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Between East and West

| Text: Gunhild Wallin, photo: Juhani Rosila

“Talking about a northern dimension, it is quite easy to disregard the northernmost parts of the North, and the cooperation carried on between these parts of the countries of the so-called “North Calotte” and Russia,” Governor Eino Siuruainen of the Finnish province Oulu claims.

It is a matter of creating an attractive region and reaching out to the Russian neighbours, so rich in natural resources, but still needy in most other ways.

It so happens that the professor of geography and Governor of Oulu, Eino Siuruainen, is heading for Russia in order to hunt bears. It is an expression of the emerging cross border cooperation between the inhabitants of northern Oulu and those of the neighbouring territories of western Russia. In this region there is a strong driving force behind the efforts to create an attractive region in the northernmost parts of the North, and to work in favour of a northern Nordic dimension within the EU.

Photo: Juhani Rosila

The Head of the Republic of Karelia, Sergey Katanandov and the Governor of the province of Oulu/Finland, Eino Siuruainen.

Eino Siuruainen challenges us as listeners, coming from the capitals of the Nordic countries, to change our perspective and view the globe, and the northern regions especially, from above.

“Europe is fascinating, but we feel somewhat uneasy, fearing that focus may be diverted to other parts of the extended European Union,” Mr. Siuruainen says.

 Oulu, or Uleåborg in Swedish, is the name of the province and its main city as well. Oulu borders on Finnish Lapland to the north and on Russia to the east. The region is undergoing impressive changes.

Here you find Finland’s northernmost university, and the region is labelled one of Finland’s most dynamic as far as IT development goes. Over a span of thirty years, the focus has changed from agriculture to high-tech and modern industry. People have been attracted to the towns and villages, while the countryside has been deserted.

“It is a development both for better and for worse. This has also led to high unemployment, and many young people lack both work and education,” Governor Eino Siuruainen reports.

The northern regions of Europe provide unique living conditions. It is these territories in which the Lap people live, with their own special culture, and as far as the Finns are concerned,  they are strongly influenced both from the West and the East. Eino Siuruainen considers it essential to bear in mind that the Russian border used to be a frontier, psychologically barred for 70 years.

Today, the border between the Nordic countries and north-western Russia marks the most significant difference in levels of welfare to be found anywhere in the World. This is one reason why a variety of joint ventures have been established across the borders.

Young people are studying Finnish and Norwegian at the University of Archangel and contributions are made to develop Internet technology.

And when some enthusiasts roller-skated on recently completed roads between Archangel and Oulu, it carried a deeper significance than just a sporting achievement.

Eino Siuruainen goes on with great enthusiasm about the various development projects, highlighting the cooperation projects brought about in partnership with the Russian neighbours. It is a cooperation which picks up strength based on a geographical nearness, but it is part of “The Nordic Dimension” as well, a plan of action adopted by the EU in 2000 following a Finnish initiative.

The plan regulates several fields of cooperation, such as regional policies, the environment, and combating corruption and crime, and comprises of the Nordic countries, the Baltic States, Russia, the German Baltic coastline, and Poland. The EU has recently adopted another plan of action for

the years 2004-2006. Ever since the beginning of the Nineties, the Nordic countries have maintained a close cooperation with the Baltic States. Now the situation is changing, with the Baltic countries becoming full-fledged members of the EU. The cooperation between the Nordic countries and the neighbouring states is now going to emphasise north-western Russia even more.

“The time has come to cease the festive speeches dedicated to Nordic cooperation, and cross the Russian border to offer various forms of cooperation. The region still lacks good infrastructure, but raw materials are abundant. When the Russians begin to acquire more wealth, they are likely to need next to everything. And those who have been friends during hardship will remain friends in prosperity,” Eino Siuruainen says.



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