Norwegian ports. Norwegians and Russians with ‘Border Map’ want to be able to cross freely within the border region no longer want that.
“I’m so mad at Putin that I got rid of my samovar,” said Anton Kalinin, a Russian biathlon-at-leet (‘skiing and shooting’) who runs a diving school in Norway’s Jarfjord just below the watchtowers. “Too Russian,” he thought of his kettle.
He was in Murmansk, Russia, 220 kilometers away, in January to visit his mother-in-law and refuel. “The atmosphere was already changing. Some of my Facebook” friends “have painted a Z on their cars. I have added the Ukrainian flag to my profile picture.”
Traveling overland to Murmansk would still be possible for a Russian, but even with a tourist visa, this is no longer possible for others. There are flights there, but from Dubai, Serbia or Turkey.
Kalinin dives for king crab, he has had the constantly grumbling TV chef Gordon Ramsey and biologist Freek Vonk in March, but now he is demonstrating on Saturday in front of the Russian consulate in Kirkenes. It is a yellow-painted building, resembling an army barracks, with rust-brown bars on the windows.
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To prevent confrontations in the 3,500 soul grave Kirkenes, the city council has banned the fan with flags other than Norwegian on the Norwegian liberation day. Before dawn, Norwegian flags have been hoisted on both masts at the Soviet Liberation Monument. Still, someone has placed a bunch of red carnations with a ribbon in the Russian tricolor at the foot of the pedestal.
Diver Kalinin, who is seriously considering giving up his Russian citizenship, finds it unheard of. “That my countrymen are not ashamed.” He has signed a petition to remove the Cyrillic street signs from Kirkenes, “at least while Putin is in power.”
The unmanageable church, from which Kirkenes got its name, stands on Kirkegata. Under an armchair hangs the announcement of the next service, but also the poster for an upcoming benefit concert by a Johnny Cash cover band. It has a subtle blue-yellow border. The profits go to Ukraine.
Satellite sees more and more p. 3Ukraine mourns the surrender of nuclear weapons pp. 4-5 The refugee camp p. 9Russia as a colonizer pp. 12-13Opinion pp. 18-19
A version of this article was also published in the newspaper on May 9, 2022