Yesterday we had a visit to the Arctic Centre by the chief of Foreign Affairs in the European Union Lady Ashton, together with Finnish Foreign Minister Tuomioja. They are on a journey through northern Europe to get inspired for further work on the EU’s Arctic policy. Lady Ashton very clearly wanted to get the message across to Arctic stakeholders that the EU is a friend and partner that listens to the concerns of the people, including indigenous ones. These words sounded very nice and modest, but of course there was not really much time to talk. She spent just some hours in Rovaniemi, not quite the kind of time that we anthropologists invest when we go to the field and want to talk to people:)
Since the atmosphere was very friendly from all sides, critical questions that would possibly challenge this picture were not asked. I was the only full time anthropologist there present at the meeting, but felt moral support by Klemmetti Näkkäläjärvi, the Sami parliament’s president in Finland, who is also a long-term affiliate in our team. I thought for myself ‘what would Lady Ashton say if I ask her about the EU’s policy towards the seal ban that has spoilt the EU’s relations to Arctic coastal indigenous residents so much?’. But then I didn’t ask this because it would clearly have created tensions in this super-harmonious atmosphere.
What I did ask though was the EU’s priority for Arctic cooperation with Russia, now that this biggest country in the Arctic just got a new-old president. Ashton said that Russia is a crucial partner in the Arctic (well that’s no surprise), and that in fact there are more fields where the EU agrees with Russia than those where there are tensions. Ashton also made clear that the Arctic is in fact only a small tiny field within the broad range of topics in the relations between the EU and Russia. I think while it’s true that there are many other topics in these relations too, it is in the Arctic where the future gets decided. In particular, it could be that the EU foreign policy unit is not fully aware that actually the whole energy policy relations with Russia fall within the Arctic sphere, because almost all of Europe’s energy imports from Russia are from the North.
Minister Tuomioja added something very pleasant to this question: he said we need to increase intellectual exchange with Russians, in the student and research sphere. He wants to see many more people from Russia coming to Finnish Universities, and members of Finnish Universities going to Russia. This felt very nice to me, because it is in this field where we have been particularly successful in the anthropology research team. We have a long record of not only going to Russia to do fieldwork and conferences, (as you see in many entries in this blog), but also bringing people from Russia here, employ them in our projects or have them as interns. Alla Bolotova, Elena Nuykina, Natalia Bochkareva, Roza Laptander, Nina Meschtyb have all contributed to making our team ever better known in the anthropology of Arctic Russia.We are proud of their work, and happy if a VIP from the government likes that orientation.