On October 25th 1944, Kirkenes became the first town in Norway to be liberated from German occupation, more than six months before the end of WWII.
The Petsamo-Kirkenes offensive started October 7th 1944, when Soviet forces started a counter-offensive against the German strongpoint line just 70 kilometers northwest of Murmansk. The German forces were driven back from Petsamo (Pechenga today) into Norway, and the first Red Army troops crossed the border to Norway on October 18th.
The German troops abandoned Kirkenes, which had served as a base for the German Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe and their main base for supplies to the Murmansk front on October 25th, which since has been marked as the local Liberation Day.
This year a long series of varied events is planned to mark the 70th Liberation Day.
Royal visit, high-level politicians HM King Harald, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Foreign Minister Børge Brende and Minister of Defense Ine Eriksen Søreide are the most prominent Norwegian guests to attend the events to mark the occasion. “This historical event is a national affair and is important in Norway’s relations with Russia”, The Royal House of Norway writes on its website.
WWII memorial to Soviet Red Army soldiers in Kirkenes. (Photo: Trude Pettersen)
Foreign Minister Børge Brende has invited his Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov to attend the events. His arrival has been confirmed by the Russian Embassy in Oslo. It is expected that Brende and Lavrov are going to have bilateral meetings during their stay in Kirkens.
“I believe the events to mark the anniversary of the liberation will play an important role in the relations between Norway and Russia”, Russia’s Consul General to Kirkenes Mikhail Noskov says to BarentsObserver. “I think there is a common understanding both in Russia and in Norway that this is a special event that somehow stands on the side of other things that are going on right now. This is our common history and it gives us something to be proud of, something to base our mutual understanding on.”
According to Noskov, the regional cross-border cooperation has continued as before, in spite of the developments on the higher political level.
When Norway in May decided to suspend all military cooperation with Russia until the end of 2014, Minister of Defense Ine Eriksen Søreide confirmed that all planned events in connection with the anniversary would go as planned. “The government believes there is a clear difference between military cooperation and contacts in today’s situation and activities connected to historical events and veteran issues.”
Three-day victory march
Norwegian and Russian border guards leading the 50 km victory march from Pechenga to jarfjord. (Photo: Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Kirkenes)
Marking of the liberation anniversary started in mid-September, when 100 school children, municipality officials and border guard soldiers from Norway and Russia conducted a three-day, fifty kilometers long march in the footsteps of the Red Army. The march started in Pechenga on the Russian side of the border and ended in Tårnet in Norway.