Barentsburg: Place names (Svalbard fieldwork, June 2013)

Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Soviet spirit

My next stop in the Svalbard archipelago is the tiny Russian settlement of Barentsburg. How many people are living here is hard to say. The number of residents may change by the end of June and August, when an airplane from Moscow lands in Longyearbyen airport. It may bring 100 workers and take some back to Moscow. ‘I tell the tourists that there are 200 people here, my colleague may operate with different figures, tells one of the local tourists guides. Tourists have around 1,5 hours here to admire a ‘Soviet relict frozen in time’, ‘a perfectly preserved slice of a country that no longer exists’. This time is enough to have a look at the rusty Soviet heritage, buy some souvenirs and send an ‘I was there’ postcard, which will be sent with the same boat by which you arrived here.

To make the site more appealing to Western tourists the local administration decided two years ago to place an old “Our goal is communism” banner in the central square instead of the not so exotic ‘Barentsburg’ banner. It is a good accessory to the statue of Lenin, which looms over the settlement.

barentsburg-lenin-Anna

Lenin: ‘Our goal is communism’, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

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