Dutch Arctic Centre

Professor Louwrens Hacquebord: “The bonds between the Netherlands and the Barents region are strong”
“There always have been contacts between the Barents region and the Netherlands”, according to professor Dr. Louwrens Hacquebord of the Arctic Centre in Groningen, Netherlands. Hacquebord is one of the most prominent scientists on the Arctic in the Netherlands. “Willem Barents is one of does figures out of history every Dutchmen and I believe every Russian knows.”

The Barents region indeed has strong ties to the Netherlands. And in the Netherlands they are looking for ways to keep that tie they value strong. “There always has been trade between first the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands and from about 1560 those traders sailed to Kola. Their main goal was salmon. After 1578 they reached the White Sea and Kholmogory. In 1583 some Dutch ships, being chased by Danish competitors, sailed up the Dvina and reached a place which today is Arkhangelsk. They noticed it’s potential, mostly because sea ships could reach it, and made Arkhangelsk one of their main trade posts. The trade between the Barents region and the Netherlands never has stopped since then.” Hacquebord studied the early history of the region and the strong Dutch influence. “Arkhangelsk had for years a large Dutch population. Even to this day you can find people with Dutch names in the Barents region.”

The successful trade caught in the Netherlands the attention of scientists and explorers. The route to the riches of China and Japan was believed to be within reach. “Oliver Brunel was the first Dutchmen to try. He sailed in 1584 but was shipwrecked and drowned in the Petchora. In his footsteps Willem Barents made his three Arctic voyages, which accumulated in the wintering of Barents and his companions on Nova Zemlya. Dying on sea on the way back, he gave his name to the sea and the region. “Also after Barents there have been voyages to this region. With the renewed interest for the Arctic in the Netherlands around 1880 they first looked in this direction and again there were some voyages to the Barents region, mainly with the ‘Willem Barents’ a Dutch discovery vessel. And now we from the Arctic Centre have stepped into those footsteps.”

The Dutch Arctic Centre is part of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands. The Arctic Centre was founded in 1969. These days it functions as information centre for polar research in the Netherlands. One of the regions it is focussed on is the Barents region. Hacquebord personally did research on Nova Zemlya to research the remains of the ‘Behouden Huys’, the wintering place of the crew of Barents. “We have a strong interest in the places the Dutch visited in the Barents region and the archaeological remains we can find there. That means the wintering place of Barents, but also the Dutch merchants quarter in Arkhangelsk and other remains. More in general we are also participating in a project that has as goal to make an inventarisation of the archaeology of the Barents region in general. In this we are working together with the Pomor University in Arkhangelsk and the university of Tromsц in Norway. In this project we are looking at all the archaeological remains from the Bronze Age, the influence of the Vikings and the post-medieval period with the English and Dutch and other countries entering the region and everything between those periods. After we made the inventory we will excavate some of the sites to determine how the material culture was and how the migration in to the area and the colonisation of area went.”

The Dutch Arctic Centre has much more projects on going in the Barents region. “The Barents region is a fascinating area for the Arctic Centre. Not only for historical reasons, but also for economic and ecological studies. We are very interested and it is for us a focus area.”

The person Willem Barents fascinated Louwrens Hacquebord. As a little child on school in his class there was a large poster of the wintering of Barents. He studied the picture, discovering more and more interesting details. It sparked in the child a desire to know more about this fascinating tale of drama and adventure. It determined him to visit this place. In 1987 he visited Murmansk and talked to Vladimir Poshidajev, director of the Provincial Museum. He told Hacquebord that it was almost impossible to visit Nova Zemlya, as it was a military region. The museum helped him to visit Kola, the place where the survivors of the ill-fated voyage met fellow Dutchmen. Tsecatharina Ivanova of the museum accompanied Hacquebord on the voyage. Back in Groningen Hacquebord talked to mayor Jos Staatsen and proposed a city bond between Groningen and Murmansk. This was realized in 1989. Again Hacquebord visited Murmansk as part of the official delegation. In 1991 he again visited the Barents region. This time his voyage went to Archangelsk where he visited the Pomor University and had a long discussion with Marina Belogubova, vice-president of Arkhangelsk Oblast, again hoping to get the chance to visit Nova Zemlya. But she took away all hope. It seemed impossible. But the next year suddenly there was an opening. After talks with Svetlana Gusarova of the Arctic and Antarctic Research institute in St. Petersburg Hacquebord and his team could visit Nova Zemlya in August 1992 and excavate the wintering site. An emotional moment for Hacquebord.

“Willem Barents is one of those figures out of history everybody knows in the Netherlands”, according to Hacquebord. “We Dutch don’t honor our heroes that much, but Barents is one of the figures who stands out. Everybody knows about his journeys. And he was a major role model for other explorers. Every time I visit the Barents region I notice there is also a lot interest for the person Willem Barents there. In 1996 we had the Barents year in the Netherlands celebrating his travels took place 400 years ago. It sparked a lot of interest again for his achievements and his person.”

These days Hacquebord notices a new bond developing between the Netherlands and the Barents region. “We are one of the countries helping to clear up nuclear waste in the Barents area. There are developing economic contacts, with the seaport Eemshaven in Groningen trying to stimulate the wood trade. And Arkhangelsk Oblast is for Dutch companies an interesting economic region with high potential for flowers, agricultural products and technical products. To stimulate this there will be a Gollansky Dome in Arkhangelsk. The problem now is that ships sail empty to Russia and come back with Russian products. The Netherlands is very interested in The Barents sea region. The bond has been there for more than 400 years!” The highlight in this 'new' bond is perhaps the lifting of the Murmansk in which Dutch companies played a major role.

Picture: Professor Louwrens Hacquebord

Richard Wagenaar Special for PRAVDA.Ru

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