We have always had a good relationship with our neighbors in the North. Even when the Cold War was at its freezing point, both goods, thoughts and people were crossing the border.
Our most important historical experience with Russia is peace. Both because we never have been at war with each other, but also because we can thank our powerful neighbors in the East for our freedom. The Second World War came to a turning point in the battle of Stalingrad. Between August 1942 and February 1943 the Red Army fought a tough and tenacious battle against Nazism in the ruins of their own city. The Western Powers hesitated to open the Western Front before the German war machine had worn out in the East. This led to enormous costs for the Soviet Army. We will forever be grateful that they were willing to pay the price for our common freedom with their own lives.
In the North there are many memories from the war. Bombs, evacuation, scorched earth. The old remember the Russian prisoners of war. How thin they were. How little clothes they had and how badly the Germans treated them. Some have grandparents who can tell how they helped to hide Russians and give them food and clothes. Others have found out about this later, through discoveries of old letters with strange characters, or beautiful carvings in wood. The youngest may have seen the remains of prisoner camps in the landscape, but must go to written sources to get the whole story about how the Red Army came to Norway, liberated us, and then withdrew voluntarily. This puts a mark on us for generations, as human beings and as neighbors.
To have a good relationship with Russia is not primarily about having a good relationship with Russian authorities, but with Russians. The 70th anniversary for the liberation of Finnmark is a historical event which is important to mark, but it is also a story about the close relationship between our peoples. And it is the bitter tale about brave soldiers who lost their lives in battle and about prisoners of war who froze or were tortured to death. About the many that were not remembered by any monument, because it was considered politically dangerous to show gratitude when the war was over.
People are the heart of Barents. The same warm-heartedness nourishes our veins, even though our countries have a different pulse. Even today it is important to be reminded that our close and historical experience with Russia is linked to peace.
Thank you for the freedom, Barents Brother!
This article was first published in Norwegian in Nordlys on October 24. 2014