July 2000

Karelia: Debate goes on

Why can’t Finland be reunited like Germany? Why can’t Karelia be returned to Finland? The questions are posed by Alpo Rusi, an ex-Presidential advisor who currently works for the Balkans Reconstruction Project in Brussels.

Writing in the weekly Suomen Kuvalehti (7 July 2000), Rusi speculates why the Karelian question has not been seen as comparable to other recent territorial adjustments in Europe. He wonders whether the reason is that the ceded Karelia belonged to a small nation which does not have the same rights as big nations.

Rusi sees two levels in the debate about Karelia: Demands for boundary adjustments and suggestions for developing co-operation between Russia and its neighbouring regions. Opinion polls, however, are not the way to seek solutions to the Karelian question, Rusi writes.

“One must consider how one should in general evaluate these kinds of factual ‘no-man’s-lands’, created by wars.”

Rusi makes a connection between the Karelian question and the Northern Dimension, promoted by Finland as part of EU policy in North-Eastern Europe.

“Last autumn Finland managed to have the Northern Dimension adopted as the Union’s common aim. Northern Dimension is the only way for Russia to be able to participate in European integration ‘through the North’. Simultaneously, Russia has to honour mutually approved principles. Remaining silent about past problems is not a an alternative route to the future.

“Karelian reconstruction and administrative justice must be added to the EU Northern Dimension. Finnish government is not demanding the ceded Finnish Karelia to be returned, if Russia is not willing to discuss the matter. But neither do people in Finland accept putting an end to the question. Developing Karelia on the basis of co-operation diminishes regional uncertainty and serves stablising aims of the EU.”

Discussion as therapy

Erkki Pennanen, an editorial writer of the national daily, Helsingin Sanomat, on his part, wrote recently (14 June 2000) that most Finns understand that the hope of getting Karelia back is pure nonsense.

“Keeping the question live can be rationalised as national therapy and a reminder to the big neighbour that it took these areas with force and injustice, using only the right of the mighty.”

Pennanen thinks that the Finnish media has its own reasons to keep the debate alive.

“The media wants to prove that they have completely got rid of the remains of Finlandisation. Understanding the debate about Karelia, and even haranguing the Kremlin with journalistic methods, is a fine way to show how drastically times have changed.”

Pennanen wonders if it was wise of Finnish journalists in a recent press conference to put Vladimir Putin against the wall on the Karelian question, thus forcing out a response that the question has been solved and needs not to be talked about anymore.

“A characteristic of free press is that it does not have to think of state interests,” Pennanen says.

See also:

Preparing for the Putin era

10 April 2000

Debate on Karelia stirs controversy

February 1999

Karelia: from geopolitics to geoeconomics

January 1999

The North West in Russian regional politics by Martin Nicholson

January 1999


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