How People-to-People Diplomacy is Warming Chilly Arctic Relations

A figure skater holds a Russian and Norweigian flag, taking part in one of the many cross-border sports activities in the Barents Region (Photo Credit: Jonas Karlsbakk/BarentsObserver)


“What sounds more boring than a Secretariat?”

That’s what we thought when we heard about the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.

In reality, this organization is responsible for coordinating pretty interesting exchange programs, such as hockey games between Norwegian and Russian youth. This is one of their people-to-people diplomacy programs, with which they bridge relations between Norwegians and Russians in the Barents region.

Hockey Barents Secretariat

Why is this important? The Barents Region border was one of the least porous borders in history. During the Cold War, it was easier to communicate over the Berlin Wall.

Barents Map

Public diplomacy is, therefore, essential for promoting understanding and economic cooperation in this area. And it’s working.

Frank Bakke-Jensen, a member of the Norwegian Parliament, recently commented on this people-to-people cooperation in the region. He said, “The understanding of Russia has changed radically during the last 30 years. This is not a result of celebration speeches.”

After some time, the Secretariat still noticed a lack of knowledge about the region. This prompted the creation of BarentsObserver.

Thomas Nilsen, Editor of BarentsObserver

Thomas Nilsen is the editor of the Observer, and just visited the United States on an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project, an exchange similar to the kind that the Barents Secretariat organizes. He came to explore how American perspectives on Arctic issues and to promote understanding of the region.

While U.S. citizens are not exposed to much of the Arctic (not including its Polar Vortex winds), Nilsen says “Arctic issues are going global,” due to their relevance to climate change and energy issues. “Globalization will peak at the Arctic.”

As chilly weather and climate change continue to make headlines, so will the Barents Region, and the activities of this perhaps not-so-boring Secretariat.