An overwhelming majority of Norwegians have defended a symbolic gateway to Northern Norway that stands just north of the Nordland county line. They firmly reject a local university lecturer’s proposal that it be torn down because he thinks it’s artificial and unnecessarily divides the country from the south.
Fully 83 percent of nearly 50,000 votes cast in an informal poll mounted by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) just over a week ago voted “no” to the question “Should the Nord-Norge gateway be torn down?” Only 11 percent agreed with Erlend Bullvåg of the business school Handelshøgskolen Nord in Bodø that it stygmatizes Northern Norway and promotes differences between people from the north and the south. The rest were unsure.
“There’s no reason to have a gateway to a part of the country,” Bullvåg told NRK in early October, after he’d launched his objections to the gateway in Bodø-based newspaper Avisa Nordland. Bullvåg understands that it’s aimed at the tourism market, but argues that gates of any kind “tells you that you’ve passed a border, and that you can expect something different on the other side, or a part of the country far removed from the rest of the country.
“But we’re an important part of Norway and that should, to a greater degree, be the starting point.”
Archway depicting the Northern Lights
The Nord-Norge gateway was built as an archway over the main E6 highway that runs all the way from the Swedish border south of Halden to the Russian border in the north, east of Kirkenes. It was designed to depict the Northern Lights but there’s not much else at the site other than a kiosk, souvenir stand and rest rooms. Motorists regularly stop there to take photos of the archway before continuing north towards Mosjøen and beyond.
The gateway was initially set up by the local municipality of Grane where it’s located, but NRK reported that both it and the adjacent buildings were sold to brothers Lars Jonas and Jan-Michael Westerfjell in 2013 for NOK 200,000 (around USD 30,000 at the time). Westerfjell seemed almost offended by Bullvåg’s proposal to tear the archway down. “All parts of the country, counties and towns, try to nurture their own distinctiveness,” Westerfjell told NRK. “Being different can offer competitive advantages. The gateway is important for us as an attraction, and a natural place to stop.”
‘Unique part of the country’
Daniel Bjarmann-Simonsen, regional director for national employers’ organization NHO, told NRK that he understands Bullvåg’s objections but he sides with the majority who don’t want to tear it down. He claims Northern Norway is “a unique part of the country with unique opportunities, so it can be an advantage to signal (to motorists) that now you’ve come to Northern Norway.”
He all but dismisses “old stigmas” about Nordlendinger (people from Northern Norway): “I think this part of the country is full of self-confidence and willingness to shape new things.” He predicted that few would support a symbolic act of tearing down the gateway, and he was right. Around 50,000 people also stop and take photos in front of the arch every year.
Westerfjell said Bullvåg could buy the arch and tear it down if he wants: “The healthy distance between north and south here will still exist regardless of this gateway.”