Saturday, September 5, 2015

Russian Media Outlet Falsifies History to Try to Link Karelian Regionalist to Irish Republican Army

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 5 – The extent to which Russian propagandists are prepared to go to try to discredit regionalism is on full view in Karelia this week where a quasi-official news outlet has suggested that the Karelian “regionalists” who it says are really separatists “plagiarized” its flag from that of the Irish Republican Army.

            The only problem is that the Karelian flag existed 16 years before the IRA adopted a similar one, something the editors of the Karelian site could have found out from Wikipedia but didn’t and chose to ignore when two leading Karelian regionalists sent them a correction which they refused to run.

            On August 29, Karelnovosti carried a curious article entitled “The Flag of the Karelian ‘Regionalists’ Turns Out to Have an Irish Origin” that reported on the findings of Aleksandr Stepanov, a deputy in the Karelian parliament (

            The article identified Stepanov as a historian who has concluded that the Finnish artist who drew the flag Karelian regionalists now use, tracing its origins to the Ukhta republic during the Russian Civil War, plagiarized the big dipper stars on a blue field from the flag the IRA marched under during the Easter 1916 rising against the British.

            “Ireland and Finland were at about the same stage in acquiring their independence” at that time, Stepanov says, and they “watched what each other was doing. They knew about symbols.” Consequently, it is no surprise, Stepanov says, that the Finnish artist took the easy way out and simply copied the IRA flag.

            There are many problems with this story beginning with the insistence on putting the term “regionalist” in quotation marks and suggesting that “many” people think the regionalists are in fact separatists and ending with the history of the flags of Karelia and of the Irish Republican Army.

            Andrey Osipov and Vadim Shtepa, two prominent Karelian regionalists, took the time to point out just how poor a historian Stepanov is and how inaccurate his story is. They composed a response and sent it in to Karelnovosti which despite normal journalistic practice refused to publish it. As a result, they have posted their story on the Free Karelia portal (

            “Mr. Stepanov,” they write, “who in the original story is called ‘a historian’ is either incompetent on this issue or is intentionally distorting history. Unfortunately, the editors of Karelnovosti also have behaved unprofessionally by not taking the trouble to check historic facts.”

            And the facts are these: the IRA was formed only in 1919, “that is, a year after the appearance of the Otava flag;” and “only much later, in 1934, did the IRA change its flag which became almost a complete copy of the Karelian Otava flag.” If anyone engaged in plagiarism, it was the IRA and not the Karelians!

            Why then did Stepanov, a communist in addition to whatever else he is, “distort history” in order to attack the Otava flag? The answer to this riddle is simple, Osipov and Shtepa say. He “considers himself the historic heir of the Bolsheviks, and the Ukhta Republic was a non-Bolshevik phenomenon” created not from above but by local people.

            After the October revolution, “the Bolsheviks issued the Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia in which they promised to give sovereignty to all peoples of the former empire. But this was only their latest lie: instead of fulfilling their own declaration, they in fact recreated a centralized empire under their own rule.”

            They suppressed the Ukhta Republic just as they suppressed or tried to suppress anything they had not set up on their own, the two regionalist writers continue. This “Bolshevik lack of understanding of regionalism and hostility to it continues in present-day Russian politics and in certain media outlets.”

            Indeed, they say, in the case of the Karelnovosti story, “it is indicative that even in the title of this editorial material,” the writers felt compelled of some reason to put “’regionalism’” in quotes – even though the word exists “in all texts of political science” and has been the subject of an EU declaration.

            “But for Russian neo-imperial consciousness it looks like some kind of seditious notion,” Osipov and Shtepa say. Further, “it is characteristic” of the editors to say that “’many suspect [Karelian reigonalists] of separatism. We would very much like to know who these ‘many’ are!” All the more so because the Republic Movement of Karelia is based on constitutional federalism.
            The Movement calls for “free elections for all levels of power, for decentralization of taxes, and for the preservation and development of republic uniqueness. To see ‘separatism’ in this is an absurdity bordering on open slander.” (The two add that they are considering legal action against the editors.)

            Unfortunately, in Russia today, “imperial stereotypes … sometimes reach the absurd. It is interesting,” they say, that European leftist movements mostly are supporters of regional self-administration but Russian ones pray to the Kremlin little father tsar and dream of reviving ‘a great power’ under the flag of the color of blood.”

            Certain nominally independent journalistic outlets support such absurdities. Karelnovosti, for example, appears to back the erection of a monument to Stalin in Petrozavodsk.  Have they no shame of sense?  “To erect a monument to Stalin in Karelia on the graves of the victims of the White Sea canal and Sandramokh is about as ethnical as calling for putting up a monument to Hitler in Buchenwald.”

            “Citizens of German long ago were cured from the totalitarian complexes of the past,” Osipov and Shtepa write. “But with us, unfortunately, people still live according to them – and that interferences with the contemporary development of the Republic.”

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