Freedom won, freedom lost

Olav Beddari lived all of his life by a changing border. His neighbour Finland switched to Russia after the war. He has personally felt the consequences of a changing political climate, by being surveilled by Norwegian authorities.

When Olav grew up, the country on the other side of the border river Pasvikelva was Finland. His friends and relatives lived just across the river. The river that used to be a way of travelling, turned into a barrier.

Olav Beddari passed on in 2014. He lived at Skogfoss, where he worked and lived most of his life. He was a schoolteacher, a local historian and writer of several books.

Like many people in this area, Olav was a Norwegian of Finnish and Sámi decent, and married a Finnish woman. As a child he spoke only Finnish, and had to learn Norwegian the hard way when he started school. Norway did not want any other languages or cultural identities in this area.

After WWII, the Russians again controlled the territory of Petsamo. Now the borders were closed, the Finnish residents deported.

As a consequence of the cold war, his Finnish connections and a refused request by his father to cooperate with the soviets, Olav was surveilled. He had problems getting a job, but didn’t understand why.

After a big debate on unlawful surveillance in Norway, Olav in 2002 requested to see the files that were kept by the Secret Police. He was shocked to discover that he had been under surveillance for at least 20 years. Among other accusations it was speculated that his training as a teacher was paid by the Soviet Union.

Olav has later been given a small economic compensation for the surveillance, and felt he had been acquitted by that.

His biggest quest through life, has been that of regaining contact with Finland. A new road to old neighbour would bring new life and vitality to the area, in his vision.

In 1826 a border was drawn between Russia and Norway, and the river Pasvikelva became a border river. In 1920 the border area on the Russian side, Petsamo, was given to Finland. After WWII the area was again taken over by the Soviet Union.

During the cold war many people in this area were under surveillance, and as a consequence experienced problems.

The cold war is at an end, but Norway still considers this area of high geopolitical interest and the assertion of sovereignty in the north is a priority.

Who are todays “suspicious elements” in this militarily strategic area?

This story was first published in 2013.

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