Friday, March 20, 2015

Patrushev Says Helsinki Stirring Up Nationalists in Karelia

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 20 – Nikolahy Patrushev, head of the Russian Security Council, says Finnish nationalists are becoming increasingly active in Karelia and by recruiting local people destabilizing that republic. But activists respond that there is no such Finnish activity and that they are asking for no more than other republics in Russia already have.


            Speaking in Petrazovodsk today, Patrushev says that along with growing “anti-Russian rhetoric” in other countries, Finland has intensified its support for “Finnish nationalists in Karelia,” a charge that local activists dispute and suggest Patrushev has made only to make himself look vigilant in the Kremlin’s eyes (


            It is “possible to find traces of ‘Finnish nationalism’ on both sides of the border,” local people concede, but they suggest that these “always bear a quite marginal character,” involve few people, and are less numerous and active than they were two decades ago.  What is more active is the Russian government’s campaign against them.


            Several days ago, the procuracy succeeded in having the “End the Occupation of Karelia” portal suspended, and last December a media firestorm broke out when several online activists called for Karelian to become a state language in the republic – Karelia is the only non-Russian republic where the language of the titular nationality doesn’t have that status.


            That prompted complaints by the Vice Speaker of the Karelian legislative assembly, Sergey Pirozhkin, that pro-Finnish and pro-Karelian groups were “going for broke” in their drive to destabilize Russia. But those faded once people found out that Pirozhkin’s company makes some of the devices used to block Internet traffic.


            What makes Patrushev’s comments worrisome is that he did not speak about the online world where there are many and varied sites but about NGOs of whom there are in Karelia very few and whose leaders know each other well. The heads of the Union of the Karelian People and Young Karelia said they knew of nothing that supports Patrushev’s claims.


            One of them speculated that the Russian leader’s comments were intended either to show his vigilance or to “frighten those activists [in Karelia] who work outside of organizations which are supported by the authorities and [those who seek to] register new and genuinely non-governmental organizations.”


            But others expressed the fear that Patrushev was laying the groundwork for abrogating the agreement Russia now has with the EU for border cooperation, an accord that has brought a great deal of money to that hard-pressed northern border region but that has also led many Karelians to see how badly off they are compared to Finns on the other side of the border.


            Vadim Shtepa, another prominent Karelian activist, was dismissive of Patrushev’s suggestion that Finland was sending agents of influence into Karelia.  “Mr.Patrushev,” he said, “could with equal success talk about the threat of reptiloids from the planet Nibir. No Finnish party is talking about the need for a return of its former territories.”


            Such “a return,”he said would require enormous sums of money, and “present-day Finnish society isn’t prepared for that.” What should happen is the creation of a free economic zone in Karelia, jointly administered by the Council of Europe and Russia. But unfortunately Moscow isn’t prepared for that alternative.


            Instead, Russia’s rulers “by imperial custom are continuing to seize new territories and allow the abomination of desolation to continue in the Karelian isthmus and the northern Ladoga region.

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