Don's diary

December 17, 1999

Thursday

Meet up with old friends at Manchester airport and catch up with the news since the last conference in Sweden in 1997.

Our flight to Helsinki is delayed for half an hour at Stockholm for de-icing and a fresh intake of passengers. After a three-hour wait in Helsinki airport, we fly to Rovaniemi, on the Arctic Circle, for a conference on transformation and integration in the Baltic Sea area and the Barents Sea.

Two giant snowmen meet us as we enter the airport. Arrive at the Hotel Rudolf at 10pm, half an hour after the official welcoming ceremony has ended. A cold supper awaits us, which includes some rather tasty reindeer pate.

Friday

Breakfast on reindeer meat in the dark. By the time we arrive at the university at 10am there is a greyish half-light in the sky.

We are informed that security issues have been excluded from the agenda, which causes a solipsistic mixture of consternation and hilarity, given that two-thirds of my own paper is on relations between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Russia and the current war in Chechnya.

Reindeer meat for lunch, then we listen to a brilliant paper on nationalism in 20th-century Lithuania, followed by a 3km trudge through the dark and snow back to the hotel.

Saturday

The day of my paper. I use the caveat that the Caucasus mountains may be a long way from the Baltic Sea, but that any seemingly irrational behaviour in Moscow could spread in any direction, and that Moscow is not so far away.

It seems to go down well, apart from with the glum-looking, silent row of Russians sitting directly in front of me - the

cold war did end back in 1989, didn't it?

We are taken by bus, in the dark, to the Arctic Circle for the official opening of the Finnish Christmas by Santa Claus.

Five rather sullen academics slither in the slush and snow as noisy elves rush and swirl through the crowds. Santa stands on the balcony of his

castle, wishing us all peace, love and harmony in Finnish,

Swedish and English.

Fortunately we find a bar nearby, where we enjoy an excellent meal of reindeer meat with mashed potato and wild fruits.

Sunday

Breakfast on slices of reindeer meat with cheese, followed by a day full of conference papers.

I decide that I could not adapt to living in northern Scandinavia. Despite all the Christmas decorations and candles, the bleak midwinter is too gloomy.

Monday

We pull out of the clouds into the sunshine high above Rovaniemi. Later we chase the setting sun all the way to Stockholm, then the final leg back to Manchester.

At Helsinki airport I stock up with tins of reindeer soup,

reindeer pate and reindeer sausage. Should be just right for Christmas.

Robert Hudson is senior lecturer in European history and politics in the department of European studies,

University of Derby.

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