Was it (the western Finnish owned piece) just a piece of land? Well, not only was Karelia some of the most beautiful and productive land in Finland, but a whole Karelian culture, arguably the richest in Finland. It was a unique, beautiful culture that can never be recaptured. Karelia was a priceless jewel - a land of myth and history; together with Eastern Karelia, it is the source of Finland's national epic, Kalevala. As such, it was instrumental in giving the Finnish people their national identity and desire to create an independent Finland. It was part of the soul of Finland, some of which was ripped out. And only Finland could guarantee the survival of the remnants of this threatened Eastern Karelian dialect and culture, which is now on the endangered list. Promises to continue education in the local language was never kept by the communists. Churchill should have protected this unique culture instead of helping to destroy it.
Karjala (Karelia), the writer's ancestral home, is the ancient eastern province of Finland which has been contested by Sweden Finland and Russia for hundreds of years. For thousands of years these Karelian Finnish people lived in the forests of Karelia and developed a truly rich and unique culture. Their language is a dialect of Baltic Finnish. When Novgorod, a competitor to Swedish trade in the North, challenged Sweden Finland's ownership of Karelia, the king of Sweden set out to increase Karelia's population and established new cities. The borders moved back and forth in war after war: back when the army was away fighting elsewhere for Swedish kings, forth when they returned. The Russians had converted most of the Eastern Karelians to Orthodoxy in order to tie them permanently to Moscow, and in the beginning of the 17th Century, they convinced their Orthodox Karelian brethren to move Eastward to protect them from the Lutheran faith. Many moved all the way to Tver, near Moscow. Russia always wanted to control this strategic area and have an opening into the Baltic, and established St. Petersburg in 1703 on the aforementioned Ingerian lands. Eviction is what the Russians had practiced for a millennium in the north. The next obvious move is what Stalin tried.
It is mostly the people kicked out of Karelia, (map) those free, hard-working people and their descendants that demand the return of their country - Western Karelia. This is understandable, because it was an enormous injustice and loss to be told that you cannot live in your own home anymore, and that you even have to leave your relatives graves behind, forever. It would be like forcing all the Serbs to move out and letting the Kosovians in. Karelians have been asked to sublimate their feelings about their loss for so long, and they have done just that, hoping that a change of heart would give them back their Karelia. But no support from the US has ever come firstly to prevent the event from occuring in the first place in 1944, nor subsequently to move the exiled Karelians back home. When Raegan said "tear down this wall" perhaps he should have also said "get out of Karelia and let the Finns back."
In their place came strangers who did not take good care of the land, the people or even the buildings. They turned it into a land of poverty and ruin, where for 50 years the blinds on Helsinki-Leningrad trains had to be pulled down to prevent people from seeing what the Russians have done to the country. It was like moving ghetto people into a middle class neighborhood and watching it decline. This was hard for Karelians to watch.
Russia's possession of Karelia no longer has any military significance for the defense of St. Petersburg and who knows, borders have been adjusted with a pencil before, and the descendants of the Karelians may again one day walk the ancient forests of this enchanted land.
The new president of Finland, Tarja Halonen (Feb. 2000) has an opportunity to take the Karelian issue, and the rapid deterioration of Karelia and especially Viipuri, to the negotiating table. Kanadan Uutiset states that the Russian president Vladimir Putin has recently stated that even mention of the topic can threaten international relations. From his point of view, there are no territorial disputes since they have been settled according to "international law" and standing treaties. Halonen, on a state visit to Moscow made it known that she would like to talk about problems she considers important. She said that the treaties which have been signed regarding Soviet land grabs during the last days of WWII, were done from the necessity of the times. But she now feels that Russia is finished as a major world power, and has joined the Third World.
The United States' present style of support of the Russian Empire isn't helping since it has, together with increased oil prices, resulted in doubling of military spending rather than improvement in the economy. If Russia wants to improve relations with its neighbors, the leadership should face their concerns and deal with them rather than resorting to the old intimidation. To improve the Russian economy requires cooperation of the neighbors.
Putin wants to keep all territory gained, but so do countries that lost land wish to have their land back. Can a compromise be struck? A well-organized peaceful movement is underway to repatriate Karelia by Karelian League and ProKarelia.
Let's see how one Karelian boy of Russian-Finnish ancestry sees his own society: a smiling boy with a great sense of humor. (Sure sounds like a Karelian to me!) Here is part of a recent (1998) magazine article about a Russian boy who lives near northern Lake Laatokka (Ladoga), Europe's largest lake, exactly where Antti Joronen fought in 1941 and not that far from my grandmother's house at Pyhäjärvi.
"I have never drank, nor smoked" the fourteen year old boy spoke in his excellent Finnish, "nor do I intend to. My father doesn't either, but my grandfather drinks a lot. Everyone at school smokes and drinks, even in the lower grades."
He admits that he gets a lot of teasing because of his refusal to smoke like the rest. But he just turns the deaf ear to their jabber.
"In school, the goings on are incredible. At recess you can't even go into the washroom because they are having sex there. Some girls in our school are prostitutes even though they are just 14 or 15 years old. I mean it. And I, I'm almost full-grown, soon I'll be 14. A true old goat I am," he jokes.
On weekends Antero is out looking for people to speak Finnish with. Both parents work for the government, which is broke. The father goes to work in hopes of one day getting paid, but also to keep his job. The mother, gets some money, but only a fraction of what she is owed.
"Neither of my parents are Finnish, my grandfather's father was. I am self taught. I have listened to cassettes over and over again. What a hard language!"
The magazine paid Antero for his work, and he was greatful. He planned to bring the money home. "What, you aren't going to spend it?" "No, I always bring all my earnings home, sometimes I buy a little candy for myself though." Antero wants to be an interpreter, and "nothing else."
"Now I have a tutor twice a week, which costs 200 rubles per month. I have been to Finland as well, and have a (girl) friend there. I have studied Finnish regularly for just one year. I don't want to live in this town when I grow up. This place is a bad place, thieves everywhere." (I know where he wants to go!)
Collapse of the Soviet Union, an extremely "transitory phenomenon," (one of their own terms for capitalism) was a long process brought on by Communist mismanagement of the economy mainly by uncontrolled spending by the military. Now it is time to find a scapegoat: the minorities, as usual, will do. Will the minorities take it lying down or fight back?
© 1998 - 2003 Osmo Joronen