Rune Rafaelsen talks passionately and with a dizzying pace. Riitta’s intermediate Swedish skills are of no use today – this kind of language isn’t taught in school. We are sitting around a big wooden table amongst moving boxes full of trophies and listening to Rune. It is his last day as the head of the Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes and he is excited. ‘I have finished the mourning process of leaving this job and really look forward to starting something new!‘ Rune has a tradition of shedding his career-skin every decade, he has been a teacher, principle, travel agency director and worked extensively on the ‘Russian dimension‘. Next on the bucket list is running for mayor in Kirkenes.
‘My viewpoint is that nothing is as it appears to be; You have to dig behind the apperances to find out how things work. Russia is such an interesting region, especially as a close neighbour.’ The Barents Secretariat makes sure the ‘cabaret with Russia adds up every day‘, it functions as the regional toolkit for the foreign policy challenges of the north. The Barents model takes the local, regional and the common people’s interests as its starting point for cooperation and it is this approach that is in high demand. If Norway has got one foreign diplomacy export product, it is the Barents cooperation.
Born at the old fire station, which used to be the old hospital building Rune has followed the Kirkenes hospital life-cycle from up close. ‘Getting a new hospital to Kirkenes is a national victory. A complete and sufficient health service in the region is of tremendous importance, not to mention an admirable process to observe!’
To Rune, moving from Kirkenes is unthinkable. ‘This is the only place in Norway where you can live an interesting life; you’ll find all the antagonisms here, enormous pool of resources and innumerable reasons to start a war, but the Barents Sea has been a sea of collaboration, and I think that can be traced back to the politicians and the humans on both sides.’