Saturday, July 27, 2019

Finns and Russians Don’t Mean the Same Thing when Each Talks about ‘Return of Karelia,’ Region.Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 25 – A report in Helsingin Sanomat last Sunday said that Boris Yeltsin in 1991 was planning to “sell Karelia to Finland” for 15 billion US dollars is neither new nor true, Region.Expert says, even though as one would expect it touched off the latest media denunciations of the first Russian president and “the wild 1990s.” 

            Although it isn’t new – the former Russian official who made this claim had said the same in 2007 – or accurate -- no one in the Finnish government knows anything about it -- the Russian regionalist site says, but the reaction in Moscow highlights something important that is often overlooked (

            And that is this: when Russians talk about Karelia, they mean the Republic of Karelia with a capital in Petrozavodsk; but when the Finns do, they mean “Kariala, the territories which they lost after World War II and which are partially located in Russian Karelia and partially in Leningrad Oblast.

            That difference inevitably produces misunderstandings, but the reality is that “when the Finns speak about ‘Karjala takaisin’ (‘the return of Karelia’), the Russians think that they are talking about the Karelian Republic as a whole” when in fact they are talking about something altogether different and smaller.

             No one in Finland aspires to occupy Petrozavodsk, but many Finns, but not parliamentary parties, speak about their desire for a return of the territories Moscow occupied.  Helsinki officials know that Russia isn’t about to give these areas back and that, if it did, it would cost the Finns enormous amounts of money to bring those areas up to Finnish standards.

            If there is no movement on this issue, why then has it surfaced now? One possibility, Region.Expert says, is that Moscow wants to win sympathy among the Finns about Vladimir Putn’s new “peaceable” approach and openness to discussion and thus limit any possibility that Finland will join NATO, something ever more Finns have been thinking about.

            At the same time, it is important to note, the regionalist portal says, that few Karelians want to become part of Finland.  They are interested either in greater autonomy or independence, both of which would open the way for closer contacts with but not integration into their Western neighbor.

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