Staunton, August 22 – Infuriated by the attention to Stalin’s crimes in Karelia exposed by researchers like Yury Dmitriyev have attracted, Moscow officials have not only charged him and others with crimes of one kind or another to discredit them but also played up the existence of the much smaller network of prison camps the Finnish government set up there during World War II.
This Russian attention which has now expanded to include charges of genocide by the Finns against the Slavic population of the region supposedly as part of a Helsinki plan to create an ethnically pure Greater Finland has angered many in Finland and is exacerbating feelings between the Slavic population and the Finno-Ugric population in that republic.
That represents a significant change. In the past, most Russian discussion of Finnish camps had focused on their overall number, large in human terms but microscopic in comparison with Stalin’s GULAG. Now, however, Moscow commentators, affected by Putin’s talk of “a Russian world,” are focusing on the ethnic dimension, arguing that Helsinki targeted Russians and other Slavs.
An example of this shift is provided by the Russian nationalist site, Stoletiye, in an article boldly titled “Finnish Concentration Camps for Russians,” which expands on Russian investigators’ charges that the Finns organized their camps to exterminate Russians to ethnically cleanse Karelia (stoletie.ru/territoriya_istorii/finskije_konclagera_dla_russkih_469.htm).
According to Vladimir Veretennikov, the article’s author, the Finns set up “at a minimum” 14 concentration camps in occupied regions of Karelia, more than 30 labor camps and more than 40 additional ones for prisoners of war. These camps held more than 24,000 people, of whom eight thousand died according to Moscow and 4060, according to Helsinki.
These were not simply ordinary military camps, he continues. Rather “the final goal of the occupiers was the creation of an ethnically ‘pure’ state, Greater Finland.” In that putative state, “ethnic Karelians, Wepsy, Ingermanlanders, and other Finno-Ugric people were considered worthy of becoming its citizens but all the rest were not,” he quotes one historian as saying.
Toward that end, “the occupiers wanted to cleanse eastern Karelia which they had conquered of representatives of peoples who were not Finno-Ugrics and they were not restrained in their methods, the Petrozavodsk scholar Veretennikov cites argues. This was ethnic cleansing of the purest type and directed mostly at ethnic Russians.
Not surprisingly, Finnish researchers have challenged this version of events; and there is little doubt that it is having a negative impact on Finland’s relationship with the Russian Federation. But such discussions are clearly a response not simply to efforts to expose Stalin’s crimes, something Putin doesn’t want, but also to mobilize people against local Finno-Ugrics.
The Finno-Ugric population of Karelia, including all the groups Veretennikov mentions as well as Finns as such, has become increasingly active, outraged that their republic is the only one in Russia where the language of the titular nation is not the official state language (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/04/karelian-not-just-language-of-villagers.html).
By playing up what Finland supposedly did during World War II, portals like Stoletiya clearly hope to discredit the Finno-Ugric peoples in Karelia by suggesting that they were allies of Finland during World War II and that Moscow should continue to back the ethnic Russians there because they were the first defenders and first victims of that war.