Karelian question in Finnish politics

Karelian question in Finnish politics

The Karelian question or Karelian issue ( _fi. Karjala-kysymys) is a dispute on the fringes of Finnish politics over whether or not to try to regain sovereignty over the Finnish Karelia and other territories ceded to the Soviet Union in the Winter War and the Continuation War. Despite the name "Karelian question", the term may refer also to the return of Petsamo, ceded parts of Salla and Kuusamo and four islands in the Gulf of Finland. Sometimes the term "Debate on the return of the ceded territories" is used. The Karelian question remains a matter of public debate rather than a political issue, since no significant political party supports the idea.


The Karelian question arose when Finland was forced to cede territories to the Soviet Union after the Winter War in the Moscow peace treaty in 1940. Most Finnish citizens were evacuated from the ceded areas. Most of them returned during the Continuation War and eventually were evacuated again in 1944. The evacuees were partly compensated for their losses; farmers, for example, received land in proportion to their earlier holdings. Usually, the compensation was about one third of the original farm. Compensation for movable property was much less. However, all evacuee families had a right to receive a small farm, and/or a plot for a detached house or a flat. The land used for these grants was confiscated by the state from municipalities and private owners. Financial compensation was funded by a general property tax of 10 to 30 %, levied over a period of several years. [ [http://aluepalautus.net/uusi/arkisto/2003/15092003a.htm Karjalan suomalaistilojen korvaukset Sodan jälkeeen.] Reino Paju 9-15-2003. Retrieved 1-30-2008. fi] [ [http://www.uta.fi/koskivoimaa/kaupunki/1940-60/mlaki.html Koskesta voimaa – maanhankintalaki] . University of Tampere. Retrieved 1-30-2008. fi] Because the vast majority of the evacuees who had to settle in the rest of Finland were from ceded Karelia, the question was labeled "The Karelian Question". After the Winter War, Karelian municipalities and parishes established Karjalan Liitto (the Karelian Association) to defend the rights of Karelians in Finland.

During the Cold War, the Karelian-born Finnish politician Johannes Virolainen lobbied for the return of Karelia. President Urho Kekkonen also tried to reacquire the territory, especially when the Soviet Union returned the peninsula of Porkkala to Finland in 1956. [ [http://www.verkkouutiset.fi/arkisto/kotimaa/42054.html Kekkonen nosti Karjala-kysymyksen esiin 1968] ("Kekkonen raised Karelia question in 1968") fi icon] There was, however, no significant public controversy about the case, because Kekkonen wanted to keep it quiet. [ [http://www.saunalahti.fi/~ptoukkar/lukali.htm#osa69a Kekkonen kehottaa karjalaisia vaitioloon] ("Kekkonen suggest to be quiet") fi icon] The last time Kekkonen tried to raise it was in 1972, but he had no success, and public discussion died out in the 1970s. [ [http://virtual.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=25907#deba The debate in Finland over the return of Karelia] - "Virtual Finland" 2001]

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Karelian question re-surfaced. According to an article by the Finnish newspaper "Helsingin Sanomat" in August 2007, the Russian president Boris Yeltsin unofficially offered to sell ceded Karelia to Finland in 1991. [ [http://www.hs.fi/english/article/1135229551051 Report: Unofficial offers by Russia in 1991 to return ceded Karelia to Finland] - "Helsingin Sanomat" August 21 2007] However, according to many Finnish political leaders and the Russian vice Prime Minister of the time, there were no such offers, only unofficial probing of the idea. [Koiviston Karjala-selvitys outo asia ulkopolitiikan sisäpiirille STT 15.08.2007 [http://www.kaleva.fi/plus/juttu674074_page0.htm] fi icon] [Esko Aho: Karjalan palautus ei kuulosta uskottavalta. YLE Uutiset 16.08.2007 [http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/24h/id67518.html] ] [Venäläispoliitikko uhkaa haastaa Kainuun Sanomat oikeuteen YLE Uutiset 21.08.2007 [http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/24h/id67892.html] fi icon] [Koivisto: Venäjä ei tarjonnut Karjalaa Suomelle Helsingin Sanomat 23.8.2007 [http://www.hs.fi/kotimaa/artikkeli/1135229749652] fi icon] Andrei Fyodorov, an advisor of Boris Yeltsin, told the "Helsingin Sanomat", that he was part of a group, that was tasked by government of Russia in 1991–1992 with calculating the price of returning Karelia to Finland. This price was set at 15 billion US dollars. According to Fyodorov, Finnish president Mauno Koivisto and foreign minister Paavo Väyrynen were aware of these unofficial discussions. [HS: [http://www.hs.fi/kotimaa/artikkeli/1135230075337 Fyodorov: Koivisto ja Väyrynen tiesivät Karjala-tunnusteluista] 5.9.2007, accessed 13.3.2008 fi icon]


Karjalan Liitto is an interest group of Karelian evacuees which hopes that Karelia will once again become part of Finland at some point, but does not openly demand it. Some smaller groups, such as ProKarelia, continue to campaign for the peaceful return of Karelia. However, no serious political party has openly supported this goal and Finnish politicians generally say there is no need for it, citing Finland's peace treaty with Russia. There are some individual politicians who support the return of Karelia, for example Ari Vatanen, and two candidates of the presidential election of 2006 Timo Soini and Arto Lahti. Other candidates have stated that Finland has signed a peace treaty and should not campaign for the return of what are now Russian-developed territories. [Diplomatic Diary. Presidential candidates meet the international press. Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland [http://www.formin.fi/netcomm/news/ShowArticle.asp?intNWSAID=45952&intSubArtID=19294&intIGID=2&LAN=FI&contlan=&Thread=&intThreadPosition=0&intShowBack=0&intOrgNews=0] ]

Official opinions

Both Russia and Finland have repeatedly stated that no open territorial dispute exists between the two countries. Finland's official stance is that the borders may be changed through peaceful negotiations, although there is currently no need to open talks, as Russia has shown no intention of returning the ceded areas, or discussing the question. In 1994 Boris Yeltsin commented that "seizure of Finnish Karelia" was an example of Stalin's totalitarian and aggressive politics. Later in 1997 he stated that the matter was closed. In 2000 President Putin stated that such discussions may endanger Finnish-Russian relations, and in 2001 he said that "changing borders is not the best way to resolve problems", but that possible solutions would be "integration and cooperation". [Sergei Prozorov: Border Regions and the Politics of EU-Russian Relations, p. 4. January 2004 [http://www.euborderconf.bham.ac.uk/publications/files/WP3EuropesNorth.pdf] , Helsingin Sanomat 9/5/2001 [http://www2.hs.fi/english/archive/news.asp?id=20010904IE3] ]

In 1998 Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari said that "Finland's official position is that it does not have territorial demands on Russia. However, if Russia wants to discuss returning the ceded areas, Finland is ready for that." [Martti Ahtisaari. In press meeting, Kuopio 30.7.1998.] Several other politicians holding government office, such as the former foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja and prime minister Matti Vanhanen, have made statements along the same lines. [Tuomioja's reply to Risto Kuisma's question in Eduskunta [http://www.ristokuisma.net/html/kuisma2004/ristokuisma041222.htm] ] [Matti Vanhanen in YLE's "Pääministerin haastattelutunti" (Interview of the Prime Minister) in 21.11. 2004]

Polls and popular opinion

The latest polls show that approximately 26 to 38 % of Finns would like to see Karelia return to Finnish control and some 51 to 62 % would oppose such a move. In Russia, people associate the word "Karelia" with the Republic of Karelia instead of Finnish Karelia, which makes conducting polls more difficult. In a 1999 poll by MTV3, 34 % of the people of Vyborg supported returning Karelia to Finland and 57 % were opposed. Vyborg and the rest of the ceded Karelia outside the Republic of Karelia nowadays contain very few ethnic Finns, and is almost exclusively inhabited by people who moved there during the Soviet era and their descendants.

In the latest poll in Finland about the question, 36 % of Finns supported the return of ceded territories, compared to 51% who are opposed. The poll was conducted by the newspaper "Karjala" and the research institute "MC-Info Oy" on 13th October 2005. In August 2005, a poll by "Helsingin Sanomat" and Suomen Gallup, determined that 30 % Finns supported and 62 % opposed the return.HS-Gallup: Selvä enemmistö ei halua Karjalaa takaisin [http://www.hs.fi/uutiset/tuoreet/artikkeli/1101980677358] ] In a poll by Taloustutkimus and Karjalan Liitto done in May 2005, support was 26 % while 58 % were opposed. [ Karjalan Liitto and Taloustutkimus [http://www.karjalanliitto.fi/3/taloustutkimus.html] ] A year earlier, a poll by STT showed 38 % supporting and 57 % opposing. A poll by Taloustutkimus was criticized by ProKarelia for asking leading questions, such as, "Do you support the return of Karelia, even if it would mean more tense relations or even war with Russia?" [Eg. ProKarelia's article in 17.10.2005 [http://www.prokarelia.net/fi/?x=artikkeli&article_id=696&author=10] ] 5 % of supporters and of those who declined to respond supported the return even under these circumstances (2.1 % of all replies). [ Karjalan Liitto and Taloustutkimus, poll [http://www.karjalanliitto.fi/3/taloustutkimus.html] ]

Many of the people who were born in Karelia and were evacuated want Karelia to become part of Finland. According to polls, older people (ages 65 and up) and young people (15-25) support the idea more strongly than the generation of their parents (25-65) who grew up during the Cold War.Former President Mauno Koivisto has been against a discussion about the question. [Koivisto halusi vaientaa kokonaan keskustelun Karjalan palauttamisesta. ("Koivisto wanted to silence discussion about returning Karelia") STT-IA 23.1. 1998 [http://www.verkkouutiset.fi/arkisto/Arkisto_1998/23.tammikuu/UKKKAR.HTM] (in Finnish)] Support for regaining the ceded areas is also strong among minor nationalist right-wing groups.

Problems and arguments


One of the main reasons for opposing the return is the fear of the costs it would bring. According to another poll conducted by "Helsingin Sanomat", 42 % of Finns opposing the return list that as the most important single reason. The standard of living on the Russian side of the border is much lower than on the Finnish side. The GDP (PPP) per capita in Finland is about three times higher than in Russia.

The costs of bringing Karelia to the same level with the rest of Finland has been researched only by supporters of the idea. According to a survey conducted by ProKarelia, the area has natural advantages that, under the Finnish rule, would make it a centre of trade with Russia and industry and thus bring economic growth fast enough to solve the entire problem. According to both ProKarelian research and Arto Lahti's estimate, the price of return would be about (short scale) 30 billion euro. ProKarelia's Reform [http://www.prokarelia.net/en/?x=reform] ] [ Karjalan palauttamisen lasketaan kannattavan [http://www.verkkouutiset.fi/cgi-bin/pika/jutut.pl?/arkisto/Arkisto_1999/3.joulukuu/base+1643] ] [ Arto Lahti's lecture in Karjala seminar 23.8.2005 [http://prokarelia.net/fi/?x=artikkeli&article_id=656&author=65 abridgement] ]


The area is inhabited mostly by people that moved there from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, and their descendants. The fate of those people is a major issue in the return of Karelia. According to the poll by "Helsingin Sanomat", 14 % of people opposing the return consider its greatest flaw the tensions that would be caused by a Russian minority being formed in Finland. In 2004, there were about 370,000 Russians living in the region. [ [http://www.perepis2002.ru/ct/html/TOM_01_04_2.htm 2004 Russian Census] ]

Another solution would be to return Karelia empty of its current citizens. However, deporting to other parts of Russia would be considered ethnic cleansing, which is against international law. Only a few people have shown interest in this as a serious solution.

If the inhabitants were allowed to stay in their homes, Finland would receive a few hundred thousand new Russian-speaking citizens with no experience of living in the Finnish society. In order to provide services for them in their own language, Finland would need many officials capable of speaking Russian. In ProKarelia's vision, nearly half of the Russian population in Karelia would move to Russia, and even more would leave if Finland paid their expenses for doing so.

ee also

*Territorial changes of the Baltic States

External links

* [http://virtual.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=25907#deba About debate in Virtual.Finland.fi]
* [http://www.hs.fi/english/article/ProKarelia+movement+wants+back+ceded+areas+as+well+as+war+reparations+paid+to+the+Soviet+Union+/1101978717301 Helsingin Sanomat 3/3/2005. ProKarelia movement wants back ceded areas]
* [http://www.euborderconf.bham.ac.uk/publications/files/WP3EuropesNorth.pdf Sergei Prozorov: Border Regions and the Politics of EU-Russian Relations: The Karelian Question and the EU Logic of 'Border Deproblematisation'] (PDF)
* [http://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/sympo/96summer/joenniemi.pdf Pertti Joenniemi. Ways of Managing Border Disputes in Present-Day Europe: The Karelian Question]
* [http://www.kolumbus.fi/rastas/nyky/kar_pal.html Mauri Rastas's news collection about returning of Karelia] (in Finnish)
* [http://mapy.mk.cvut.cz/data/Finsko-Finlandia/Karjala/ Pre-war Finnish topographic maps of Karelia.] E.g [http://mapy.mk.cvut.cz/data/Finsko-Finlandia/Karjala/cd1/kartat/topografinen_20000/402206.jpgViipuri (Vyborg) map, 1937]

Supporting organizations

Information also available in English:
* [http://www.karjalanliitto.fi/ Karjalan Liitto]
* [http://www.prokarelia.net/ ProKarelia]
* [http://www.kareliaforum.net/cgi-bin/forum/Ultimate.cgi?action=intro&BypassCookie=true Karelia Forum] - Discussion forum concentrated in the Karelia question

Finnish only:
* [http://www.aluepalautus.net/ Aluepalautus ry.]
* [http://www.tartonrauha.net/ Tarton Rauha ry.]
* [http://kareliaklubi.com/ KareliaKlubi]
* [http://kansalaisvetoomus.fi/ Kansalaisvetoomus] , a petition for returning Karelia


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