Markus Hirvonen started as Region Mayor in January 2021 after serving as a Mayor of a medium-sized municipality in North Karelia, Juuka. When he applied for this position more than a year ago, COVID-19 had just spread to Finland. At the time, it seemed that the disease would be over by the summer and life in the world would return to normal. As we know, this did not happen. The fight against the disease continues in all Barents regions.

Previously Markus held senior positions in health care and in the municipality, so cooperation in the Barents area is new to him. He is very enthusiastic about it because the Barents region combines many things that are important to the whole world. The region is very vulnerable to rapidly progressing climate change and preventing it requires cooperation at all levels. The region is also one of Europe's most important concentrations of natural resources. North Karelia is building future solutions to the world's major challenges. The Barents Regional Council is one importnat part of building a better future.

Choices of the Youth will shape the Future of the Barents Region

The Barents region is united by fine but harsh climate conditions, long distances, vast natural resources and urbanisation. The coronavirus has slightly changed the direction of migration, but a major global transformation is still underway. These common issues offer opportunities for cooperation. The exploitation of nature and natural resources must take into account the wishes and interests of local people, indigenous peoples and regions. All this requires active dialogue, in which the new Region Mayor personally wants to participate.

The Barents region has also a rich culture based on the unique history and cultural heritage of the people of the area. Strength lies in the population of the region. The great challenge of the future in North Karelia and the entire Barents region is what kind of choices the youth in the area make. Combating climate change, equality and sustainable development are important issues for young people. In Mr. Hirvonen's opinion, these are the issues we must pay attention to. He also believes that we have abilities and know-how to develop the responsible management of these very things. Responsible work and the relationship with nature are the strengths that help our regions to thrive.

The coronavirus has boosted tourism based on natural attractions, and in North Karelia last year was the busiest year for nature tourism so far. The virus has taught people to enjoy pure nature. It is going to be a big opportunity for all of the Barents region in the future.

The coronavirus has also challenged the whole world and, at the same time, international cooperation in North Karelia. New technology allows to take care of a lot of practical matters remotely, but extensive cooperation also requires meeting people. Markus Hirvonen hopes that we will beat this disease soon. Then we will be able to meet each other face-to-face and develop the future of the Barents region.

(Photo and text are kindly provided by the Regional Council of North Karelia)