Protesters ‘rename’ street in front of Russian Consulate in Kirkenes after killed opposition leader Navalny

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“We do this to honor his courage. For what he did for Russia and continues to do for the country after his death,” says Natalia Solianik to the Barents Observer. She is spokesperson for the locals who put up the sign.

“It is very important for us in a border town like Kirkenes. We have to show that we support peoples’ fight for freedom in Russia,” she says.

Natalia Solianik quotes Navalny’s words: “I’m not afraid. You should not be afraid either.”

 

Natalia Solianik says Navalny represented a hope for freedom and democracy in Russia. Photo: Thomas Nilsen 

 

Kirkenes is one of the very few places in the Nordic countries where Russia still has an operating Consulate General. It opened in 1993 and aimed at supporting cross-border contact, businesses and travel. Today, there are no official contacts between county or municipal authorities in Finnmark and Kirkenes with the Russian diplomats. 

Norway shut down its Consulate General in Murmansk in 2022. 

Natalia Solianik hopes the initiative now taken to name the street after Aleksei Navalny will be made permanent.

Mayor of Kirkenes, Magnus Mæland, says to the Barents Observer that he supports the idea. 

“This shows the citizens’ commitment to peace and freedom. Navalny represented hope for a different Russia for many,” Mæland says.

“It can happen,” he answers when asked if the street permanently could be renamed. 

“I will support it,” the Mayor states.

Mæland, however, underlines that he would prefer to have unanimity. “I want us local politicians to reflect on this,” he adds. 

Similar petitions and political initiatives to rename streets where Russian diplomatic missions are located take place in European capitals like Budapest, Bucharest, Rome, Berlin, The Hague and Tallinn.

 

Activists have ‘renamed’ the street outside Russia’s Embassy in Berlin after Aleksei Navalny. Photo: Isabella Hoier / SOTAvision

 

Aleksei Navalny was Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe. His death was announced on February 16 by the prison colony in Kharp, Siberia, where he was serving a 19-year sentence. Navalny had then been behind bars since he returned to Russia in January 2021 after recuperating in Germany from being poisoned by what his team said was Kremlin-linked liquidators.

In the evening after Navalny’s death became public, locals in Kirkenes spontaneously set up a homemade memorial across the street from the main entrance of the Russian Consulate General. Flowers, portraits and candles were brought.

The ad-hoc memorial has since then been vandalized three times. Unknown people first demolished the photos of Navalny two times to trash wreck, but Natalia Solianik and others replaced the portraits and brought new flowers.

On Wednesday, however, a vandal spray-painted the memorial, including a mirrored “Z” – the symbol of the Russian aggression that is widespread inside the country and painted on military vehicles and tanks participating in the onslaught on Ukraine.

 

A mirrored “Z” made by spray-paint over the ad-hoc memorial honoring Navalny outside Russia’s Consulate General in Kirkenes. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

 

How to display street names in the Norwegian border town has previously sparked debate. Kirkenes is the only Nordic town where names also are written with Cyrillic letters. 

 

Kirkenes has dual language street signs in Norwegian and Russian. Fears of Putin’s totalitarian regime and his war against Ukraine now shatter cross-border ties. Photo: Thomas Nilsen