»This is the world's most important festival«.
The grandeur was palpable in the last of the opening speeches for the 19th edition of the Barents Spectacle in the northern Norwegian city of Kirkenes. It was obvious that the speaker Knut Olav Åmas from the press freedom organization Fritt Ord was aiming to make the newspaper headlines. At times it almost seemed as if he was speaking directly to me – meaning the foreign press, which had been invited 400 km north of the Arctic Circle to the border town with its complicated relationship with its neighbor to the east.
It was close to an overstretch, when Åmas elevated journalism to »history’s first draft«. I guess that was the minimum one could do on this date: February 24 – one year after the Putin regime's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Most of us who stood in the bitter arctic cold waiting for the opening show to start had just come from a torchlight procession starting at the Russian Consulate General. In addition to the condemnations of the war, a large part of the demonstration speeches were filled with sympathy for the Russian population. Like Ukraine, Russia is also occupied, people said several times.