Barentsburg, a Russian settlement in Svalbard, is known locally as Little Russia. Guests visiting it, though, say its attractiveness is its Soviet past. Typically this has to do with the architecture of the settlements themselves, which include busts of Lenin and murals praising communism. Since Russia’s war against Ukraine began last month, however, it is the state of affairs in the tourism industry in the Norwegian-controlled territory that has taken on a historical flavour.
On 7 March, Reiselivsrådet, an association of 60 travel-related businesses in Longyearbyen, the territory’s administrative seat, recommended that its members not do business with state-owned Russian firms. Most practically, this means cancelling day trips to Barentsburg and Pyramiden, a Soviet ghost town. Both are administered by Arktikugol, a mining firm that now also dabbles in tourism and hospitality.
The decision, since reiterated on 16 March, is in line with Oslo’s response to the war, as well as the position of Norsk-Russisk Handelskammer, a bi-national chamber of commerce. Originally, this was not the case: prior to its decision, Reiselivsrådet had said that if there was no national boycott of Russian businesses it was not its place to impose one of its own, and, even if it did, it had no mandate to enforce it. There was also some concern that, by steering guests away from Russian settlements, it would be hurting the livelihood of the Russians and Ukrainians living there who made money serving tea and meals to visitors, or by selling souvenirs.
That Reiselivsråd later recommended that its members boycott Russian firms anyway was a response to the increasing intensity of the war, as well as the fact that the money spent in Barentsburg and Pyramiden, however marginal the amount might be in the grand scheme of things, is helping it to continue.
As a compromise, Reiselivsråd says going to the Russian settlements is still okay, but it recommends that visitors not spend any money there. Trips to Barentsburg and Pyramiden have always been popular, according to the firms that organise them, and, indeed those that continue to send visitors say they still are. In some cases, though, the skimobile trips from Longyearbyen to Barentsburg now no longer stop in the settlements, and instead focus on the 60km overland journey itself, rather than the destination. By steering clear of the past, they may be recreating it.
Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal
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