Rune Rafaelsen, chief of the border municipality of Sør-Varanger and former president of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, which aims to promote Norwegian-Russian bilateral projects, is highly critical of the project. According to him, both the people and the business community in Sør-Varanger want better cooperation with Russia, not worse, which is why the border control station in Storskog, currently the only one, should be expanded, instead of building a wall.
"This is hardly the wisest Norway can do in relation to its neighbor Russia. I cannot see the utility of the fence. On the contrary, it has a bad symbolic value," Rune Rafaelsen wrote in an opinion piece in Norwegian news outlet High North News.NRK. According to Fordal, the fence leaves an unpleasant aftertaste of the Cold War, and is highly symbolic.
"[Anders] Anundsen [Norway's Justice Minister] is now tarnishing Norway's reputation as a nation of peace. The international community will regard Norway as a country that builds barriers rather than bridges," Fordal wrote.
According to Fordal, the reality of Nordic neighborliness is much better than the fence suggests. In Sør-Varanger, short cross-border trips to Russia to visit the dentist, the hairdresser, car maintenance or to go to the theater or a restaurant have become commonplace. Accordingly, more Russians are doing their shopping in Norway.
Additionally, there has not been a single asylum seeker at the Norwegian-Russian border in recent months. Like Rafaelsen, Fordal advocates the extension of the present border control station in Storskog.
"Does it really make any sense to spend four million kroner on a four-meter high and 200 meter long fence? No. Listen to those who live near the border. The border was crossed 250,000 times last year. What we need is a new border station to speed up border-crossings. Besides, you can have all sorts of security safeguards built there," Fordal wrote.
"Does the minister, the first one to award himself the title ‘preparedness minister,' really believe that a 200-meter fence will stop a desperate refugee? A man who escaped the hell of Aleppo bombings? <…> Obviously, Anundsen should know that such a fence won't stop anyone," Nilsen wrote.
Nilsen spared no harsh words in his criticism of the fence.
"Let's just call the fence by its real name. It is a monument to a symbolic policy, based on lack of knowledge, foreign political stupidity and a ridiculous understanding of physical security," Nilsen stressed.
According to an agreement that Norwegian and Russian authorities signed in 2010, residents in the border area enjoy travel across the border without a visa, an opportunity largely utilized by both inhabitants of Sør-Varanger and Murmansk Region.