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25 October 201417:03

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s address at the opening of the Rørbua memorial, Kirkenes, 25 October 2014

2477-25-10-2014

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Your Majesty,

Ms Prime Minister,

Representatives of the county of Finnmark and the municipality of Sør-Varanger,

War veterans,

I am honoured to have been invited to the opening ceremony of the Rørbua historical and cultural memorial. The Norwegian flag was raised here 70 years ago to mark the beginning of Norway's liberation from the Nazi occupiers. This celebration of the liberation of Eastern Finnmark by the Red Army is an important event in bilateral relations and in the broader context of the upcoming 70th anniversary of victory in World War II.

There have not been any bilateral military conflicts in the centuries-long history of Russian-Norwegian relations. The first mention of trade and cultural ties between our nations dates back to the 9th century. In 1905, Russia was the first country to recognise Norway's independence. Norway was the first Western country to recognise the Russian Federation in December 1991.

Our joint struggle against Hitler's Germany, including the operation to liberate Northern Norway, greatly contributed to friendship between our nations.

The story of the battle for its liberation will be always remembered by our people as a fine example of valour, gallantry and inflexible will. Hitler's command considered their defence line in the Polar region to be impregnable. But it was pierced by the offensive launched by the Red Army with support from their Norwegian comrades-in-arms.

The retreating Nazi troops used the scorched earth tactic. They planned to blow up a mine in the nearby village of Bjørnevatn, which would have buried alive the 3,500 Norwegians who were hiding there, including women and children. A Soviet reconnaissance platoon that was dispatched there saved the people who were sentenced to death.

Norwegian military units were created following the liberation of Eastern Finnmark and were originally registered as units of the Soviet 14th Red Army. Thor Heyerdahl, who later became famous for his travels, served as a junior rank officer in one of those units.

We still remember the 26 October 1944 statement from the Norwegian Government to the Soviet Government. It said that the residents of the northernmost part of Norway welcome the armies of the Soviet ally as their liberators, and that the liberation of Northern Norway would be hailed with joy and admiration by the entire Norwegian people and would confirm friendship between our nations.

Today we can see once again that people in Norway hold sacred the memory of the Soviet soldiers who died liberating Northern Norway or perished at Nazi concentration camps. We are deeply grateful to the Falstad Memorial and Human Rights Centre in Norway for its outstanding contribution to identifying Soviet prisoners of war.

More and more time is elapsing from that period. This is why it is so important to always remember those who liberated Europe and the world from Nazism, to resist the attempts to rewrite history to suit political ends, and to preserve the truth about wartime events.

I am convinced that people in Russia and Norway will always remember the liberator soldiers, the Arctic convoys in the Barents Sea, the resistance and guerrilla fighters, as well as those Finnmark residents who carried Soviet soldiers across the fjords in their boats and helped them to drive the enemy out of their country in October 1944. The Great Victory in the Second World War is our common heritage.

We express our deepest respect to the war veterans and wish them health and all the best.

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