Motherland lode: Barentsburg salutes its workers with food, music and frivolity during annual Miners’ Day party

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On a day saluting the work of the miners, all work stopped except for tourism activity – and those poor folks couldn’t find more than 15 minutes to join the party and eat something.

Meanwhile, everyone else partied from morning until late afternoon during the annual Miners’ Day celebration last Saturday in Barentsburg.

This article was written by staff writer Marion Prudhon. Like it? Donate!

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Most of Barentsburg’s residents gather at a square near the center of the Russian settlement for an hours-long feast during the Miners’ Day celebration. Photo by Marion Prudhon / Icepeople.

The event took place in a large public square overlooking the fjord. Grills were firing from 10 a.m. on, each one tended by designated people representing different sections of the community’s workforce. Music blared from a rustic wood open shelter to the side, luring the locals to arrive at the tables carrying food and drinks.

At noon, most of the population gathered around the tables of their work unit. A large pot filled with stew made by the cantina’s staff was stirred as it hung over a fire and men regularly emptied skewers of grilled pork on the tables.

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Barentsburg residents play music from a sheltered stage as part of the Miners’ Day celebration. Photo by Marion Prudhon.

Despite the snowfall the night before, the sun was shining and the air still, allowing people to stand without getting chilled by the temperature of eight degrees Celsius. As for the children, they were hardly standing – instead, they were freely running around, playing and dancing until the grown-ups joined them.

The children are one of the most visible signs of a revival of Barentsburg in recent years. Whereas Longyearbyen has seen a steep decline in its youth population due to a coal mining crisis that has forced hundreds of layoffs in the city’s primary industries, the number of children in the Russian settlement has actually increased along with the general popultation as the community continues to recover from a series of setbacks to its mining operations during the past decade. It is also aggressively boosting its scientific research and tourism activities.

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Barentsburg residents get ready to fire up one of several grills that would feed locals for hours during the Miners’ Day celebration. Photo by Marion Prudhon / Icepeople.

And the arrival of 150 Norwegian tourists didn’t spoil the mood of a locally focused celebration, although the visitors certainly found their experience in the settlement surprising.

“We got out of the boat and saw only the old buildings from the port,” said Kjield Rune Storholm. “Going up the stairs, it was incredible. I would never think that they do this here. These new very large buildings, I did not expect this, it was very nice.”

As for the party: ” It was special to have it outside in this temperature,” said Veronica Ostad.