BORDER INSPECTION 2021
ADRIAN ØHRN JOHANSEN
These road barriers might look almost charmingly simple and provisional, but they have completely changed the daily lives of tens of thousands of Norwegians and Swedes. The agreement that gives citizens of the Nordic countries the right to move freely within the region is among the oldest of its kind in the world, dating to the 1950s. The border itself has remained unchanged since 1751, and it is the oldest and one of the longest continuous borders between two countries in Europe. Some crossings, on old and narrow dirt roads, weren’t even marked by proper signs. No signs were needed. Until March of last year, that is. Before, people hardly noticed as they crossed between the two nations. It has often been hard to tell exactly when you were leaving one for the other. More often than not, a small blue sign reading “Sverige” was the only indication Norwegians had that they were leaving their home country for Sweden. But with Sweden’s approach to fighting the coronavirus pandemic being significantly more relaxed than Norway’s, the old borderless way of life is just a memory, at least for now. Today, the few drivers approaching the border between Norway and Sweden are met either by military personnel, police patrols, physical barricades or all of the above. Fourteen months after the pandemic was declared, strict Norwegian travel restrictions are still enforced along the more than 1,000-mile border, and only those who are willing to go through a 10-day quarantine may pass, with a few exceptions. That may ease soon. Sweden plans to reopen crossings with neighbors, including Norway, beginning June 1. Over the past few months, driving along the Norwegian side of the border, from the southern town of Halden to the northern one of Narvik, I’ve met people who’ve had their lives turned upside down. People are prohibited from having coffee with neighbors or celebrating birthdays in person. For a while, they were even barred from simply going to work. Close relatives haven’t seen one another in over a year, married couples cannot meet, and people are prevented from attending weddings and funerals — all because of these seemingly harmless barricades.