Staunton, April 13 – Karelian activists say that the recent suggestion by Russian National Security Council chief Nikolay Patrushev that Finnish “revanchism” is behind the upsurge in popular anger and activism in Karelia is absurd and that the real cause lies in Moscow’s heavy-handed Russification policy as carried out by incumbent republic head Aleksandr Khudilaynen.
On March 20, Patrushev told a Petrozavodsk meeting that there had been “an activation of nationalist and revanchist social-political organizations in Finland and that their influence via a number of domestic NGOs on the population of Karelia had grown” in recent months.
Many Moscow media outlets treated subsequent protests in Karelia about the arrest of two Yabloko activists and calls for ouster of Khudilaynin and his team as evidence of this. But Karelian leaders and activists argue that the Finns are not playing the role Patrushev says they are and that Moscow’s policies are to blame.
Galina Shirshina, the mayor of Petrozavodsk who won office by defeating a Kremlin candidate in a free election, says that she “cannot remember any Finnish revanchist organizations” but does have good relations with sister cities in Finland and that her contacts work to the benefit of Karelia and Russia.
The openness that she and her staff practice, she continues, allows them to provide a context to Finns who might otherwise have “a negative attitude” toward “what is going on in Russia.
Emiliya Slabunova, a Yabloko deputy in the Karelian legislative assembly, agrees. Patrushev’s suggest is “an absolute invention” without any basis in fact. There are simply too few Finns and Karels in Karelia for anyone to rely on them for the revanchist goals he imputes to Helsinki. Secession on that basis is “mathematically impossible.”
She suggests that the Moscow official made his declaration only “in order to distract the attention of people from real problems.” What should be happening is not a witch hunt for “enemies foreign and domestic” but rather a search for “investors and effective managers” if the republic and the country are going to get out of the current crisis.
Vadim Shtepa, a leading activist of the Republic Movement of Karelia, has the same view: “When real threats do not exist, they are invented” by the security agencies “to give the impression that their activity is useful.” Given Karelia’s location and links with Finland, it is a convenient target, he suggests.
He acknowledges that in Finland there are a small number of groups interested in the reintegration of Karelia or at least part of it, but Shtepa points out that they are “marginal” and do not have the support of any political party. The main reason? It would cost Helsinki enormous sums to do so just as it cost Western Germany to reintegrate East Germany.
The real source of popular anger in Karelia, according to Anatoly Grigoryev, the president of the Karelian Congress, is Moscow’s policies of russification of the population. It has reduced the number of non-Russian language newspapers and journals, cut their frequency and circulation, and eliminated most non-Russian television and radio broadcasting.
He says that Karels, Finns and other minorities have filed numerous appeals with Putin and others in Moscow, pointing out that the Khudilaynen administration has “inflicted harm on all those who live in Karelia. It turns out that he is here the main russifier even though he has a Finnish last name.”
Shirshina says that another reason things are heating up is that there may be an electoral challenge to Khudilaynin whose term ends soon. His supporters are using their administrative resources to isolate the opposition, and the opposition in turn is responding with demonstrations that they hope will make the Kremlin insist on his retirement.