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Longing for the Arctic Ocean

Last week I was on vacation in my hometown Vadsø. Vadsø is situated by the Varanger fjord, east in Finnmark. The town is located at 70 degrees north latitude. Summer conditions are affected by this location. It is not often that swimming is an appropriate activity.

On the long beach east of Vadsø I met about 90 scouts from Helsinki. They were on a tour in Arctic Finland and conducted an impulsive excursion to the beach in Norway, which meant an additional driving distance of about 200 km. They had a desire to swim in the Arctic Ocean. They were hardy as Finns are in general, they did not care about the low water temperatures.

Finland has always had a longing for the Arctic Ocean. In the late 1800s, many Finns emigrated to the Norwegian Arctic coast to find a place to live as fishermen and peasants, when there was crop failure over several years in Finland. Their descendants live in relatively large numbers in Varanger and in other fjords in Finnmark and Troms. The language was suppressed by Norwegian authorities until the 1980s. Now we find road signs telling the names of cities and towns in both Norwegian, Finnish and Sami languages  in this area. This is a sign that the three cultures are perceived as equal contributors to the identity of the communities.

Finland still contributes to the possible development of the northernmost parts of Norway: Finland’s demand for ice-free ports defines at least two communities in Norway as appropriate sites for railway connection to Finland.  It is not decided if, where or when such a railway should be built, nor funding is clarified. Nevertheless, Finland’s need is the only factor that can provide the northernmost counties in Norway a railway connection, either Rovaniemi – Kirkenes (480 – 550 km) or Kolari-Skibotn (320 km). Such long stretches of railway in a sparsely populated Arctic region can only have economic sustainability through the freight of large quantities of goods such as iron ore.

Ideas of a railway connections between the Arctic Ocean and Finland are not new. In the 1930s the Finnish government approached Norway with a proposal to buy or lease land to establish a port in Skibotn in Troms with a railway connection to Finland. World War II and the Cold War put these project ideas completely dead.

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