Two countries, two systems – Storskog border crossing Kirkenes – border crossing Norway-Russia
The border crossing Grensestasjon Storskog – Borisgleb is about 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle and is also the northernmost border crossing in the Schengen area. The Grensestasjon looks correspondingly inconspicuous here in the small settlement of Storskog, only five kilometers from the small port town of Kirkenes at the ice-free Arctic Harbor.
The small border crossing between Storskog in Norway and Borisgleb in Russia is also the hub for regional cooperation in the Arctic region, and exchange programs between the two countries run right here.
Stories at the Grensestasjon Storskog
The first border opening between Russia and Norway:
Russia and Norway were only direct neighbors at the end of the Second World War. Finland previously allied with the German Empire had direct access to the Barents Sea. But Finland lost the area to Russia.
The development of the Cold War between NATO and the Warsaw Pact was not necessarily beneficial. The border between Norway and Russia became the system boundary over its almost 200 kilometers. And that was now completely closed.
However, the liberation of Finnmark for the Red Arms from the German Wehrmacht went ahead. The Russians and the residents of Finnmark have always been active traders.
But now everything was standing still. If there was something to be settled in short border matters in short border affairs, the border guards and police officers in English reached over the narrow no man’s land.
But on June 20, 1965, the news came from Russia like a thunderbolt: Boris Gleb’s border would now be opened to Scandinavians, the officials on the Russian side said via the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and across the border to Kirkenes. An ID card or a passport alone should suffice to stay in Russia for 24 hours without a visa, and up to 48 hours on application.
A road connection had been built in Russia in time for this appointment and even thought of continuous street lighting.
Norway was surprised because there was no checkpoint for a possible border crossing. In addition, in Kirkenes it was simply not possible to make sense of Russia’s motives.
Because what would the neighboring town of Boris Gleb offer? An old Greek Catholic chapel? But the Russians openly lured with cheap vodka, the desire for Russian party life was born. Crossing the border into Russia cost six Norwegian kroner, which meant that the ID or passport had to be deposited with the border officials.
In the middle of the political cold, Kirkenes saw something like a signal of a new beginning and dreamed of good business, especially in the tourist area with the Russians who would come here. But in the visions of the Norwegians there were also opportunities for western tourists who would make a stop here in Kirkenes on their trip to Russia.
But the only ones who crossed the border were completely drunk Norwegians after their trip to Boris Gleb’s bar. There was vodka and other alcoholic dreams from morning until late at night for about half of the well-known Scandinavian high prices.
In Norway alcohol was only served from the age of 21, in Boris Gleb there was already the 16 year old. As a precaution, the Russians had opened an Intertourist hostel in Boris Gleb in case the way back would be too difficult under the given circumstances.
But it slowly dawned on the Norwegians – there is something rotten in the state of Russia. Because contact with the Russian population was excluded and no Russian came to Kirkenes.
But Kirkenes now had a logistical and financial problem. Because so far the passport in Kirkenes had to issue around 100 passports annually, but now the volume has increased to around 1,000 passports per month!
A border station had to be built and staffed, and the local prison mutated into a constantly overcrowded sobering-up cell. While the Norwegian excursionists left around EUR 2,800 a day in 1965, they caused additional costs of around EUR 280,000 on the Norwegian side.
But it was not that easy to close this border hole, after all, in their border negotiations in 1949, the Norwegians and the Russians decided to change border regulations only every five years.
And so the big worry remained that Russia could spy on the drunken Norwegians. Because Northern Norway was a highly militarized area with important NATO bases in the Cold War.
The refugee crisis on the Grensestasjon Skorskog in 2015/2016: The recent history on the Grensestasjon Storskog with at least Europe-wide attention was part of the flow of refugees to Europe. Many people drowned on the dangerous Mediterranean route. And so there were many people who chose the route about 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. They flew to Moscow, then traveled by train to Murmansk, 220 kilometers away. From there it went in the autumnal arctic climate with frost and snowfall in the Norwegian direction.
However, it is forbidden to cross the Russian border on foot, so a small bicycle market quickly established itself, where the Russian dealers offered everything that at least showed the former use as a bicycle.
In addition, many refugees could not ride a bicycle at all, but their luck was that the Russian side has no interest in refugees at all.
Just arrived in Norway, the completely unsuitable bicycles were collected by the police, and a scrap dealer picked up these vehicles every day.
Of course, it would be easy for refugees to drive a car across the border to Norway. But here every driver of such a vehicle would be treated as a smuggler and prosecuted accordingly.
Norway initially sent back refugees who already had residency status in Russia, but after only 200 repatriations, Russia refused to make further withdrawals. In the meantime, the two countries have agreed to return the refugees if the rejected refugees are brought to Moscow by plane.
In the meantime, a fence has been built and the number of refugees has dropped to an acceptable minimum.