A rough guide to Karelia

August 3 2015

The Gulf of Finland (as Toynbee might have said) is a backwater of the Baltic, which is a backwater of the North Sea, which is a backwater of the North Atlantic; the White Sea is a backwater of the Barents Sea, which is a backwater of the Arctic Ocean.

Between the Gulf of Finland and the White Sea are Karelia and two large lakes, Ladoga and Onega. Between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga is the Karelian Isthmus (capital Vyborg or Viipuri, recent post) – but Karelia itself is, in a way, an isthmus between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

(The other Finnish Gulf is that of Bothnia, between it and Sweden.) Most of Karelia is now a Republic in Russia. North of Russian Karelia is Murmansk Oblast.

Karelia now:

Karelia

The White Sea-Baltic Canal (Балти́йский кана́л, Byelomorsko-Baltiyskiy Kanal, BBK), or White Sea Canal (Belomorkanal), a ship canal built by forced labour from gulags under the first Five Year Plan, was opened on August 2 1933; it makes use of the Svir River, which flows from Onega to Ladoga, and the Neva, which flows from Ladoga to St Petersburg:

White Sea-Baltic Canal

Traditional divisions, with the current border:

Karelias

Olonets Larelia and White Karelia are also called East Karelia. The rest is also called West Karelia. Ingria is the old name for the head of the Gulf of Finland between the Karelian Isthmus and Estonia, including the territory around St Petersburg.

Most of Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the thirteenth century to 1809, when the Finnish-speaking areas of Sweden were ceded to the Russian Empire and became the Grand Duchy of Finland. The Grand Dukes were the Russian Tsars. Finland broke away in 1917.

Karelia’s story involves the medieval contest between the Catholic Kingdom of Sweden and the Orthodox Novgorod Republic (old post), the rise of Protestant Sweden in the century from Gustavus Adolphus to Charles XII, the rise of Orthodox Russia in the two centuries from Peter the Great to the revolution, and Protestant Finland’s relations with Russia after 1917.

Karelia was bitterly fought over by the Swedes and the Novgorod Republic in the thirteenth-century Swedish-Novgorodian Wars. The Treaty of Nöteborg in 1323 regulated the Swedish-Novgorodian border and divided Karelia between the two powers. Vyborg (Finnish: Viipuri), founded by the Swedes in 1293, became the capital of the Swedish province. North Karelia, Ladoga Karelia and East Karelia were under Novgorod.

In the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617 Novgorod’s successor Russia ceded Ladoga Karelia and North Karelia to Sweden. East Karelia remained Orthodox and under Russian supremacy.

In the Treaty of Nystad in 1721 Sweden ceded Ladoga Karelia and the Isthmus to Russia. This ended Sweden’s four hundred-year supremacy in the Isthmus.

Russia won Finland, in turn, from Sweden in 1809. The new acquisition was known as New Finland. The territories won in 1721 (and in a subsequent war in 1741-43) were Old Finland. They were combined into the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland (1809-1917). The Russians moved their capital from Turku, until that point the most important city in Finland, east to Helsinki in 1812.

In the nineteenth century an ideology of Karelianism took hold of Finnish artists and researchers, who believed that the Orthodox East Karelians had retained elements of an archaic, original Finnish language and culture, neither Swedish nor Slavic, which had disappeared from Finland.

In the sparsely populated East Karelian backwoods, especially in White Karelia, Elias Lönnrot collected the folk tales that he forged into Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala (earliest publication 1835; Kullervo is one of its characters). Scholars argue about how much of the Kalevala is genuine folk poetry and how much is Lönnrot’s own work, but don’t dismiss it as a mere Poems of Ossian.

The Karelian language is closely related to Finnish, though the variety spoken in East Karelia is usually seen as a distinct language.‪‬ ‬‬‬

Finland won its independence in 1917. Until Russia invaded in 1939-40, its territory included the Karelian Isthmus and Ladoga regions.

The idea of annexing East Karelia to Finland to make a Greater Finland was widely supported between the wars. Finnish partisans tried but failed to overthrow the bolsheviks in East Karelia in 1918-20.

With the end of the Russian Civil War and the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922, East Karelia became (1923) the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Capital Petrozavodsk, on Lake Onega.

The Finnic peoples that made up most of the population of East Karelia were promised far-reaching cultural rights, but these rights were never realised. Stalin persecuted ethnic Finns and began an intensive Russification programme.

West Karelia was Finnish east of the brown line until the Winter War of 1939-40 and remains Finnish west of the line; although some of the ceded territories were incorporated into Leningrad Oblast, it is not clear why the pre-1940 area of Leningrad should be purple:

East and West Karelia

The war ended on March 13 1940. Russia joined Ladoga Karelia and the Isthmus to the territory of the ASSR to form a new Karelo-Finnish Soviet (Federative?) Socialist Republic, thus promoting Karelia to a union republic within the USSR (1940-56).

Areas ceded to Russia in 1940 and again in 1944; the northern areas are not part of Karelia, nor are four islands in the Gulf of Finland:

Ceded to Russia in WW2

The entire Karelian population of the areas ceded in the Winter War, over 400,000 people, mainly Lutheran, was evacuated to Finland, and the territories were settled by people from other parts of the Soviet Union. It is unclear whether Russia hoped after this to conquer the whole of Finland.

On June 22 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. Three days later the Continuation War (to give it the Finnish name; for the Russians it was a front of the Great Patriotic War) started.

With German assistance, the Finns hoped to recover the territories lost in 1940. Many of the evacuees returned home, only to be re-evacuated in 1944.

Finnish forces also occupied most of East Karelia. The occupation was accompanied by hardship for the local ethnic Russian civilians, including forced labour and internment in prison camps.

Finland lost the Continuation War. An armistice was signed on September 19 1944. The border of the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940 was recognised by Finland again in the Peace of Paris of 1947.

In 1956 the SSR was downgraded from a Union Republic to an ASSR, and retroceded to the Russian SFSR.

Finland was neutral during the Cold War and showed a degree of deference and self-censorship towards the USSR. The Germans called this effect of Russia, not only in Finland, Finnlandisierung.

The Finns ceased to dream of the annexation of East Karelia. Their demands for the return of the ceded territories were muted.

On November 13 1991, the Karelian ASSR became the Republic of Karelia, a subdivision of the Russian Federation.

Since the fall of communism, there has been a revival in Finnish culture in East Karelia. Some in Finland campaign for the return of the ceded territories, but the demand has never been part of government policy.

Finland joined the EU in 1995 and Eurozone in 2002. The old currency had been the markka. It is not a member of NATO.

Finnish soldier boiling coffee over a fire, wilderness of Karelia, 1941:

Karelia 1941

___

First four maps from Wikipedia and shown under GNU Free Documentation License; last online in various places; photo from aviewfromthehill.tumblr.com

Recent Finnish posts:

Finland in London

Finland and Russia, 1809-1919

On Sweden:

Two Swedish heroes

4 Responses to “A rough guide to Karelia”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    1989 documentary about an aspect of the Continuation War:

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Tolkein’s “previously unknown” The Story of Kullervo, a prose work of 1914-15 (I assume it is genuine), is published later this month:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=tolkien+kullervo

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Notwithstanding Lönnrot and the Kalevala, the man considered the national poet of Finland, Lönnrot’s contemporary Johan Ludvig Runeberg, wrote outside the Kalevala tradition and dealt with modern subjects – and in Swedish.

  4. davidderrick Says:

    Moscow gained a short stretch of Baltic coast at the head of the Gulf of Finland when it conquered Novgorod in 1478. In the years 1558-83 Ivan the Terrible lost this Baltic seaboard in trying to extend it. During a bout of anarchy in Muscovy (the Time of Troubles of 1604-13) the Swedes occupied Novgorod in 1611 and the Poles Moscow in 1610-12. The settlement of 1618 left Muscovy still barred by Sweden from access to the Baltic, while the eastern frontier of Poland-Lithuania was now pushed forward again as close to Moscow as it had been in the fifteenth century. Russia regained the Baltic in the Great Northern War of 1700-21. The same war demoted Poland-Lithuania from the rank of great powers.

    It was the loss of the Baltic by Ivan the Terrible which stimulated Muscovy in 1585 to found the port of Archangel on the White Sea.


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