Why should we care about border regions? Because they represent a unique example of how people live – a cross section of their differences and similarities.
Border regions can give us a better understanding of countries’ social and economic developments.They can tell the stories of a musher in Finnish Lapland, speaking fluently Russian, or a grape grower in Southeast Bulgaria, close to the Turkish border. Living close to a national border affects the way people interact with each other – sometimes resulting in cooperation, other times in conflict.
BarentsObserver decided to compare the Barents Region and the Balkan Region by using social and economic data from the two data portals, Patchwork Barents and Patchwork Balkan. In this case, the Balkan Region includes Bulgaria, Serbia, the Former Yugslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the two Turkish border regions Edirne and Kirklareli. Below are the results of the comparison.
One major difference between the Barents Region and the Balkan Region is population. With a territory nearly seven times as big as that of the Balkans, the Barents Region is considerably less populated. About five million people currently live in the Barents Region. The corresponding figure for the Balkan Region is twenty-one million.
Recent figures indicate that the population number has been decreasing in the Barents Region. This applies to all the Russian subregions, where the population has been reduced by roughly thirty percent since 1990, as well as the Finnish sub regions Lapland and Kainuu, whose populations decreased by respectively 17.5 and 8.8 percent during the same period. Northern Ostrobothnia, Finland, has had the biggest population growth in the Barents Region (14.2 percent).
In most parts of the Balkan region the population is declining as well, particularly in Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The sub region Bosnian Podrinje, for example, had a population fall of 36 percent between 1991 and 2013. In contrast, The Republic of Macedonia has had a more stable population growth – about 2 percent in the period 2003-2013. Also the two Turkish Balkan regions, Edirne and Kirklareli had positive population changes – 1.3 and 4.9 percent, respectively, since the year 2000.
The Barents and the Balkan region have developed two different settlement patterns. For example, the level of urbanization is generally high across the Barents Region. The share of population living in urban areas ranges from 68.8 percent in Troms, Norway, to 92.7 percent in Murmansk Oblast, Russia.
This is different from the Balkans. Due to its prominent agricultural sector, the Balkan Region has a larger rural population. Nevertheless, the share of people living in urban areas is also considerably large, meaning there is a bigger gap between the rural and urban population. As shown by figures from Patchwork Balkan, the level of urbanization ranges from 22.1 percent in West Herzegovina, to 95.4 percent in Sofia region, Bulgaria.
The average life expectancy at birth in the Balkan Region is around 75 years and there is little variation among the countries. In the Barents Region, the average life expectancy is also around 75 years, although there are large gaps between its sub regions. The gaps are biggest between the Nordic and the Russian Barents regions. A newborn in Vasterbotten, Sweden, is likely to live to the age of 81. In contrast, a newborn in Nenets AO, Russia, is likely to live only to the age of 66.