THE CEDED FINNISH TERRITORIES AND THE KARELIAN QUESTION
Writer: Martti Valkonen
Martti Valkonen, 52, is a journalist writing for Helsingin Sanomat, the largest Finnish daily, he became in 1991 the paper’s resident correspondent in Moscow.
Finnish Karelia was economically invaluable to Finland. In the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty, Finland had to cede to the Soviet Union an area larger than Denmark. This fact continues to represent obstacle to the development of true friendship between Finland and Russia. Karelia had been inhabited by Finns for centuries before Stalin forcibly settled Karelia with people from the Soviet Union.
Finland was one of the victims when Hitler and Stalin Joined forces to divide up Europe in 1939. The borders between the spheres of interest of the two dictators were drawn by the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact and its secret annexes.
The pact was total: to the West of the borderline, Germany was entitled to take all she possibly could, f.e, Norway, Denmark, the Benelux countries, France Yugoslavia and Greece; to the East the Soviet Union got everything she could overrun and keep.
FINNS LOST THE MOST VALUABLE ECONOMIC AREA
At the end of the war, Germany lost all of her conquests and even a part of her own territory. At the time of her collapse in 1991, the Soviet Union already had to give up Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the states which inherited her have kept all the other territories added by Stalin, courtesy of the Mololotov Ribbentrop Pact.
Finland had to cede to the Soviet Union by the Moscow peace treaty of 1940, after the Winter War, Finnish Karelia, several islands in the Gulf of Finland, Salla, the coastal territories of Petsamo, on the Arctic Ocean, and to lease the peninsula of Hanko as a military base. In the peace treaty after the Continuation War, in September 1944, Finland also had to cede all of Petsamo, and to lease the Porkkala naval base for 50 years. Porkkala is about 20 kilometres west of Helsinki.
The Karelian Isthmus, between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga, and territories to the West and North of Ladoga, covered 24,738 km2. Taken together with Salla and Petsamo, islands and leased territories. Finland had to cede to the Soviet Union altogether 43,491 km2.
That represented nearly 12.5 per cent of the country. This territory is larger than all Denmark.
About 420.000 people lived in the lost territories. This represents 12 per cent of the total Finnish population. The entire population of Finnish Karelia and other territories - Finns, Karelians and Lapps - was evacuated to Finland, out of the reach of the Red Army.
The Soviet Union took possession of a depopulated land, where she found substantial wealth. The forests of Finnish Karelia alone accounted for 12.2 per cent of Finland’s forests. Finnish Karelia had 25 per cent of Finland’s hydroelectric power and 17 per cent of the country’s railways. This fact alone shows how important Finnish Karelia was economically to the country. On the whole, Finland lost 13 per cent of her national wealth.
KARELIA WAS INHABITED BY FINNS FOR CENTURIES
The ceded territories had belonged to Finns for a thousand years or more. They were historically, culturally and traditionally a part of the Finnish heartland. Viipuri (Vyborg) was the only Finnish medieval town built of stone and the fortress of Viipuri had great symbolic meaning for the nation.
Archaeological research on the Karelian Isthmus indicates that the territory has always been inhabited by Finns. There have been no findings of Russian or Novgorodian graves. Russia has been in Finnish Karelia only as a conqueror, never as a builder. The area had never had a Russian population. Russians were living in only two or three small villages. These were villages that the czar had awarded to members of Russian nobility who brought with them Russians to serve their estates. These Russians did not originally live in Finnish Karelia. The population of the ceded territories was ethnically as Finnish as it was in western parts of the country before and after the war. The ceded territories were economically a part of Finland. The 1944 border cut dozens of highways, railroad and power connections even the Saimaa Canal, which was left unused for decades.
PROSPEROUS LAND HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A DUMP
The Soviet Union took by force from Finland territories which became closed military zones and border areas without any civilian economic or cultural activities.
The indifference and neglect of Russians has made Viipuri one of the most forlorn cities in all Europe. Two other lively market towns Kaekisalmi and Sortavala, have been relegated to miserable shanty towns. Dozens of wealthy farming villages have ceased to exist altogether.
Russians, Ukrainians, White Russians and other nationalities have been resettled in Karelia by force from the heartland of the Soviet Union but they have never became adjusted to Viipuri and other towns in Finnish Karelia. They never considered the towns as their own, because they never started to build on or even repair the ruins left by the war.
Soviet rule brought life only to the coastal area around Terijoki, on the Gulf of Finland. This used to have the best beaches of Finland. It has now become a most unpleasant slum area which nobody takes care of.
Finnish Karelia used to be the most important national, cultural and economic province of Finland. To the Soviet Union, it is only a part of their border security zone. Its environment has been gravely damaged.
The explanation given by Stalin that it was needed for the security and defence of Leningrad, was a typical power political pretext favoured by dictators like Stalin or Hitler, who felt free to occupy any country or territory they fancied.
The present day condition or ceded Finnish territories is shameful to Russia. The biggest source of embarrassment is the city of Viipuri. It was once a lively, beautiful Hansa City. Today it is a repulsive heap of rubbish. Russian heartland has been ruined by Soviet power. Russia has no money to repair even its capital city of Moscow. It probably cannot afford nor has it the interest to rebuild Viipuri.
POLITICS CONTINUE TO HAMPER OPEN DISCUSSION
Many Russians recognise that the Karelian Isthmus and other ceded Finnish territories are original Finnish lands. Poetess Anna Ahmatova, from St. Petersburg, wrote in her poem (written in 1964) about Viipuri: "Land, though not my native land, forever existing in my memories ..."
Ahmatova was inspired by the beauty of Viipuri, which she was able to recognize even through the ruins. At the same time, she was honest enough to say that it was a foreign land.
Only a cold blooded conquistador or a genocide dictator like Stalin can claim that Viipuri is a Russian city. It has been difficult to talk honestly about Karelia for political and "terminological" reasons.
To the Finns, Finnish Karelia is a historic Finnish province. The Treaty of Tartu of 1920 restored it within Finnish borders.
For Russia, Finnish Karelia is non-existent or, at the most, only a place name on the map. The Russians talk about Karelia and mean Russian Karelia, which the Finns call East or Soviet/Russian Karelia.
In Russian Karelia, to the East of the 1920 Finnish border, the inhabitants were Karelians, Finns, Vepsians and Russians. Russian Karelia differed from Finnish Karelia because of its architecture, traditions, religion, and population.
When the Finns talk about their own lost Karelia, most Russians think that the Finns are talking about Russian Karelia. This makes a discussion of the topic sensitive and difficult.
Karelia was traditionally a frontier land. Finnish tribes, Finland, Sweden, Novgorod, Russia and the Soviet Union fought for control domination over the region for centuries.
Despite the border between states, kings and czars, the fact is that different nationalities have been living permanently on their respective territories. Finns have always inhabited historical Finnish Karelia, even though political power may have belonged to the Swedish Crown or Russian czar. This was the situation until the Red Army attacked in 1939.
STALIN’S LONG SHADOW IS STILL FELT
It is an inescapable conclusion that Finns have undisputed and just right to Finnish Karelia and other ceded Finnish territories on basis of the principle of people’s justice.
A popular movement has recently emerged in Finland calling for negotiations with Russia in order to get back ceded Finnish territories. According to estimates published in the Helsingin Sanomat this past autumn, every fourth Finn supports negotiations with Russia. Depending on the opinion poll, the figure has been higher even 50 % or higher.
When the Soviet parliament in 1989 decided to dissociate itself from the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact, it was talking about justice and human rights. It was a political decision.
The pro Karelia movement in Finland rests its case on human rights and justice. It only demands that negotiations be continued but it rejects violence.
According to several witnesses, President Urho Kekkonen frequently spoke with Soviet leaders, like Nikita Khrushchev, about the possibility of getting back ceded Finnish territories.
However, present day Finnish political leaders have frequently said that they have no intention of requesting any negotiations with Russia regarding this issue.
The pro Karelia movement believes that it would be in the interest of Russia to return the ceded Finnish territories to Finland, because this is the way truly to normalise relations between the two countries .
Finland is still a victim of Stalin’s and Hitler’s aggression. Stalin forced Finland to sign the 1940 and 1944 peace treaties because he held a pistol to our head. The Paris Peace Treaty of 1944 continued the injustice. The only equal Peace Treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union/Russia was concluded at Tartu in 1920. The only way to repair the damage is to undo the unjust treaties.