RE:Barents at Barents Pride

As part of the RE:Barents project we invited an anonymous researcher from Russia, whom we know from extensive research collaboration with OsloMet, to visit and report from this year’s Barents Pride festival in Kirkenes. The festival took place 21-24 September.

The decision to keep the author’s identity anonymous stems from the current restrictive anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Russia. This legislation not only prohibits «LGBT propaganda» targeted at children, but now extends its reach to people of all ages.

Below are the researcher’s text and photos.

“We have more trans people than translators here. And it is great!”

From September 21 to 24, the annual Norwegian-Russian Pride took place in Kirkenes, which has been held on the initiative of the two parties since 2017. A large number of LGBTQ people came from different regions of Russia to take part in the Pride. Barents Pride is a platform where these people can freely express their voice, speak out about the problems of the LGBTQ community in modern Russia and celebrate diversity and love. This is the goal and key idea of this event.

21 September

On the first day of the Pride, an exhibition opened where the works of participants from Russia were presented. All exhibits are united by a common message of understanding homophobia and transphobia as modern rhetoric of the Russian government. For example, to express their attitude towards repressive laws, visitors were asked to write a message to Russian officials over newspapers with political analytics. The exhibition was accompanied by a musical performance by the Russian indie group “Aloe Vera”.

After the opening, an annual protest took place on the border of Norway and Russia, where not only LGBTQ activists, but also representatives of Sami people from Russia held a common picket.

The day ended with a continuation of the unity of minorities – with a concert of Sami folk music from Roman Iakovlev and a queer performance from Timimie Märak.

22 September

The second day of the Pride began with a Sami workshop, where participants were invited to weave ethnic jewelry with elements of LGBTQ symbols.

The local cinema hosted the premiere of a documentary film about the life of LGBTQ people in Russia, “L*** 404”, filmed by the “Gorgon” art group after the start of the war in Ukraine. The characters in the film described in detail the problems associated with everyday homophobia, violence and rejection that they face in everyday life, in their families and at work. The will to live and a strong belief in change are the qualities of the film’s characters that give the viewer hope for a better future for Russia and the entire European continent.

In the afternoon, the Samfundshuset library hosted a lecture by the popular Russian-speaking historian Tamara Eidelman, “How People learned to appreciate freedom,” in which the speaker showed the genealogy of the phenomenon of freedom in a geographical and historical dimension in Russia and the world.

The second day of the Pride ended with a rainbow mass in the local Kirkenes church, where everyone present united in prayer for freedom, love and peace in three languages: Norwegian, Russian and English.

23 September

Last but not the least day of the pride began with a workshop on self-care for activists. At the workshop, topics on safety precautions and column movement during the parade were discussed.

At 13:00 the parade column moved towards Samfundshuset in the center of Kirkenes. Music, bright posters and clothes, slogans and greetings from residents – the solidarity of the participants in the Norwegian-Russian initiative was felt in everything.

After the parade, all participants gathered in the Samfundshuset hall for a welcome speech and tea.

The evening Pride program was concluded with a series of cultural events on the theme of protecting the rights of the Kven people and an interactive performance from the Pikene på Broen collective.

At night, everyone could meet in the bar as part of Barents Pride Night.

What is the significance of the Barents Pride for its participants?

For many visitors to Barents Pride 2023, this event is very special. We were able to talk to some participants and get their opinion about this event (all quotes have been edited and anonymized for the safety reasons)

“For me, Pride in Kirkenes is a breath of freedom, a place where you can breathe and be charged by others. It seems to me that without this event, many here from Russia would have lost their hope.” (Pride participant from Russia).

“This is my second time coming here for the parade. I have never been at the parades before the Barents one. Many thanks to Norwegian society and government. Today, being LGBT in Russia is like committing a terrible crime, but here you don’t have to hide who you are. Isn’t this the coolest gift one person can give another?” (Pride participant from Russia).

“Kirkenes is in itself a special place for any activist and simply freedom-loving person from the Murmansk region. Even before the war [i.e. in Ukraine from February 24, 2022] it was perceived as a fortress of freedom, and now even more so… I’m very glad to be part of this parade today”. (Pride participant from Russia).

“I think it’s great that today our society supports LGBTQ people from Russia. Despite all the terrible things that are happening in the modern world – wars, violence, hunger, events such as Barents Pride help imbrace humanity and build a future for our neighborly relations». (Pride participant from Norway)

RE:Barents workshop

Part of the research team met at Skogen, Oslo, to finalize an academic article on conviviality across the Norwegian-Russian border – we cross our fingers that it will be accepted!

RE:Barents results presented at BASEES conference

NIBR researchers Aadne Aasland and Marthe Handå Myhre presented findings from the RE:Barents survey at the BASEES conference in Glasgow 31 March – 2 April 2023.

Abstract:

While right until its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 Russia had a certain soft power appeal to segments of the population in Western Europe, much of this appeal has been lost with the country’s brutal military acts of violence and violations of international law. This by no means implies, however, that there is a consensus around what the responses to Russia’s war in Ukraine should be. This is also the case in Norway, a NATO country with a common border with Russia, and with traditions of balancing deterrence and reassurance in its foreign policy towards its neighbour. Norway has for the most part followed EU’s sanctions policies, but at the same time Norwegians have since the early 1990s built strong people-to-people contacts through Barents collaboration, especially in the region close to the border. In light of the Russian invasion and war in Ukraine, how clearly do Norwegians today distinguish between the Russian regime and everything “Russian”? What policies toward Russia, e.g. on sanctions and visa restrictions, are they in favour of? And what are people’s expectations and opinion about Norway’s future relations with Russia in a short and longer term perspective? Data will be drawn from a public opinion survey of about 1,000 respondents in Norway to be conducted in December 2022. Multivariate analysis techniques will be used e.g. to examine effects of previous experience with Russians and Russian culture, and proximity to the border.

RE:Barents at Barents Spektakel festival

Participants in the RE:Barents project participate in two events during the Barents Spektakel festival in Kirkenes which takes place from 24 February to 1 March 2023.

The first event is at the Transborder Cafe on 27 February, where participants from RE:Barents will discuss the issue of Trust in the neighbour. The event will be in Norwegian.

«Gjennom flere tiår er det bygget opp tillit mellom enkeltpersoner, institusjoner, myndighetsnivå, organisasjoner, politikere og forskere på begge sider av den Russiske grensa.

Russlands krig i Ukraina har satt en stopper for det meste av grenseregionalt samarbeid. Hvordan påvirker dette vår relasjon til naboen i øst? Har vi tillitt til de som har blitt våre gode venner? Kan vi skille mellom enkeltpersoner og myndighetsnivå?»

On 28 February ((13:00 – 15:30) we will have a researcher dissemination seminar (which will be streamed) where RE:Barents is one out of two projects to be presented, «Game over for institusjonelt og folk-til-folk Barentssamarbeid? Hva sier forskerne?«, also in Norwegian.

Seven researchers from NIBR and NORCE will present preliminary results from the project.

Transborder Café: In Barents We Trust

Vigdis Nygaard from RE:Barents participated in a panel debate on the achievements of the Barents collaboration on the 30th anniversary since its establishment. The whole event took place in Kirkenes 11 January and is available online on Youtube (if you follow the link you will also find more information about the event).

Presidential programme final conference

On 28 January 2022 the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities organised the final conference of the Presidential programme, one of the programmes that is studied in the RE:Barents project. Due to Covid restrictions the event was organised in a digital fashion. About 70 participants, mostly previous participants in the programme, could listen to presentations about the history of the programme and personal accounts of experiences during internships in Norway and Russia. Elita Cakule (photo) and Christian Larsen (KS/RE:Barents participants) gave a presentation of the Presidential programme, and Aadne Aasland (OsloMet/RE:Barents project leader) presented the plans for the final assessment of the programme.

RE:Barents presented at Nordområdekonferansen

At Nordområdekonferansen, organised by the Norwegian Health and Care Ministry 6-7 December in Oslo (Radisson Nydalen), Aadne Aasland presented the RE:Barents project to those who have received funding for health collaboration with Russia from the Ministry’s grant scheme. Aasland also used the opportunity to present the plans for the evaluation of this grant scheme which NIBR will undertake in collaboration with RE:Barents partners NORCE and Luzin during the next few months.

Photo: Colourbox.no