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02.04.2003 [02]

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Erkki Aalto

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[02] Karjalan palautus


Could Russia return Karelia?
[Opinion article]

Russia does not really need Karelia to anything. The safety of Leningrad was an excuse from the beginning, and in modern warfare the exact location of the border is complete irrelevant.

If someone wanted to attac Russia, the attac would start with a strike against Russian military command and nuclear weapons, not against St. Petersburg. After that would already be either lost or won, the ownership of the Karelian Isthmus would not have any importance. Surely the Russian military command knows this.

The formerly valuable factories of Karelia are in ruins and the area is neglected wasteland for Russia. The only important place for Russia in Karelia is the Primorsk oil terminal in Koivisto. In negotiations about the return of Karelia this would certainly be a solvable problem even if Russia insisted on Russian sovereignity on the terminal. E.g. the border could be drawn west of the terminal or Russia could get the terminal on a 100 year lease with a nominal payment.

The true obstacles of Russia returning are of a different kind. Russia is afraid of disintegration, that might result from a precendent of changing the borders of the Federation.

The condition for the return of Karelia would be that Russia could either be sure of it's unity or could accept the idea that letting some areas go would be preferable to keeping them with force in the Federation.

Russia would also have to benefit from returning Karelia, it would never do it just to be nice. Finland will never have power to put a pressure on Russia and no bigger country or international organ would take risks for Finland and Karelia.

Luckily for Finland, Karelia is so unimportant for Russia, that in favorable conditions even a limited benefit for Russia could be enough. An interesting fact is also, that Russia, for the first time in history, has an administration that must at least to some extent take public opinion into account.

Now, when it has been possible to say aloud in Russia, that the Winter War and the annexation of Karelia were not entirely nice and glorious things, the return of Karelia might have both internal and external PR-value.

The other side of taking public opinion into account is that Russia could never return Karelia against the interests and will of the present Russian population. Soviet Union could anytime have returned Karelia and sent the present inhabitants in cattle wagons to Kazakhstan, Russia can do no such thing.

If we want Karelia back we must be ready to considerable concession to the present population: at least it is necessary to commit into honouring property owned under Russian law and to give the Russian language some kind of official status in Karelia. This is not overdriven russophily, it is plain realism. If even the thought bothers you, you should forget the idea of the return of Karelia for good.

Could Finland receive Karelia?

Currently the majority of Finns does not want Karelia back. This is a fact that must be acknowledged and the counterarguments must be taken seriously. Only some left-wing extremists are against in principle, others could be persuaded with wise politics at least not to oppose actively the return of Karelia.

The first thing about the return of Karelia that makes Finns suspicious is, that it is considered a nutcase project. This must be taken seriously, because it is unfortunately not groundless. E.g. in the last election minor party with a clearly National Socialist agenda demanded the return of Karelia. Those who want Karelia back should take distance from extremists and keep their style concise and unemotial.

The other reason for opposition ist the fate of the current Russian inhabitants. Some oppenents have the xenophobic thought "We don't want hundreds of thousands of Russkies to Finland". Others have the Politically Correct point of view: "One crime must not be compensated by another, the present inhabitants must not be thrown out of their homes."

These two actually quite opposite views are not easily taken into account simultaneously, but it is not impossible. The solution is that everyone is allowed to stay, but for a longish transitional period the residence permit is valid only in the returned Karelia. Then the Russians of Karelia cannot all come to Helsinki and fill the queue for subsidized housing, which would be an undeniable catastrophe.

After the transitional period, when things are getting better in Karelia, everyone would get a full residence permit and, those willing, also citizenship. The majority would probably stay in Karelia near the Russian border rather than move to other parts of Finland.

In the long run Russian immigrants, more and more of whom are in any case coming to Finland, would maybe prefer the Isthmus to Eastern Helsinki, and the return of Karelia would be in the interests of the xenophobes, too.

The strongest argument against the return of Karelia is, however, money. Rebuilding the infrastructure would cost maybe up to 10 billion euros, it would be an unwelcome burden to the already indebted state economy. This is not to be passed just by saying "Rebuilding brings work". Were it that simple we could devastate Helsinki ourselves and get something to rebuild even without Karelia.

If the return of Karelia is able to finance itself, it must be made to finance itself explicitly, so that nobody not interested in Karelia should have to pay for it. In other words, returned Karelia should have a budget of it's own, separate from the state budget.

We must also take the example of East Germany into account, The return of Karelia should not result in the destruction of the existing economy with insufficient amount of investment to replace it. The expences in the returned Karelia should not be allowed to rise to the level of the rest of Finland too quickly.

Instead East Germany the returned Karelia should be like Estonia. Estonia has deficient infastructure an low productivity, but also the expenses are low. There is lots of investment to Estonia, the same could happen to Karelia.

It must, however, not look like Karelia would become a permanent low-wage area, there should be open negotiations with Trade Unions about convergence with the rest of Finland.

Land ownership or the problematic position of the KSL

The program of the KSL calls for an unconditional return of the real estate property left in Karelia. This would cause both an political-economical and a juridical problem. Starting the administration of returned Karelia would not get income from selling of land property and the reconstruction of the infrastructure could not be started.

In addition it would cause a constitutional problem: The lost property was compensated according to the Second Compensation Law and the only precendent of returning such property is the return of Porkkala. Ignoring the precendent and giving the evacuees of Karelia a significantly preferred position in comparison to the evacuees of Porkkala would be a breach against constitutional equality.

The worst case scenario is now that the negotiations on the return of Karelia would one day become possible but Finns could not reach an agreement about the terms of return among themselves. History would not forgive us that.

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