Thursday, December 13, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Karelia’s Decision to ‘Optimize’ Non-Russian Publishing Sparks Protests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – A decision by Karelian Republic officials  to “liquidate” the Periodika publishing house that has been issuing books, magazines and newspapers in Karelian, Finnish and Wepsi and combine it with another that issues only Russian-language materials has sparked protests in that republic and appeals to neighboring Finland for help.

            According to an article posted on the portal yesterday, Petrozavodsk has taken this decision so that it can sell the building publisher has occupied for the last decade to a private business concern and use the proceeds to cover the republic government’s current deficit spending (

            The authorities say this decision will not affect publishing in the non-Russian languages, but more than 60 journalists, cultural figures and minority activists have signed a letter of protest to the government because they believe this “’unification’ will destroy the specific nature of the press and  book publishing in the languages of the native peoples of the republic.”

            But because republic head Aleksandr Khudilaynen has not responded, the signatories of this petition have decided to increase pressure on him by appealing to concerned social groups elsewhere in the Russian Federation and in Finland as well, according to Anatoly Grigoryev, the leader of the Karelian Congress.   

            The Karelian Congress chief said that Petrazavodsk’s plans to create “a common republic media holding where ‘in one bottle’ there will be everything including ,television and popular Russian newspapers and then put the editorial offices of publications in the national languages” could not fail to disturb those concerned with the survival of the communities the latter serve.

            The non-Russian publications are “completely different” in their content and approach, Grigoryev said, and combining them with the larger Russian-language editorial offices will ineluctably lead to the decline of the former, something that the current leadership in Petrozavodsk either doesn’t oppose or even actively supports.

            Journalists working in the non-Russian media “and what is most important, the readers of these [outlets] justly say that this will lead to the final wiping out of the cultural-linguistic particularities of these publications” and thereby convert them into “’a cog’ of the state media machine.

            Grigoryev said that the activists supporting non-Russian media had appealed to Khudilaynen, himself an ethnic Finn, three times without receiving a clear answer. The republic head was especially dismissive of their requests at a meeting of the Council of Karels, Finns and Wepsi earlier this fall.

            The republic head, however, ignored their arguments and even refused to discuss the issue claiming that he had to “prepare himself for a meeting with [Russian Federation President Vladimir] Putin.” Consequently, Grigoryev said, the activists have no alternative but to appeal to Finnish groups which he said “support us.”

            But now that the national minorities of Karelia have succeeded in generating international attention, Petrozavodsk has backed off, answering “neither yes nor no” to all requests. But apparently, the powers that be have already made promises about the sale of the building Periodika has occupied and they are only waiting until “the public protest dies down.”

            In addition to the consequences for the ethnic groups in Karelia, Grigoryev noted, the decision of the government to raise money to meet its debt by the sale of buildings and natural resources to outsiders reflects a problem that should infuriate all the residents of the republic: the complete collapse of the economy there.

            The Karelian government has ignored all suggestions about the creation of a free economic zone and limited contacts between people in Karelia and Finland expand.  Some businessmen are interested, he noted, but because of the indifference or hostility of the regime, it sometimes appears that a new ‘iron curtain’ has gone up, one even worse than in Soviet times.”


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