Crown Prince Haakon tours Kirkenes
Concern that war in Ukraine is affecting industry and tourism
On April 1, Crown Prince Haakon was on tour in Kirkenes to learn more about the situation in the municipality after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“This is an incredibly beautiful part of Norway. Usually a lot of tourists come here, but some are saying that there are fewer coming now, perhaps because they think it is too difficult to travel here right now,” he said to the press during his visit to the municipality, which shares a 122-mile long border with Russia.
“I would like to encourage [tourism]. Just get here. It is an incredibly beautiful area in Norway,” the prince said.
The ski-loving crown prince added that there are nice winter conditions, which is not the case everywhere in Norway at this time of the year,
Society in shock
On the Kirkenes trip, Crown Prince Haakon visited the Barents Secretariat, the confectionery Go’biten, the youth club Basen, and the hockey club Kirkenes Puckers.
The city tour started with an orientation from, among others, the mayor of Sør-Varanger, Lena Nordum Bergeng (Labor Party). She described a Kirkenes community in shock in the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“On Feb. 24 this year, the whole picture changed for us here in Sør-Varanger. The war in Ukraine created great uncertainty and fear for the future,” Bergeng said.
She also talked about the challenges for the business community, which works closely with the Russian market, with new sanctions introduced by the EU and Norway.
Several companies have been hit by the new sanctions. The mayor said that they have learned that some tourist bookings have been canceled because of the war.
“People may not say it outright, but there is plenty of fear because we are so close to Russia,” she said.
“Some cruise ships have canceled their ports of call here,” she said. “Some because they were originally going on to Russia, but in other cases, we don’t know the reasons, but it is easy to imagine why,” she said.
Bergeng said she thinks it is difficult for people from other parts of the country to understand how close the relationship with Russia is in Sør-Varanger and sees the importance of the crown prince’s visit.
“I think it matters to us that the crown prince actually sympathizes with us and wants to hear how we feel,” she said.
Cooperation more difficult
Crown Prince Haakon said that he has the impression that the Kirkenes community is doing a good job of talking about the problem, but he also shared that several he met on the trip told him that they feel a kind of grief.
“[This is] because they have friends on the other side of the border that they may not get to see and it is difficult to keep in touch. but also because they have plans and hopes for future cooperation and contact across the border—which is now becoming more difficult,” he said.
He pointed out that there are many Russians living in the area and that there are close ties and relationships.
“It’s difficult when something like this happens. But then it’s important to say that it is still safe here,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the April 15, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.