And because people in the two Russian capitals view things that way, they assume that any Karelian demand for autonomy and self-determination is nothing more than a cover for a program of joining the republic to Finland. They assume that Karelians and Finns are the same nation, something that simply is not true.
There are several “simple but important” ways in which Karelia and Finland are “very different territories which are in no way drawn toward one another so as to become a single state,” Tuomi continues. The first of these is that “the Karels are a separate, completely independent people,” in no way a part of any other Finno-Ugric nation.
Despite some similarities with the Finns, “the Karels have their own unique culture, customs and traditions,” he says. Most of them have a different religion, and all of them have “a different mentality, a different character, and even different external signs” that set them apart from the Finns and other Finno-Ugric nations.
Even when the borders between the two peoples were more open, “Karels did not mix with Finns, did not change their religion and did not change their way of life.” Some moved and assimilated just as some Finns did, but this is “typical” for all peoples who live in a border zone, Tuomi says.
Of course, the number of ethnic Karels in the republic is “today very small.” Most of the republic’s population consists of Slavic peoples, “above all, Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians.” But “these are far from being the same Russian show live in the Russian basin, beyond the Urals or in the western oblasts of the Russian Federation.”
And equally they are far from being the same as Belarusians who live in their own country or Ukrainians who live in theirs. Thus, the people of Karelia are “a different ethnic community which in must other cultures, Karel and Pomor, have formed. The mixture of these cultures and blood in Karelia is so deep” that one can speak about “citizens of Karelia.”
One indication of this is that residents of the republic speak of themselves as being Karelians both within the republic and beyond its borders rather than identifying primarily as members of this or that nationality.
Second, there is no possibility for the Karelians and the Finns to unite because they exist “not simply in different economic and social conditions but also live today in completely different eras and dimensions,” Tuomi continues. Neither Karelia nor Finland needs unity. It would have “catastrophic consequences” for both.
Karelia lags behind Finland several decades, “not only economically, technologically, politically and socially,” he says, but “mentally as well.” It would take decades for that to be overcome given that Finns would continue to move forward even as Karelians rushed to catch up.
Third, “the unification of Karelia and Finland into a single state is impossible because Finland’s attitude toward Karelia is significantly distinguished form the attitude of the federal center. If Moscow views Karelia simply as its own territory and part of the empire, the Finns see it above all as a sovereign and unique republic and even a bridge between the western and eastern parts of the Finno-Ugric world.”
Finns don’t want to absorb anyone, including the Karels; and they feel they would be putting themselves at risk by expanding, he continues. Helsinki certainly has no aspirations to “take back” even those parts of Karelia the Soviets seized after the Winter War. Finns are not willing to take on the burden of bringing these regions up to Finnish standards.
Both in the wake of the collapse of the Russian Empire and of the USSR, the Karelians pursued not union with Finland but rather an independent existence; and even today, most of them see no other future for their land other than as “an independent, sovereign state living in peace and concord with similarly sovereign states.”
At present, Tuomi says, Karelians “have all the conditions” to achieve that goals, “except for the main one: recognition that we are in a position and have the right to independently decide and choose our path of development. I hope,” he concludes, “that this is only a question of time.”