Twin city success
The cross-border cooperation between Norway and Russia has had huge impact on local business in the border towns of Nikel and Kirkenes, especially since the introduction of visa-free border crossings.
Since the agreement on visa-free travel for citizens living within 30 kilometers from the Norwegian-Russian border came into force in May 2012, traffic between Kirkenes and its surroundings to the two nearest Russian towns of Nikel and Zapolyarny has soared.
Yesterday stake holders from the two neighboring municipalities Sør-Varanger and Pechenga, and also regional authorities from Finnmark County and Murmansk Oblast gathered in the border town of Nikel for the third Russian-Norwegian seminar on cross-border cooperation.
The introduction of visa-free traveling has had big impact on Nikel, Aleksander Sizov from Pechenga Business Association said at the seminar. According to his estimates, nearly 10 percent of all customers in some of the shops in Nikel, like specialized shops for sport and hunting gear, are now Norwegians. Shops in Nikel now are advertising for their goods and services like never before, and many cafes and restaurants have had their menus translated into Norwegian.
The next step the local authorities are plannning, is to have more road signs and other information in Norwegian. “We want to make Nikel the most Norwegian town in Russia, as Kirkenes is the most Russian town in Norway”, said Sergey Gonchar, Head of the Pechenga administration.
A new information portal aimed at helping tourists to find their way around in Nikel and Zapolyarny was presented at a exhibition of local shops and services. The web site www.visitpechenga.com will have information about shops, restaurants etc in Nikel and Zapolyarny.
Marina Kovtun, Governor of Murmansk Oblast, emphasized in her speech to the seminar the importance of cross-border cooperation moving on from cultural and sports events to also including business, as this is where money is being created. She also underlined the huge potential that being a border community involves: “To have a border to another country is a huge advantage. We must take use of the potential being a border community to create the best possible living conditions for people on both sides of the border”.
According to the Russian Consulate General in Kirkenes, 2911 people in Sør-Varanger have applied for and received a border certificate. 917 of these have been issued in 2013. In Pechenga Rayon, which has a population nearly four times as high as Sør-Varanger, 1100 people are bearers of border certificates, Marit Jacobsen at the Norwegian Consulate General in Murmansk says to Barents Observer. The consulate still receives some ten applications per week, she adds. In addition, many locals on the Russian side of the border have multi-entry visas to Norway.
The Norwegian consulates in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk will by the end of the year have issued 25-28.000 visas to Russians. 97 percent of these are multi-entry visas. Many Russians even get visas with five years validity, said General Consul of Norway to Murmansk Ole Andreas Lindeman.
The seminar continues in Zapolyarny on Friday with roundtable discussions on education and business cooperation.