Photos: Amund Trellevik - Ole G Solheim - Ksenia Novikova
Celebrating Freedom on Foreign Soil: The Barents Pride 2023
A Masked protest, a Rainbow Mass, and 'Love Without Borders': The 7th Barents Pride in Kirkenes, Norway.
This international celebration of equality, pride, peace, and dignity is organized annually by the 'Equal' activist group together with activists from Norwegian, Murmansk, and Karelian cities. This pride was especially joyous as it was unclear whether it would take place against the backdrop of war and the threat of closed borders. But it happened - and here's how.
September in Kirkenes brings pastoral landscapes, colorful and charming houses, golden hills, and highly changeable weather. But even on overcast days, we managed to make the town bright. In just a few days, rainbow flags were placed everywhere, posters and program booklets of events appeared, with the main slogan of every pride – 'Love Without Borders'.
Kirkenes is a very compact town, and about a fifth of its population is Russian. However, for the locals, LGBT symbols are a simple everyday thing that always impresses Russian participants.
The program included several events in different formats, and here are some of the most memorable ones.
The church bell rings throughout the town, inviting everyone to a special service - the so-called 'rainbow mass.' This year, the Kirkenes church has a new pastor, a petite lady with a charming voice and kind eyes. The candles, the pastor's robe, even the cross - all decorated in the colors of the LGBT flag. The pastor reads prayers, sings with the congregation, and reminds everyone that love is the most important thing. 'The rainbow service is a special and unique experience unlike anything else,' said the participants. Indeed, the sight of a church adorned with LGBT flags challenges the stereotypes of even the most progressive Russian volunteers.
The most noticeable and colorful event of the pride was the parade. It was also one of the few events where anyone could participate. Due to the rain this year, there were fewer participants than in previous years. But still, many local schoolchildren, students, families with children, and pensioners were present. Many spectators watched from the windows of colorful houses. At one point, you could see the pastor of the Kirkenes church, who had conducted the rainbow mass the day before, now running between the rows in a raincoat, handing out umbrellas to the organizers, security guards, and participants with concern.
Protest at the Border
The traditional event for Barents Pride has become the protest at the border, where several participants and volunteers in masks travel to the Russian-Norwegian border to raise posters with calls for peace, love, and tolerance. As in previous years, this event attracted the most media attention. The masks here serve not only to protect the anonymity and safety of those who plan to return to Russia, but also as a metaphor: because it doesn't matter who you are, you always have the right to love.
Tamara Eidelman's Lecture
Educational support at the pride was provided by historian and popular blogger- 'foreign agent' Tamara Eidelman, who immediately agreed to participate as soon as we explained the essence of the pride. Especially for us, she prepared a special lecture about how people over the past centuries have learned to value freedom. This event was a sell-out at the local library. The Norwegian participants were surprised at how Tamara Natanovna was able to give a lecture that lasted an hour and a half in English without a prompter or notes."
This lecture was not just a checkmark in the program. Tamara Eidelman is a well-known and respected figure among progressive youth, and for many, seeing her participation and support was extremely important.
Tamara Eidelman attended almost all of the pride events and before the parade asked the volunteers to record a video message to her young granddaughters. It was largely private, but the beginning echoed the spirit of pride: 'You know that there are princesses who love princes, but there are also princes who love princes, and princesses who love princesses...
The concert featuring 'Aloe Vera' and the Kirkenes orchestra, the Sami performances, the exhibition of Russian queer artists, the masterclasses and film screenings, the reception at the Barents Secretariat, the closing party... in just three days, we hosted over a dozen events of various formats, which we had been preparing for almost a year.
Even without the parade, the rainbow mass, the exhibition, and the concert, this pride would have still been a big success. It took place during a time of war and isolation of Russia, and at the height of the adoption of homophobic and transphobic laws - when it seemed to be needed the most. Almost all of the requested visas were obtained, and those who returned to Russia successfully crossed both borders and avoided problems with border guards.
“I think we had a wonderful concert, a wonderful pastor who touched the hearts of everyone and gave out umbrellas in the rainy pride. All the local pastors - not the Russian Orthodox Church, of course, but she was with us at all the events. 'Believe in yourself,' she said, 'you're doing the right thing.' She was very strong and left a stunning impression. This is one of the coolest prides from an organizational standpoint," says the guest.
"And most importantly - we were able to once again demonstrate why the fight against stigma is needed, exchanged experiences, united experts and representatives of various groups: the Sami, the queer community, people with disabilities. We learned perspectives and ideas that can be brought to our communities. Participants who attended the pride for the first time, in addition to the parade, noted 'an incredible recreational experience in places of normal life': 'Thanks to Barents Pride, we were able to be in a completely different world, to which we all strive, to take a breath and reboot.'"
Barents Pride was unable to stop the war with Ukraine, as well as the terrible homophobic sentiments within Russia. But it helped to temporarily push aside the anxiety and give hope that one day this border - not physical, but mental - between our countries, between those who love, will fall and be forgotten.