Thursday, December 29, 2022

Helsinki’s Willingness to Take in Ingermanlanders in 1990 Prevented What Might have Become ‘a Second Karabakh’ in the Russian North, Finnish Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – Finnish President Mauno Koivisto’s declaration in April 1990 that his country would welcome Ingermanlanders was driven by a fear that their drive for autonomy might involve Finland in something like a Karabakh dispute in the north and that that could prompt Moscow to take severe measures against Helsinki, Kristiina Hyakiyo says.

            But that declaration, which ultimately led to the emigration from the Russian Federation of 30,000 to 35,000 Ingermanlanders to Finland had the effect of undermining the drive for autonomy within Russia that Moscow had promised in 1920 but never carried out, the Finnish researcher says.

            The author of a University of Helsinkki doctoral dissertation entitled “The Difficult Path Home. The Beginning and Expansion of the Process of the Repatriation of Ingermanland Finns at the Time of the Disintegration of the USSR” summarized her findings for Finnish state television (

            What happened in 1990 had an important pre-history during World War II. At that time, Finland took in approximately 63,000 Ingermanlanders; but after 1945, 55,000 of them returned to the USSR, only to be confined to the GULAG. Koivisto knew that history well, Hyakiyo reports, and felt some responsibility to these people.

            But he was frightened that the Ingermanland drive for autonomy could land Finland in difficulties with Moscow. Two months before the Finnish president made his declaration, Ingermanland activists confronted Leningrad oblast officials with copies of the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty and demanded autonomy. At that time, everything seemed possible, the researcher says.

            This was also the period when the Karabakh dispute broke out in the Caucasus, and Koivisto feared that if the Ingermanlanders demanded autonomy, that would look to Moscow like a copy of the Armenian efforts in Karabakh and so he decided to offer immigration to them in order to prevent that from happening.

            It is likely that the Finnish president’s move significantly delayed the drive for Ingermanland autonomy; but it didn’t end it. And today, Ingermanlanders in Estonia and Karelia are pressing for autonomy or even independence, to the growing nervousness and anger of the Russian authorities.

            On those trends which continue to this day, see discussions at, and

            For more background on the Ingermanders and this still submerged nation, see Ott Kurs , “Ingria: The Broken Landbridge Between Estonia and Finland,” GeoJournal 33.1 (1994): 107–113; Ian Matley, “The Dispersal of the Ingrian Finns,” Slavic Review 38:1 (1979): 1-16;,,,, and


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