Reindeer herders in northern Norway feel left out as cooperation with Russia shrinks

Sami reindeer herder Egil Kalliainen fixing a 80 km-long fence that prevents his reindeer from crossing into Russia. (Elizaveta Vereykina/The Independent Barents Observer)

By Elizaveta Vereykina, The Independent Barents Observer 

Sami reindeer herder Egil Kalliainen can’t imagine a better job than herding. “I grew up with that. I don’t know anything else. My great grandfather was a reindeer herder”, Egil tells the Barents Observer as he picks up his drill.

He needs the tool to fix a special fence in the Pasvik nature reserve before the tough arctic winter arrives. This 80 km-long fence prevents his reindeer from crossing into Russia – the border is just 4 km away. For the reindeer, state borders do not exist and they often roam back and forth from one country to another. Lately, these have been very expensive trips for the Norwegian government.

Earlier in August this year the Pasvik Nature Reserve in the Murmansk region sent a bill to Norway demanding 47 million Norwegian kroner ($4.6 million) as compensation for Egil’s 41 deer who crossed into Russia and, as the Reserve authorities point out, damaged the local nature. All of those 41 reindeer who returned from Russia had to be slaughtered earlier than usual: “Otherwise they would always want to come back to Russia,” – Egil says – “They got a nice taste of the good land there.”

“Reindeer will keep crossing the border with or without any war” Egil says. (Elizaveta Vereykina /The Independent Barents Observer)

Egil says that reindeer slip through the fence if a gate is open, or if an animal like a bear destroys it. Egil has got 2500 reindeer and produces up to 32 tonnes of reindeer meat per year to sell in the local shops. It’s hard to watch all of the reindeer and, he says, the animals will inevitably keep crossing the borders. But after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the cooperation that used to exist with Russia has shrunk to a minimum. Egil now finds it problematic that he can’t discuss such cross-border issues with Russians anymore. “Negotiations today are going on at a higher level between border authorities of Norway and Russia, Egil tells The Barents Observer, adding that before he was also used to participate in such meetings.

“There has always been interaction and connection across the border”, Egil Kalliainen says. “We sat with the Russian side around the table and discussed cross-border issues like, for example, when reindeer cross the border from Norway into Russia. We’ve done that for many years. But now the meetings have stopped. They are not happening. I don’t know why”.

The fence is located 4 km from the Russian-Norwegian border. If reindeer break through it, they most likely head direction Russia. (Elizaveta Vereykina /The Independent Barents Observer)

“Reindeer will keep crossing the border with or without any war, anywhere in the world”, Egil continues. “So the situation on the border should be the same regardless of what’s happening in the world. For me it’s a normal courtesy; it’s polite to discuss issues with the country whose border line was crossed by the reindeer ”.

Related stories from around the North:

NorwayBorder trouble not on agenda when FSB boss visited Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia terminates cross-border agreement with Finland, The Independent Barents Observer

The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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