Barents Region

The Barents Region was originally defined as the part of Europe north of the Arctic Circle, as it was made up by the member counties of the Barents Regional Council. The Council, formed in 1993, was enlarged by three more counties bordering the region, and consists today of all these counties. The Euro-Arctic

Territories in the Barents Region.

Barents Region, for short "the Barents Region," consists of the county members of the Barents Regional Council. Although a geographical unit, the northern European parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia have significant differences in climate, geology demographics, government, and economic patterns.

The Barents Region covers approximately 1,347,000 km2 of Arctic and Subarctic areas, and contains these climate types but with differences. The region borders the Northern sea in the west, where the Gulf Stream gives humid and relatively warm winters and cool summers. The northeast of the region borders the Arctic Ocean, and has large areas of permafrost. The inland areas of the region have usually long, cold winters and hot, short summers.

Most of the Barents Region lies on the Fennoscandian crystalline shield. Other geological structures are found on its fringes. The inland of the region has Europe's largest forested area. In the north, there are large areas with tundra, and in the south, large areas of forest, mainly coniferous species.

The Barents Region is Europe's most sparsely populated area; the population density varies from 1.7 to

8.3 inhabitants per square kilometer. The largest concentration of inhabitants is found in the large Russian cities, especially Murmansk and Arkhangel'sk. The Barents population of approximately five million inhabitants consists of four nations, and the indigenous peoples: Saami and Nenets people. The Barents Region has a relatively high percentage of indigenous people. The Saami live in the Nordic countries, and Saami and Nenets in Russia, most of whom live in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug.

Fishing, reindeer breeding, and farming form the base of the Saami's settlement and culture, although assimilation to the national cultures continues. The authorities' new policy and treatment of the Saami as indigenous people have contributed to the revitaliza-tion of the Saami culture, language, and identity. In several northern districts, the Saami language has official language status.

The Barents Region is one of Europe's richest areas in natural resources. Productive forests are found in the southern part of the region. The region contains a great diversity of flora and fauna. The Barents Sea bordering the region has the world's richest fish stocks, with 144 species of marine fish, and is one of the most important fishing areas in the world. The region has a large number of rich mineral deposits, many of them in commercially interesting quantities. Several rich oil and gas deposits are located in the region, most of them offshore along the Norwegian coast and in the Barents Sea. The mountainous parts of the region have height differences suitable to produce hydropower. The region's nature is for the largest part kept unspoilt, and there are good recreational areas, Europe's best salmon rivers included. Serious environmental problems are concentrated to some areas of metallurgic industries and nuclear activities.

The governmental and educational systems in the region are country specific. In Sweden, the governor represents the central Swedish government. The county council is responsible for health care and cultural issues. The Finnish governors take care of the interior matters and police. The county administration manages the regional foreign policy under the direction of the government. In Norway, the county council develops policies and long-term strategies. The head of the council, the county mayor, is head of the county administration.

In the Russian Oblasts Murmansk and Arkhangel'sk, the democratically elected regional duma approves the regional budget and controls it, and makes decisions on the regional level. The governor, democratically elected, heads the county administration. A local representative of the President of the Russian Federation supervises the executions of presidential decrees.

The Republic of Karelia has its own constitution, government, and parliament, which is the legislative assembly. The Nenets Autonomous Okrug manage their separate budget, and its governmental system is similar to the Oblasts.

Each nation has two or more regional administrative centers as well as universities in the region.

The common economic activity throughout the region is extraction and processing of raw materials. In some areas, tourism and the service sector are growing. The transportation of goods from the region mainly goes to the south within the national borders. The unemployment rates in the region are often each nation's highest. The export of goods goes mostly out of the region and, to a large extent, out of the country.

The natural resources have traditionally been exported as raw materials out of the region. The lack of east-west transportation and communication possibilities still make trade and transportation within the region between the nations difficult. Different standards and official procedures between the member countries make huge trade barriers.

Finland has industrial production from forestry and metal, mostly for export markets. The importance of tourism is growing. In Norway, fishing and fisheries are the common economical activity, although further north, service, tourism, and public sector are more important.

The Russian territories have faced a privatization of state industrial enterprises, transferring the power and influence from the region to the national center. Murmansk Oblast' depends heavily on mining and fishing. Forestry is the dominating industry in Arkhangel'sk, with the others being fishing and fish processing. The oil and gas sector is growing in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Karelia's main economic sectors are forestry and mining. In the Swedish counties, the public sector is of great importance, together with forestry and industry. In the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, reindeer husbandry is the main livelihood. This is also an important way of living for the Saami in Finnmark, Norrbotten, and Lapland.

The indigenous people in the area have lived, traveled, and traded across the Barents Region. Increased population during the last millennium resulted in extensive trade and communications in the area, especially in connection with the waterways. The Soviet time put a restraint on these contacts. The sharp division between eastern and western Europe went through the Barents Region, making the area a highly militarized zone. In the 1980s, contacts across the Soviet border were again established. In 1993, the increasing cooperation was formalized in the Barents cooperation, through the fora Barents Euro Arctic Council and the Barents Regional Council; hence, the expression the Barents Euro Arctic Region, for short the Barents Region, was established.

Sylvi Jane Husebye

See also Barents Council; Barents Regional Council; Finland; Norway; Russia; Sweden

Further Reading

Flikke, G. (editor), The Barents Region Revisited, Oslo:

Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 1998 Stokke, Olav Schram & Ola Tunander (editors), The Barents Region: Cooperation in the Arctic Europe, London: Sage, 1994

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