About Kirkenes

The area around Kirkenes was initially populated by the Sami people. It was a common Norwegian/Swedish-Russian district and tax land until 1826, when the present border was settled. The original Sami name of the place was “Akkalanjarga” – The Porbeagle Peninsula. The first Norwegian name was “Pisselvnes” (“piss river peninsula”), and it changed to Kirkenes (“church peninsula”) after a church was built in 1862. One of the most important episodes in the history of the area was iron ore discovery in 1902. It brought here the Sydvaranger Mining Company that was established in 1906 and turned a tiny fishing place into a company-town with population of several thousands.

Kirkenes has got a power station and the northernmost railway, connecting the town with the mines at Bjørnevatn. After the World War I, when the demand for iron was huge, Kirkenes became a wealthy place. The business buildings in Kirkenes had onion-shaped cupolas inspired by the Russian architecture. The place was attractive for newcomers, and one could hear a multilingual buzz on the streets. Kirkenes was a male-dominated society with the “10-tonn thinking”.

During the World War II Kirkenes was occupied by the Germans and became a military base for the German troops. Kirkenes was one of the most bombed areas during the war, with 320 air attacks and more than one thousand alarms. The town was liberated by the Red Army on October 25, 1944. But first it was burnt to the ground during the retreat of the Nazi forces. Only 13 houses were left.

After the war the town was rebuilt, with help of the Marshall Plan from the United States. The 1950’s – 1970’s was a golden era for Kirkenes. It was the first town in the Northern Norway, which has got asphalted streets, tennis-courts for engineers, a swimming pool, hospital and airport. But in the 1990’s the iron market fell, and Sydvaranger was shut down in 1996. Since then Kirkenes has gone through significant changes. It has become THE CAPITAL OF THE BARENTS REGION. In 1993 the Kirkenes Declaration was signed and the Barents Euro-Arctic Region was formalized as collaboration between the northernmost parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Northwest Russia. The core idea is “people-to-people collaboration” across the borders, particularly with Russia after the end of the Cold War. Kirkenes with its 70 different nationalities and ethnic groups is considered to be the Barents Region in miniature.

Kirkenes, just a few miles from the borders to Russia and Finland, has become TRANSBORDER KIRKENES, a gateway to Russia, a crossroad for geopolitical decisions and a laboratory for creative solutions to economic, cultural and social challenges in the border region. Kirkenes also guards the outer border of Europe – the “Schengen border”, and a NATO-border. Kirkenes constitutes a key part of the projected “Pomor Zone”, an unprecedented industrial and economic zone in the Norwegian-Russian borderlands. If implemented, the zone will become a hub for regional oil and gas industry, as well as ship repair and logistics.

The town has become “the new Kirkenes”, with its Russian community, represented by the numerous Russian fishing boats in Kirkenes harbour and the Russian 10% of the municipality population (Kirkenes is often called ”A RUSSIAN TOWN” in Norway) – versus “the old Kirkenes” represented by the main company Sydvaranger A/S and the mining community (the mines were re-opened in 2009).

Pikene på Broen have christened Kirkenes HOT ARCTIC KIRKENES. It has become an important geopolitical destination. It is a headquarters for the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, the International Barents Secretariat and Barents Institute. Kirkenes as a border town and the Barents Region as a border region is a starting point for all the projects of Pikene på Broen.

«Kirkenes has changed from being the last station squeezed into a cold corner of the world, into being a beginning of something new and exciting. It has changed from being the end of the line, into being a place for transition. It has changed from being militarised to civilised. From being nationalised into being an international place, regionalised and globalised. From static to dynamic, from closed to open, from monocultural to multicultural, from masculine to feminine. Kirkenes has become a real bordertown, with trade and movement across the borders. Kirkenes has become a laboratory for a new time. It used to be a physical and psychological disadvantage. But not anymore. Now it´s an interesting place at the forefront of exploding the closed and controlled national borders»
Morten Strøksnes, writer, 2003.

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