Sunday, August 11, 2019

Karelia in 1990 Wanted Autonomy Not Independence But Now has Neither, Potashov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 9 – Twenty-nine years ago today, the Supreme Soviet of the Karelian ASSR adopted a Declaration of State Sovereignty, an event that should be celebrated as a major holiday just as the anniversary of the analogous RSFSR declaration adopted two months earlier is in the Russian Federation, Valery Potashov says.

            But the leaders of Karelia in the era of Vladimir Putin prefer not to mention it at all and instead mark June 8th as the birthday of the republic. On that date in 1920, the Soviet government issued a decree creating the Karelian Labor Commune in “areas of Olonets and Arkhangelsk gubernias populated by Karels” (

            This raises the question, the Karelian activist now living in Finland as an émigré says, as to “why the day of the adoption of the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federation became a major state holiday and the very same historical date in Karelia in fact has been forgotten?”

            According to Potashov, the reason for this is that “any recollection of the sovereignty of republics included in the Russian federation is today viewed by the federal center as a manifestation of separatism” even though there is no mention of any intention to withdraw from the RSFSR or the USSR in the original Karelian declaration.

Instead, he points out, the declaration said that Karelia was to be “a legal democractic and sovereign state within the RSFSR and the USSR, one which voluntarily delegated part of its authority to the RSFSR and the USSR on the basis of federal and union agreements.” But it did contain two provisions the Putin regime won’t accept.

On the one hand, it specified that all the natural resources of the republic were the property of the people of Karelia and the basis of its economic sovereignty. And on the other, it said that any laws of the RSFSR or the USSR which contradicted those of the Karelian ASSR were invalid on its territory.

Potashov notes that in 2015, he interviewed Viktor Stepanov who had been the head of the Supreme Soviet of the Karelian ASSR when the declaration was adopted. (For a discussion of that interview, see

“No one raised the issue of the republic receiving state independence,” Stepanov said then. Karelians simply needed more autonomy. They couldn’t build a house without clearance from Moscow. When they were able to after 1991, they achieved wonders, constructing more housing units between 1994 and 1998 than in the previous 30 years combined.

And in the 1990s, the former parliamentary leader said, Karelia developed close ties with Finland, not only in cultural terms but in economic ones as well. Unfortunately, this “short period of relative freedom,” he acknowledges didn’t last.  And now republic officials no longer even mention “sovereignty” of the declaration.   

The only Karelians who do mention either the concept or the date, Potashov concedes are “the few supporters of regionalism” who like their predecessors aren’t pursuing independence but do want democracy and autonomy.  They hope that at some point in the future, they and their fellow Karelians will get both.

No comments:

Post a Comment