Wednesday, June 24, 2020

On Centenary of Flag of Northern Freedom, Moscow Preparing to Disband Karelian District that First Raised It

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – One hundred years ago today, the Karelians raised the Otava flag, showing the seven silver stars on a blue background and based on imagery from the Finnish Kalevala, over the Ukhta Republic.  That republic lasted only three years, but the desire for independence among the Karels has not disappeared, Andrey Tuomi says.

            Indeed, despite defeating that republic by overwhelming force in 1921, albeit at the cost of enormous losses in the Red Army and with allied Red Finnish troops, Moscow has not forgotten that event, the Karelian activist continues, and now hopes without prospect of success to destroy the territory that gave rise to the desire for independence and that flag.

            After the Ukhta Republic was crushed, some 11,000 of its residents fled to Finland, only to return under an amnesty in 1926 which the Soviets did not then respect sending many to their deaths in the GULAG. But perhaps even worse than that, the Soviets and now the Russians suggest that the Karelian movement was a Finnish project (

            Had it been a Finnish project, the Karelians could have united with Finland when it achieved independence and their lives would have been very different. But they are a distinct people and wanted and want their own country. (For background on that attitude and its origins, see

            After 1921, Moscow and Petrozavodsk treated the Kalevala District as the land where the Ukha Republic existed “an outcast” because its residents were and remain suspected of harboring separatist ideas. It has always received the lowest level of financing of any district in the republic and doesn’t have any good roads.

            Unemployment is staggeringly high, Tuomi says, and people from elsewhere have been moved in to dilute the Karelian quality of the place.  But none of that has been sufficient to eradicate the memory of Ukhta and the importance to Karelians of the Otava flag. And so Moscow has decided on what it hopes will be the final step of their destruction.

            The powers that be are “preparing for its liquidation and dividing its lands among other municipal formations,” Tuomi says., By that action, they hope to “forever remove from the memory of the people of the Ukhta Republic dreams about freedom and independence and about the right of each people, even the smallest, to decide its fate independently.”

            But they won’t succeed, he argues, just as they didn’t succeed earlier. The Karels have found ways to continue this dream and to mark the anniversary of their republic and their flag; and while there won’t be any official reference to these things in the state-controlled media in Karelia, they will be recalled in the memories of its people. And that is more important.

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