Monday, November 19, 2018

Political Views, Not Ethnic Attachments Key to Identities in Karelia, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 19 – Like many regions of the Russian Federation, Karelia is today a colony of Moscow, but one must not analyze it according to narrow ethnic categories because it is a mistake to imagine that “’all Karels are for independence but all ethnic Russians are for empire,’” Vadim Shtepa says.

            The reality is much more complex, he tells Ukraine’s Sichovyk, a product of “a centuries-long Slavic-Finnic symbiosis” in which “Karelian villages coexist with North Russian ones, and there have never been conflicts on a nationality basis” ( in Ukrainian; in Russian).

            “In local dialects are mixed Karelian and Russian words; people write poems in them and local folk groups use them in songs. Imperial Russificaiton of course has been carried out for centuries but its victims have been not only the Karels and the Wepsy but also the Pomors and Trans-Onegins, the descendants of residents of the Novgorod Republic.”

            Indeed, in some ways, the local Russians are oppressed more than the others: they are forced to study Moscow Russian in schools whereas the non-Russians have at least limited opportunities to study their own national languages which no one in Moscow understands or considers important.
            Today, despite all the oppression of ethnic groups, Shtepa continues, “the main division of residents of Karelia goes not along the lines of ethnic origins but rather along those of political views.” There are many Russians who want the republic to control its own resources and destiny and become part of Europe, as there are many self-proclaims Karels who are pure “Stalinists.”

            There are few outlets now for national or regional views, but one can say that these “combine politics, economics and culture. In politics we call for the free election of the regional authorities; in economics, for taxes collected in the republic to remain there and not be sent to Moscow; and in culture, for the preservation and development of the unique Karelian identity.”

            When the empire weakens and then dies as is both necessary and inevitable, the regionalist who now lives in Estonia and edits the After Empire portal says, this regional identity will be stronger than any ethnic one in Karelia – and that will pose a greater obstacle to Moscow’s efforts to restore the empire than just about anything else. 

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