Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Karelians Organize to Defend Their Republic Against Amalgamation

Paul Goble
Staunton, February 11 – With rumors swirling that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be about to amalgamate the Republic of Karelia with a neighboring and predominantly ethnic Russian oblast, the peoples of Karelia have formed a Republic Movement of Karelia to defend its borders and advance its rights.

Vadim Prokopyev, the president of the new organization, says that he and his fellow residents “are hearing ever more often” about such a threat but that they are not intimidated by it. “We want to preserve our republic and more than that to find new stimuli for its development,” he told regionalist Vadim Shteppa (kauppatie.com/2014/02-2014/rus-16.shtml).

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “federal policy still gives little basis for optimism.” That is because, “despite the fact that Russia is officially called a federation, we do not have any real federalism today.” Karelian citizens don’t pick the head of their republic, and they don’t keep the taxes collected there.  “We want to change this situation.”

He said his new group has political, economic and cultural goals.  Politically, it intends to defend federalism and human rights “as guaranteed by the Constitution of Karelia.” The group plans to devote particular attention to local government, and in the future, if the law prohibiting that is changed, it will nominate candidates for local offices.

In the meantime, Prokopyev said, the group will support candidates who back the rights of the republic regardless of whether they are “right, left or center.”  “If they support the progressive development of Karelia and its being freed from colonial status, they will be our allies.”

Economically, the group wants to support local industries and especially those that export their products and to develop tourism.  And culturally, its members will continue to back cultural measures like the Summer Solstice Festival and other measures to “develop various creatve programs for pushing Karelian brands.”

The Republic Movement of Karelia also wants to promote closer relations with Finland, but it must overcome the resistance of officials who “continue to live in the past” and who view everything having to do with Helsinki through the prism of the Winter War. The movement would like in the first instance to end restrictions on the purchase of Karelian property by Finns.

At the same time, he said, Finns are going to have to rethink their approach to Karelia.  They must not view Karelia simply as a source of raw materials, and they must press Karelian officials to end the kind of corruption which limits investment.  Prokopyev added that “we intend to direct the attention of society to this situation and when possible to correct it.”

“At times,” the leader of the new group said, “it seems as if Karelia is being drawn into the European world, but a new version of the ‘iron curtain’ is going  up in front of us -- even through the time of empires ended long ago.”  Karelians have no interest in being left under the control of the Moscow “’vertical’” and its “’Eurasian path.’”


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