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07.04.2004
Staff Writer

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[02] Karjalan palautus

KARELIAN ISSUE RESURFACES IN FINLAND

When should national borders be defined: immediately after independence or some 20 years later?

Finland’s fate is scary for all newly independent nations: treaties and signatures mean nothing. After 20 years of independence, Russia, the former colonial power attacks, reoccupies more than 10 per cent of Finnish territory and keeps them up to this day.

If the Karelia issue remains unsolved, no newly independent nation can be safe.

+++

Should East Timor or Eritrea, the newest nations on our planet, expect an ethnic cleansing on their legitimate territory 20 years after independence?

No one should wish something like this to happen. Yet, just one country has gone through this horrendous experience. Finland, that is.

Finland is, indeed, the only newly independent nation, among all 194 UN member countries, that has been forced to cede some of its legitimate territory back to its former colonial power, Russia.

Should this be accepted?

Should the world accept if, say, France took (after a bloody war) more than 10 per cent of Algeria’s prime territory, force its Arab inhabitants away, inhabit the occupied territory with French people, rename all towns, villages, lakes and rivers with completely new French names, force Algerians surrender all printed maps from this territory, etc.

This is exactly what happened to Finland: the Karelia and Salla regions in 1940 and the Petsamo region in 1944.

Could Britain do the same in India, or Portugal in Angola, as Russia did in Finland? The world seems to accept Russia’s atrocities, but not those of other former colonial powers.

Should the world help Finland and Russia solve this historical injustice? One may ask: Are there not enough controversial borders in Europe already?

We argue there is not. There is no other case like Finland. No other country was mutilated by its former colonial master as Finland was.

This raises one crucial question: Once a new nation is born, its borders defined, diplomatic relations established and non-aggression pacts signed, can this new nation finally expect immunity from the former colonial ruler?

Will East Timor trust Indonesia, once all treaties have been signed, will honour them 20 years from now? Can Eritrea trust that Ethiopia will not attack its territory once a new Ethiopian Stalin has emerged?

As long as Russia keeps Finnish territory, neither East Timor nor Eritrea, or any of world’s newly independent nations for that matter, can trust the signatures of their foundation treaties.

This is a global issue that needs an international solution.

The Karelian question, as the fate of the occupied Finnish territories is often referred to, has recently become more openly debated in Finland. Not without controversy.

A secret dossier by the government-backed Karjalan Liitto (Karelian League, KL) that warned its members about Karelia-related NGOs was recently leaked to the media. As KL defended its position as a democratic representative of 400.000+ Karelian refugees and their heritage, it has raised criticism from NGOs for being too soft on the issue of return of Karelia to Finnish administration. Accused of keeping too low a profile on the return debate, KL was quick to defend its position.

On 2 April this year, KL did arrange a public seminar on the future of the occupied Karelia, attracting a large audience. KL reassured that it, indeed, does want Karelia to be returned to Finnish administration.

But is the claim of Karelian territory justified judicially? Is Finland the only victim of unacceptable colonial reoccupation?

The Baltic States are free again. Poland lost its eastern part but gained more territory from Germany. It can be argued, however, that Stalin-occupied eastern Poland was not as much Polish as it was Belorussian (as it is today), Lithuanian, Jewish etc.

Many of the former European national territories have ended up on other small nations, many of which are joining the EU on 1 May 2004, lowering borders and thus solving many issues.

Germany suffered the most loss of territory, but as Poland and Czech Republic are joining the EU these days, the former German land will be under the same EU legislation. Many tricky issues may find new solutions respectively.

But not so for Finland. The legitimate Finnish territory is under Russian occupation, behind a barbed wire, outside the EU control. Russia is Finland’s former colonial ruler, from 1809 to 1917.

Karelia is an issue that touches the very existence of all newly independent countries, indeed, a majority of all UN member nations. Acknowledgement of independence, border treaties and other agreements are the very heart and bone of national existence, whilst, say, success during one battle in WWII, should not cause an ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of people, mutilation of an independent country and loss of human rights.

Yet, it was Russia that first acknowledged Finnish independence, with no changes in traditional borders. In 1920, Russia and Finland finalised the agreement on borders, which did not see any changes as far as Karelia was concerned. This border was further reconfirmed in 1932 and 1934.

Finnish Karelia was more than 98 % Finnish, the rest being Swedish, German, Russian and other nationalities. Stalin’s war games against Finland resulted in a chaos in which the entire area was ethnically cleansed in 1944, and inhabited by Soviet citizens soon later.

What should be done?

Karelia should be the one-stop solution for Russia’s future co-operation with the EU. Russia will never join but it could negotiate a very attractive trade deal with the 25-state internal market, reaping benefits and concession it needs with the Union. The existing Russian business interests within all occupied territories should be allowed to remain, but administration should be transferred to Helsinki, as agreed in all treaties after Finland’s independence.

This would allow Finnish citizens to maintain their human rights by returning to their ancestral homeland and give a huge boost to the much needed rebuilding of Karelia. Today Karelia is mostly in ruins after the collapse of the totalitarian communist dictatorship that was established in the former Finnish territory after 1944.

As the US efforts in Iraq are facing fierce resistance and civil wars continue unabated, is there need for another international crisis in an area that today seems rather peaceful?

It is not that Karelian issue is less important because it involves no terrorism, famine or violence. It is more important just because it doesn’t. Karelia is an opportunity for Europe and Russia to correct a Stalinist crime and rebuild an occupied territory into an emerging Euro-Russian trading zone.


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