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Backs out of Barents Cooperation

Lars-Anders Baer (to the right) joined the "family photo" after the Barents Summit, but now backs out of the Barents Cooperation.

The Working Group of Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Region halts all activities due to lack of funding. The decision was taken one day after the Prime Ministers praised the Indigenous Peoples work at the Barents Summit.

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Dmitri Medvedev, Jens Stoltenberg, Jyrki Katainen and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the Prime Ministers of Russia, Norway, Finland and Iceland, all underlined the importance of Indigenous Peoples participation in the Barents Cooperation in their official speeches at the Barents Summit on Tuesday. So did also Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Denmark’s Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal and the European Commission’s Vice President Siim Kallas.

Lars-Anders Baer, chair of the Working Groups of Indigenous Peoples (WGIP) was together with the ministers at the podium.

“It’s a long way from the fine words of the Prime Ministers at the 20th anniversary of the Barents Cooperation, to the real world for us Indigenous Peoples,” says Lars-Anders Baer today after the ministers have taken off from Kirkenes with their offical jets.

The Working Group has since 1995 had an advisory role for both the Barents Council and the Barents Regional Council.

Members of the WGIP represent the Sámi in Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden as well as the Nenets and Vepsian peoples in Russia.

It is the lack of economic support that now forces WGIP to suspend its activities. Russia does not grant any funding, and funding from Sweden and Finland are sporadic. Norway is the only providing economic support on a regular basis, argues the Working Group.

“Russia is with its zero-funding hindering its own Indigenous Peoples participation. One can say that Russia’s contribution to WGIP today is only fine words. Also Russia’s new law on NGOs that need to register as “foreign agents” create problems for the Indigenous Peoples cooperation,“ says Baer.

During the Barents Summit, Lars-Anders Baer, was sitting on the stage discussing the future of the Barents Cooperation together with the Ministers. Afterwards he told BarentsObserver “We are on stage, but we’re the cheap ones.”

“It’s not a question of big money,” he says, adding that annual funding of even NOK 400,000 (€52,000) would be sufficient for indigenous people to have adequate involvement in the Council’s activities and decisions. It’s peanuts in the governmental structure.”

On Wednesday, the Working Group made the decision to suspend activities. Lars-Anders Baer says that also Finland and Sweden mainly have contributed with nice words at conferances and festivities.