THE PRESENT KARELIA IS A DEAD END
Which part of Europe has more ruins than Kabul? Where do European people live on subsistence farming? Where do you see cows sheltering inside ruins?
The place I am referring to is Karelia, a territory taken from Finland by the Soviet Union. Today the whole area looks like a war zone.
Take the Kuusaa manor house where the famous bolshevik leader and Soviet diplomat Madame Kollontai spent her childhood. The Soviets built a 20-house children’s camp around it. Today every single building is smashed and in ruins, including the imposing main building.
Soviets turned the Konevitsa monastery into a torpedo center. The torpedoes, still quite ready to explode, now lay in rotting wooden boxes.
Or visit Soanlahti district, seven villages in total. Six of them were emptied by the Soviets; by transferring all remaining houses elsewhere. Just the main village remained. A collective farm was established there. Today the farm lays in ruins, and the few people that have stayed there are isolated by bumpy gravel roads. In 1939 the Finnish population in the area accounted for 2,156 people; there were six schools and thousands of farm animals.
Varpakyla Village of the Suojarvi district was one of the most idyllic villages of Finland in the 1930s. All buildings have disappeared. The Red Army built an ugly tower on the ruins of the village church. Now the tower is vandalized and lays in ruins as well.
In Vyborg, once Finland’s second largest city, tens of houses lay in ruins and can never be repaired again. The floors are littered by a one-foot thick layer of garbage, bottles, and rags. We also saw a dog’s corpse and syringes used for injection of drugs. The floors have collapsed, and small trees are growing in the attics!
Forced cession of Karelia by Finland was part of Stalin’s plan to rule the world. Stalin admired Hitler and adopted his doctrine of ‘Lebensraum’ (life space). ‘The safety of Berlin’ became ‘the safety of Leningrad’ for Stalin, although he really intended to occupy the entire Finland, in the same way he occupied Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
When the Soviet Union attacked Finland on November 30, 1939, Stalin was allied to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and started to implement his version of fascism: he acquired life space on the territory of Finland, persecuted minorities, established prison and concentration camps, and forced the citizens of the Soviet Union and other countries to work as slaves. Some Russians refer to the entire Soviet era as ‘Red Fascism’.
When 14 republics became independent in 1991, Karelia still remained in wrong hands.
In Karelia, there are more ruins than I‘ve seen anywhere else during my travels in 75 countries world-wide. When visiting Uganda in 1986, I did see some buildings destroyed by the war. In Karelia, however, the devastation is ubiquitous: barns, production facilities, factories, apartment houses, concrete constructions, stores, pioneer camps, Finnish buildings, churches … thousands of ruined, destroyed or deserted buildings. Most of them have been destroyed after the war, in the last couple of years.
According to a research conducted in 2001, there is very little economic activity in Karelian Isthmus (area between today’s Finland and St Petersburg):
- About 16 to 18 production facilities, largest of which belong to foreign companies (United Paper, Luhta, and IKEA). In 1939, before the industrialization of Finland really started, there were 124 factories in Karelian Isthmus. More than 90 % of these factories have been destroyed, deserted, or lay in ruins.
- About 35 agricultural units, some of which merely function as shelters for cows and are not involved in any commercial activities. In 1939, just the number of plantations was 20,187.
- About 275 villages, of which only about 130 offer any services, usually just one small store or kiosk. Before the Soviets took over, there were 840 villages in the area, in which there were 359 village schools and about one thousand stores. We didn’t see even one school in function outside larger towns.
The information above does not include the town of Vyborg.
According to the mayor of Kakisalmi (Priozersk), for each child born, three other inhabitants die. In the scenic Hiitola region, the unemployment figures hover around 60 % and most young people move to St. Petersburg or Petrozavodsk with no intention ever to return. A former military base and a collective farm have closed permanently.
In former Kirvu area, nearly 90 % of population is out of work. A large military base has been closed and vandalized. To add insult to injury, the Red Army built their artillery barracks on an old Finnish graveyard, right above the Finnish graves.
Finns have lived in Karelia for hundreds of years, if not millennia. A former battle ground of Swedes and Russians, it was joined with the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812, and in 1920 Russians and Finns concluded a treaty, according to which the territory became a ‘permanent’ part of the independent Republic of Finland, ‘indefinitely’.
Approximately 400,000 Finnish citizens lived in the area – working in factories or cultivating land and putting their faith in international treaties. They were Lutheran and Orthodox Christians who spoke Finnish, Swedish, Russian or other languages – businesspeople, farmers and factory workers, elderly and children. They had sports clubs and societies; they voted for different parties and had trust in the future.
In 1944, they were given some five minutes to pack and flee. The Finnish government had to re-settle 420,000 people, and the task was completed successfully. All of them, however, have missed their homeland up to this day.
For as long as 45 years, the Soviet Union did not even allow them to see their former homes. It was a serious crime to go home! Finland and the Finnish refugees were accused by the Soviet propaganda of war that Stalin himself had started twice against Finland.
Since the refugees found a new home in western Finland, the issue is not about justice alone. In addition to this horrible decay, the world is to witness a humanitarian and social catastrophe. The Karelian issue must be solved at the highest international level.
My vision is a three-zone model
Because of its tragic history, Karelia in its present chaos cannot be integrated with neither Russia nor Finland. Karelia needs to be ruled by the European Union and Finland; EU legislation has to be implemented, temporary peacekeeping forces of either the European Union or the United Nations should be stationed in Karelia, and the Euro should become the only legal tender in the area. The current population should be granted full human rights.
The model is composed of three zones used for filling the present economic and social void:
The Western urban zone – Vyborg, Sortavala, and other towns in the area – shall be integrated into the Finnish society. Finland will rebuild the area, using public and private financing.
The sparsely populated Central zone should become a ‘safety zone’, used for bio-dynamic agriculture and eco-tourism. Large areas should permanently become nature reserves and national parks.
The Eastern zone should become a special economic area, a lucrative investment area for both international and Finnish investors. Less than an hour’s drive from St Petersburg, this fast growing zone would allow visa-free entry for people from St Petersburg (for the northern area, Petrozavodsk). The new international border area would see an untold number of factories, supermarkets and other services being built. The taxes and duties collected here by the Finnish government would finance Karelia’s rebuilding.
Finland is emerging as the key player in Northern Europe as the only country to use the Euro currency. Because of the devastation of Karelia and enormous disparities in regional economies, co-operation with Russia and other countries is crucial. Finland is the meeting-point of three cultures (Scandinavian, Finno-Baltic, and Slavic), and the Russian-occupied Finnish Karelia is sandwiched between the Euro zone, and Russia’s core, the busy St Petersburg – Moscow corridor.
To bring peace and prosperity, human rights and rapid economic growth to Karelia and all northern Europe, Finland needs to recover its former territory. Russia and Finland, already in 1920, signed a mutual treaty in which Karelia belongs to Finland. This paper is the key to solve the disaster in today’s Karelia.
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