Twin-towns Kirkenes Pechenga

"The Kirkenes-Pechenga Twin Town Experiment in the Barents Euroarctic Region" is a research and promotional project conducted at UiT The Arctic University of Norway (UiT NAU) in Kirkenes in 2013-2017 based on external funding from the Regional Research Foundation of Northern Norway. It has among other explored the opening for local cross-border collaboration on the municipal level between north-east Norway and northwestern-most Russia, endorsed by bilateral agreements on national Russian-Norwegian political level.

The Kirkenes-Pechenga Twin Town Experiment in the Norwegian-Russian borderland (In Norwegian: Tvillingby-eksperimentet i den norsk-russiske grensesonen) has been developed into a research programme of NSRG member Peter Haugseth, UiT NAU in Kirkenes.

The previous Norwegian government's launch of the so-called “High North Initiative” (2006-2011) produced much political publicity and put positive stress on many local and regional actors in the Norwegian and Russian Subarctic. Eventually, both large and small scale implementation were developed in line with the policy aiming for a closer, functional cross-border collaboration (CBC) between Norway and Russia in the Barents Region. Formal go-aheads from Russian and Norwegian Ministries of Foreign Affairs were given to municipal and regional authorities, and ambitions to enlarge cross-border businesses was added and promoted in several ways. Much of this drew on innovative post-Cold War integration tools, known from Central European policy-making of the EU as it looked and expanded eastward in 2004.

Two European integration tools were especially prominent in the Norwegian-Russian border zone in 2008; one was the so-called city twinning applied between the traditional mining towns of Nikel in Russia and some 25 km west of it, across the national border its counterpart Kirkenes. The municipalities in question: Pechenga in Russia and Sør-Varanger in Norway, apart from this first mainly branding-initiative went on to engage in what proved a more functional, special border zone visa-regime, to which the following increase in local border traffic bear evidence. The ideology and branding behind the new visa practice seem to have opened for an extended, practical approach to cooperation between the towns and villages included in the border zone. In a neo-functionalistic sense they produced positive spill-overs to the major industrial political processes which many lobbyist, both in Russia and Norway, wanted to see established with implications also for developments regarding the economic important off-shore deposits of oil and gas and the already established bilateral management of the fisheries of the adjacent Barents Sea.

The project will test the positive understandings of this process against the background of the economic down-turn post 2008, to see if after 20 years of transnational region-building activities in the Barents Euro Arctic Region cooperation from the spring 2012 onwards would exhibit openings for continued and perhaps even expanded CBC and regional developments. This project will look into the "twinning" in relation to the border-traffic permit scheme interpreted in its historical and wider geo-political contexts, and contrast this with local attitudes and interpretations of the change. How have the policy instruments applied affected identification processes in the borderland seen through citizens of the towns of Kirkenes and Nikel? What new forms of interaction between residents in the border zone can be detected in recent years? Can this "foreign political laboratory" in the peaceful north provide new insights and ideas to apply anywhere else in attempts to normalize and develop European-Russian relations, and do this initiative divert from patterns of CBC globally?

Contact person:
Peter Haugseth, Department of Tourism and Northern Studies, UiT NAU in Kirkenes

The mining-town of Nikel, Subarctic Russia. Photo: Urban Wråkberg

Twin-town CBC partnerships of Northern and Central Europe