History and Culture
A multicultural meeting
Finnmark is often called “the meeting place of three peoples”. Sami, Kvens and Norwegians have for centuries lived together in Finnmark: three languages and three cultures. The Sami and Finnish languages are still in daily use in large parts of the county. Russian culture has also influenced the development of Finnmark. For several hundred years, up until the Revolution in 1917, there was extensive trade between Finnmark and Russia. Many Russians settled in Finnmark, and we can still see buildings with characteristics from Russian building traditions.
Hunters and gatherers
Some of the oldest remains of ancient people in Norway are found in Finnmark. At Sørøya, fireplaces from the early stone age, date more than 8000 years back. Stone age sites as old as this are found in Sør-Varanger.
Remains of settlements, burial sites and sacred places from the later stone age, about 4000 years old, are found many places. At no other place on the northern hemisphere are there so many saites from this period. Rock carvings which are between 2000 to 6000 years old can be seen several places. These are difficult to interpret, but are probably expressions of magical and religious rituals. We get to witness aspects of life as it was for the first people in Finnmark. The most recent findings of rock carvings are made in Porsanger while the best known and most extensive rock carving fields are in Hjemmeluft/Jiebmaluokta, Alta, which are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sami culture goes back at least 2000 years. It has always been closely connected with the reindeer, hunting and fishing. The Sami have always lived in sparsely across all of Northern Fennoscandia, “Samiland” extends across four national borders. In Norway, the Sami Act of 1987 established a Sami National Assembly and recognized Sami as an official language. The first election to the Sami National Assembly was held in 1989.
Five of the municipalities in Finnmark belong to the area where both Sami and Norwegian are the official languages of municipal administration. These five municipalities are Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino, Kàràsjoga/Karasjok, Unjargga/Nesseby, Deatnu/Tana and Porsanger.
Permanent Norwegian settlement did probably not take place until the 1200’s, but old sources tell that the Håløy earls (Ottar, Tore Hund and others) sailed northwards in order to hunt, fish and trade with the Sami and with people along the White Sea long before this. The first church was erected in Vardø in 1307, about the same time as Vardøhus fort. The rich fisheries off the Finnmark coast, and good markets, led to increasing Norwegian and Northern-European immigration to Finnmark.
During the 18th and 19th centuries many Kvens, people from Northern Sweden and Northern Finland, immigrated to Finnmark. Leaving behind crop-failiures and over-population, they took up life as farmers and fishermen in the spacious areas of Finnmark. In 1875, more than a quarter of the population in Finnmark were of Finnish descent, and Vadsø was called “the Kven capital” of Norway. Today, it is especially in Eastern Finnmark that we meet the Finnish culture, through family names, a Finnish speaking population and architecture.
WarThe Second World War had a deep impact on the development of Finnmark. In large parts of the county, all the buildings were burned when the Germans retreated in the autumn of 1944. The reason behind Finnmark’s cataastrophic fate was its location. From Finnmark, the Germans could control allied convoys between Britain and Murmansk. The Finnmark ports were important bases for submarines and destroyers. Large garrisons were allocated to Finnmark and many fortifications were built.
During the latter phases of the war an intense allied bombing destroyed large parts of Kirkenes, Vardø and Vadsø. When the Germans had to retreat to avoid the Soviet forces during the autumn of 1944, they practiced a “scorched-earth” policy. More than 10,000 residential houses, schools, hospitals and churches were burned, and large parts of the fishing fleet were sunk. About two thirds of the population were evacuated south by force.
Rebuilding after the war
During the spring and summer months of 1945 most of the evacuees from Finnmark returned north. The central government wanted to regulate the rebuilding, but this was anly partially successful. Although there was shortage of everything, people wanted to go back home and build where they had lived before. Most places in Finnmark are characterized by the post-war architecture. In many places more than just rebuilding took place. The population pattern also changed, and some places were never rebuilt.
Finnmark todayFrom 1975 to 1989 the population decreased from 79,000 to 74,000. This trend has now been reversed. As in previous years, present-day Finnmark depends on its fisheries. The mines are also important. New and interesting mineral finds make Finnmark Norway’s most important mining area, now and in the future. A new, big, and important industry is tourism.
But it is the abundance of fish that has been and will continue to be decisive for the future of Finnmark. The development within reindeer husbandry will be very important to Sami culture.
Industry and Employment
Finnmark is rich in resources, both at sea and on land. The utilization and export of fish resources from the Barents Sea are of major importance to employment and settlement in the north. The same applies to reindeer herding and agriculture.
The fishing industry is the mainstay of settlement in Finnmark. The fleet is varied in composition and includes both small and large vessels that help to maintain settlement and employment along the coast of Finnmark. Even though there has been an increase in the quantity of fish landed in the county, enhanced technology and increased efficiency over the past 10 or 20 years have contributed towards a significant reduction in the number of fish factories and fishing vessels in Finnmark. Future challenges include the development of a better range of products that can meet the demand for seafood in markets both at home and abroad.
Reindeer herding is of vital importance to Sami culture and the identity of the Sami people. In Finnmark, 2,000 people are employed in conjunction with reindeer herding, a number that has remained stable even after reductions in both the number of operative units and the number of reindeer. Grazing land is the capital stock of the reindeer herding business. In many areas the over-exploitation of pastures has led to difficult conditions, necessitating a reduction in reindeer stocks from approximately 200,000 animals in 1988-89 to 126,000 in 1998-99.
Finnmark is one of Europe’s most exotic destinations. The county’s unique countryside and culture provide a wealth of opportunity for the travel industry. Finnmark’s strategic tourism plan for 2000-2005 is based on the following vision: “Finnmark: An attractive, all year round destination with a clear and consistent profile based on Arctic food and culture.” The development of winter tourism is equally as important as attracting a greater number of tourists to Finnmark.
A major challenge awaiting Finnmark in years to come is posed by the prospect of extracting oil and gas from the region. There is considerable excitement surrounding the Snow White development off the coast of Hammerfest and the ongoing drilling surveys in the Norwegian sector of the Barents Sea, with regard to whether they will result in economic growth, wide-ranging effects for other industries, and an increase in population in the county.
There is also considerable potential for growth within the sea farming industry, owing to the allocation of new salmon farming licenses together with efforts made with regard to the cultivation of other marine species such as shellfish and white fish.
There are mining businesses in Stjernøya, Alta and Tana, where nepheline-syenite, Alta slate and quartzite are extracted. The mines at Sør-Varanger and Kautokeino have been closed down.
Finnmark has a higher rate of unemployment than the rest of the country, particularly in the inland regions of the county. A number of major state-owned concerns closed down or reduced the number of employees they had in Finnmark in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. This applies in particular to the General Post Office, Telenor (national telecom) and the Armed Forces.
In 1990, the Finnmark and Nord-Troms enterprise zone was established with a view to improving general conditions for businesses in these areas. The business-oriented initiatives provide extremely good conditions for both well-established businesses and new enterprises. Most trades are exempt from payroll tax, there is no tax on electricity consumption, and no investment tax within the construction business. Similar initiatives directed more towards private individuals include special benefits for the inhabitants of Finnmark in the form of lower taxes, higher child benefits and the annual depreciation of student loans (max. 10% per annum).