Tuesday, April 9, 2019

‘I Always Knew I was an Izhor’ – Submerged Finnic Identities Re-Emerging in Russia’s Northwest

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – Ever more young residents in St. Petersburg with Finnish roots are seeking to recover and affirm them, Dmitry Yermakov says, undercutting Russian insistence that such people are fully assimilated and giving new support to regionalist and nationalist movements in the northern capital and its environs.

            The BBC journalist interviewed numerous Finno-Ugric young people in St. Petersburg about their past – their ancestors were deported to Siberia or killed under Stalin, and many have lost their language and been russified – and about their present in which they are trying to recover and reaffirm their identities (bbc.com/russian/blog-photo-47786858).

            Their comments say a great deal not only about the ethnic scene in the northern capital but also more generally about the numerous peoples who were submerged often by force into the Russian nation and are now resurfacing and taking pride in their separate identities. Below are a few of their comments:

·         Vladimir Lekhtinen, a Finnish musician: “In school, it seemed to me that I was an alien” in Volgograd oblast … then I found out that I was a Finn from Vyborg. In me is the blood of the Volga Finn-Ugric peoples” but “my grandmother was afraid, even after the end of the USSR, to talk about that. She was afraid of a knock on the door.”

·         Dmitry Kharakka-Zaytsev, an Izhor lawyer and rights activist. “I always knew I was an Izhor.” There are few Izhors left and our activism makes Russians nervous and angry.  “Happily, dialogue continues, and under the influence of all this unfriendly milieu, people are beginning to study anew their history, books, and family archives. My grandmother said that in Russia it is better to be a Russia because you never know what will happen tomorrow.”

·         Yura Korobkov, an Ingermanland Finn. “In my circle of friends, there are many peple who know that they have Finnish roots and are proud of them. But if there is national unity, it is more because of religion since the Finns are Lutherans.” But further mixing of nationalities and assimilation seems to be the fate of such groups.

·         Anton Pukkonen, an Ingermanland Finn. Native Petersburgers know there are Finns about, but the many people who have migrated to the northern capital don’t and are often upset that there is anyone in the city but Russians. 

·         Nadya Pavlova, a Karelian guide. In Soviet times, “it was dangerous to say that you are a Karelian, a Wepsy or an Izhor.” As a result, her parents didn’t talk about their origins.  But now, she says, she is proud of her background and is seeking to find out as much about it as she can.

·         Liza Yeremeyeva, an Ingermanland Finn who works at the Russian Museum. She grew up as a Russian but now says she is seeking to regain her family’s language and identity.

·         Toivo Pumalainen, an Ingermanland Finn who works as a historian.  “I love [St. Petersburg] but I see it as a dying city.” 

·         Olya Uimanen, an Ingermanland Finn who works in a museum. “That I am an Ingermanland Finn, I knew from childhood. My father didn’t hide that we are not Russians and in my first passport, when there was a nationality line, it listed me as a Finn.”

·         Yuliya Idrisova, an Ingermanland Finn who works as a linguist. “I am married to a Tatar and don’t know what my grandmother would say if she were here. If he were a Russian, she would certainly have been against the marriage.” Her ancestors were deported to Siberia, and later her grandmother moved to Finland. 

·         Tanya Pugonen, an Ingermanland Finn student. She says her name ought to be written as Pukkonen, “but as in the USSR, things were very bad with passport workers, it was transformed into Pugonen. But I am proud that I have a Finnish nae and that people understand that. I very much love Petersburg … but I regret that my mother didn’t take me to Finland when there was the possibility of this in 2000.” 

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