From the CIAO Atlas Map of Europe 

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Ways of Managing Border Disputes in Present-Day Europe

The Karelian Question

Pertti Joenniemi 1

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute

An European Border

The Karelian question is, if viewed as a traditional border dispute, neither a major theme on the European agenda, nor does it constitute a pressing one in the current Finnish-Russian relations.

It became alive in the beginning of the 1990s, after having been dormant for decades, with the demise of the Soviet Union, the re-unification of Germany and the restoring of the independence of the Baltic republics. The discussion surrounding the question assumed considerable intensity for some years, but appears now to be in decline as the state actors have been reluctant to engage themselves in talks on restitution of those parts of Karelia ceded to the Soviet Union in the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947.

The question remains, once depicted in a traditional manner, mainly of interest to the Finnish civil society. There are no decisive breakthroughs in sights and the issue hence pertains "to the unknown backwoods between St.Petersburg and the Kola Peninsula" (Eskelinen, 1994:172). Internationally the issue has attracted little interest and is not known to any broader public. 2

However, the point of departure here is that such a perspective has turned insufficient. The issue is still alive and the question has over the last years gained features that reach beyond the dichotomic perception of Karelia belonging either to Finland or Russia. In order to catch these more recent dynamics and to unravel the features that break with the usually rather strict delineations of political space, the standard either-or framework has to be broadened. The applying of a more extensive framework offers, in addition of providing an inroad into an analyses of issues that pertain to the finnish and russian understanding of political space, or the depicting of Karelia as an entity with a certain standing of its own, an opportunity to address certain key questions concerning the figure of the European Union and the way political space is evolving in present-day Europe at large.

This is justified as the Finnish-Russian border now comprises a frontier between the European Union and Russia. The unfolding of the Karelian question thereby reaches far beyond the relations of the two states in question in also influencing the quality of the EU and its external borders. Moreover, the applying of such a broader approach implies a reversion of the previous tendencies of peripheralisation and allows the Karelian question to be used as a case indicatory of the changing meaning of borders and territoriality in Europe.

The Post-War History

Karelia is a word of many connotations. It signifies, above all, a culture and an identity that transcends any strict delineations into East and West. It signals a language closely related to Finnish, and pertains to an area historically stretching from the White Sea to the Gulf of Finland and southern Finland and its Karelian inhabitants (cf. Laine, 1994; Paasi, 1996). In this sense Karelia has connotations of a "third", an "area where western and eastern cultures meet" (Paasi, 1995:239).

Another way of putting it would be to say that Karelia is an entity and a culture that is neither Finnish nor Russian, but brings together elements of both. Such qualities have, on occasions, allowed the area to prosper as indicated among other things by the significance of the town of Vyborg during various historical periods.

However, a bipolar and divisive logic became prevalent with Finland's achievement of independence in 1917 and the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920. 3 Such a logic continued to play out with boundary enforcement in the 1920s and 1930s, and has been particularly distinct since the Second World War. The closure of the state border has promoted the peripheralisation of the Russian as well as the Finnish sides of Karelia, and has deprived the region of any specific features of its own (cf. Paasi, 1996).

The Karelian question, more particularly, refers to the Karelia of Lake Ladoga and the Karelian Isthmus regions, i.e. the areas - including the towns of Sortavala and Vyborg - that Finland was forced to cede to the Soviet Union after the Second World War. These areas, constituting some 10-15 percent of Finland's prewar economy, and the population of some 420.000 persons that migrated to Finland from the ceded areas, is what Finns usually have in mind when referring to the Karelian question. 4

The Various Karelias 5

After the Finnish-Russian war, ending in 1944, the ceded area was first incorporated into the Finnish-Karelian Soviet Republic. The northern part around Lake Ladoga still remains part of the Republic, but some years later the southern part consisting of the Karelian Isthmus was transferred to the Leningrad Region (Oblast). Strong measures of russification took place for example in the form of changing the names of the various places and towns in the region.

As the pre-war population by and large left the annexed parts of Karelia for Finland, people from various parts of the Soviet Union, especially from Belorus and Ukraine as well as other regions that had suffered most from the war, moved to the area during the end-1940s and the 1950s. However, the region remained sparsely populated and peripheral in the Soviet Union. Out of an overall population of some 800.000 inhabitants in the whole Karelian Republic, only one-tenth are now of Karelian or Finnish descent (Laine, 1994:24; Oksa and Varis, 1994; Ries, 1994).

On the Soviet side the reasons for the annexation were above all security-oriented, but reflected also a Russian tradition of centralism as well as fear of foreign influences in the border areas. The war-time experiences were interpreted as speaking for a larger in-between zone and a need of adding distance between the sensitive and vulnerable region of Leningrad in regard to Finland, Scandinavia as well as West more generally. Particularly the areas bordering to Finland became military buffer zones and remained largely unpopulated (cf. Forsberg, 1995:206-207). Hence also the new, post-war border of some 700 kilometres between Finland and Soviet Union had a very statist, security-oriented and divisive character. Moreover, it had a system-character in the sense of drawing a line between ideologically opposed social systems. It separated the entities from each other, thereby providing exclusive spaces, and a rather unequivocal territorial ordering into the "inside" and "outside" in a Europe of rather clearcut divisions. Anssi Paasi (1995:248) observes that the policies pursued locally, as a consequence of the larger constellation, were those of deliberate peripheralisation, de-nationalisation and dislinking the region from its previous history.

Signs of Change

For decades the former Finnish Karelia, divided between the Karelian Republic and the Leningrad Oblast, remained rather isolated and had mainly the function of an outpost against external threats. The town of Vyborg, located close to Leningrad and being a transit town for traffic to and from Finland, was to some extent an exception, but even there the contacts remained modest. Finland did not aspire for changing this state of affairs. Although Finland's trading with the Soviet Union was extensive, there was a lack of contacts with the neighbouring regions at the eastern border. The interaction was restricted to Finnish purchases of timber for the pulp industry located in the eastern part of Finland and the construction of the mining town of Kostamus by Finnish entrepreneurs (Eskelinen and Varis, 1994). There was hence little reason to contrast a policy of restitution with that of cooperating with actors in the Soviet Karelian Republic as it could have been argued that such cooperation indirectly implied a Finnish recognition of the ceded areas now belonging for good to the Soviet Union.

This state of scant cooperation changed to some extent during the years of perestroika and glasnost in the 1980s. At the beginning of the 1980s Vyborg was opened up to tourism and in the late 1980s even visits to the countryside of the Karelian Republic were permitted, which considerably increased the number of visitors, especially Finns. Local entities such as the Finnish border-town of Lappeenranta engaged themselves somewhat more actively in transborder relations. Plans emerged on the Soviet side for special economic zones, and the Vyborg region was singled out as one of the candidates (Dörrenbächer, 1991; Kosonen, 1991).

If implemented on larger scale, such ideas would have significantly changed the nature of the border and the border region. However, implementation turned out to be problematic as well as time-consuming, and so far the concrete consequences have boiled down to very little. The ideas turned out to be controversial on the Russian side, and it has been difficult to agree upon a distribution of the benefits between the local actors and the central authorities. On the Finnish side a recession in the economy took the wind from the sails, and simultaneously possibilities opened up to invest in and cooperate with other, more developed and technologically advanced regions such as those of St. Petersburg and Murmansk. Some interest was, however, directed towards Vyborg, this considerably changing its nature. The fact that Vyborg is the town in Russia closest to a Western country now shapes its daily life and gives it a rather special character resembling to some extend the one Vyborg had during its earlier history (Forsberg, 1995:208; Kosonen, 1994).

Particularly the demise of the Cold War entailed an end of some of the dynamics peripheralising the Karelian Republic in Soviet politics. The Republic, downgraded and renamed to carry the label of the Autonomous Republic of Karelia in 1956, declared sovereignty in November 1991. It was thereby following similar acts by some other autonomous areas that aimed at improving their situation and bolstering their position vis-á-vis the centre. However, the content of sovereignty has remained modest, although a special status was granted already in 1991. The notion of sovereignty is void of any profound dissident or separatist features, and has mainly implied increased influence on decision-making pertaining to the use of natural resources, taxation, currency incomes and environmental issues. The central authorities have played it rather softly, and the Karelian Republic received rights to make treaties with third powers, in case these arrangements were not in conflict with Russian law. The Republic thus enhanced its position as to politics, identity and gained a certain autonomy, albeit a very limited one (Ries, 1994).

The aspiring for a less marginalized position also amounted to the establishment of a foreign ministry, headed by influential politicians, within the administration of the Karelian Republic. There is some substance to the notion of a "foreign policy" as the Karelian Republic has become member of the Barents Regional Council, a body that promotes transnational cooperation and channels local initiatives, in the context of the Barents Euro-Arctic Region (BEAR). Likewise, the Republic has actively taken part in various forms of cooperation around the Baltic Sea open for regional actors.

The Debate Over the Karelian Question

As the Karelian Istmus and most of Ladoga-Karelen had been part of Finland since 1812, with the Tsar integrating these parts with the then Autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, it was not easy to accept that this state of affairs changed with the Second World War. The loss of Karelia was so traumatic for Finland that the issue was certainly not fully settled with the Peace Treaty of Paris.

The various Finnish post-war political leaderships all had hopes that the question could be taken up with the Soviet leaders at some proper juncture, although they refrained from raising the issue publicly and did not encourage public discussion. The return in 1955 of the naval base of Porkkala, located outside Helsinki, kept the issue alive, and so did the leasing of the Saimaa Canal in the Vyborg region to Finland in 1960. President Kekkonen harboured hopes that a Finnish recognition of the German Democratic Republic could potentially bring Vyborg back (Forsberg, 1995:212). There was, however, considerable resistance on the Soviet side to any touching upon the Karelian question, and particularly during the Brezhnev era the Soviet position remained quite uncompromising.

This did not change in any profound way with the emerging of detente and the various efforts to tackle some of the other issues that the Second World War left unsettled. It rather seems that in the 1970s Finland accepted a closing of the issue in approving, without showing signs of any hesitation, the pledges of the CSCE document which denounced the right of making territorial claims.

However, the disintegration of the Soviet Union brought the question back on the agenda, at least in the Finnish civic discussion. 6  If the Baltic countries could regain their independence and Germany was unified, what prevented a restitution of the ceded Karelia to Finland? As there was no longer a conflict between opposed social systems and the border did not demarcate a profound difference between western freedom and eastern totalitarianism, what prevented some re-arrangement from taking place?

These arguments were raised in a number of interventions coming mainly from those having evacuated from Karelia and belonging to the Karelian Association. It was felt that finally the moment was there. Initially the support for these claims of re-drawing the border was considerable. According to polls taken in 1991, a third of all the Finns supported negotiations with the Soviet Union over the return of the ceded Karelia. 7

Those advocating a redemption often used moral arguments. Their claim has been that because of historical justice as well as cultural values, the pre-war borders should be reinstituted and Karelia returned to Finland. Articles proliferated in the press, questions were raised in the Parliament, and the Karelian Association, representing the will of those having immigrated to Finland, announced itself ready to prepare a proposal concerning future relations with Karelia. The chairman of the movement presented a plan of his own according to which the Finnish Karelia should receive an autonomous status similar to that of the Åland Islands, a group of islands located between Finland and Sweden in the Baltic Sea.

Some critical voices were raised as well, and in order to oppose restitution a variety of arguments were used. Some of those taking part in the debate felt that there was no need for going back to a traditional, divisive thinking and it was also feared that an opening of the Karelian question would have negative influence on the relationship between Finland and Russia. Moreover, it was pointed out that the making of territorial claims would be detrimental to the conduct of international relations by strengthening a move towards bringing up various injustices receding in the past. It was felt that an increasing of the significance of the various territorial disputes could destabilize the European system. 8

The return of Karelia was opposed also for economic, social as well as military-strategic reasons. It has been known that the ceded region, and the Karelian Republic in general, has experienced severe economic hardship. Tomas Ries (1994:1) uses the label "disastrous" in describing the current state of affairs as to the economy of the Karelian Republic. A restitution could, it was argued, become very costly and demand huge investments (the sum of some $20 billion has been mentioned). Moreover, a restitution could imply that Finland got a Russian-speaking minority of some 300.00 people within its borders, and this was seen as an argument weighting heavily against any re-opening of the border-question.

It was also argued that forceful military-strategic reasons spoke against any alterations of the border. General Gustav Hägglund, Head of the General Staff, expressed the view that Karelia should not be received "even if it was offered on a golden plate". 9  He emphasized the strategic value of the Karelian Isthmus to the Russians and the possible dangers of not comprehending the logic of the Russian thinking concerning their security, and was thereby indirectly arguing that Finland made a mistake in invading considerable parts of Eastern Karelia during the Continuation War in 1941-44.

These arguments of an either-or character pertaining to military-strategic view were used in order to reinforce the existence of the border and to disencourage any incorporation of the Karelian question on the Finnish-Russian agenda. Hägglund's move was a rather forceful one with considerable impact on the discourse. However, in general there has been a scarcity of traditional geopolitical argumentation in the debate and instead issues pertaining to identity, economics and interpretations of history have dominated the discourse.

Views of the Political Leadership

It appears in general that the Finnish President, Government and leading politicians have not shown much enthusiasm for the return of Karelia. The option of initiating negotiations has been kept open, although it has not been pushed or made use of in any formal manner. In contrast to the views held by broad segments of the public, the leadership did not view the end of the Cold War and the falling apart of the Soviet Union as a "window of opportunity" and an invitation to raise the question.

President Koivisto (1981-1993) assumed, although not resisting a civic discussion on the matter, a quite reserved attitude by stressing that the question had been resolved in three peace treaties in 1940, 1944 and 1947. "The issue has been settled", he stated adding, however, that too extreme claims might foreclose the option of waging a dialogue. 10  Koivisto's successor, President Ahtisaari (1994-), has stated that he has not buried the issue, but will not actively pursue it in not wishing to cause strains in the Finnish-Russian relations. The issue can, in his view, be discussed, but the initiation of more formal discussions requires that also the Russian side assumes a preparedness to engage itself in such dialogue. 11 

The issue came up indirectly as Finland and Russia concluded in 1992 a neighbourhood-agreement that, besides leaving out any commitments to cooperation in the sphere of defence contained in a previous treaty with the Soviet Union, also defined the status of the border. In the preceding negotiations (then still between Finland and the Soviet Union) on a new basic agreement, the Soviet side offered a formulation on the finality of the common border. However, the Finnish side wanted to refrain from including any separate statement on borders. A compromise was reached as Finland wished to avoid the impression that it had some future plans to return to the question, and as a result the agreement includes an article on the permanence of borders, but does so in a quite vague manner. 12

The article prescribes that Finland and Russia preserve their common border as a border of good neighbourhood according to the principles of the CSCE Final Act and respect each others territorial integrity. According to the Finnish interpretation this leaves open the possibility of changing the border, whereas the Russians have interpreted it more strictly, i.e. the agreement confirming the finality of the border (Forsberg, 1995:213). Finland stresses that borders can be renegotiated and changed peacefully with the consent of the parties concerned. This line has been exemplified in another context by that minor changes in borders have been agreed upon for between Finland and Sweden (cf. Blomberg, 1992).

It is possible to interpret the Finnish policy pursued in the context of the agreement as one of merely wanting to stay with the previous status quo. There might, however, be more to it. In the view of Jaakko Blomberg (1996), Director General of the Foreign Ministry, "the choice of wording underlines the aim of changing the nature of the border from a dividing to an unifying one". The stance put forward is not of the usual either-or type, but one that adopts the position of both-and. It is confirmed that there exists no aspirations to alter the border in a formal statist sense but there is also the idea that within such a stable context changes may be opted for in order to transform the previously divisive nature of the border into a much more cooperative one, i.e. turning the border into a frontier. Blomberg seems to testify, in more general terms, to a certain strategy of de-bordering thereby indicating that the very thinking contained in Finnish foreign policy concerning borders has experienced change. His interpretation is supported by the fact that the neighbourhood-agreement contains a number of clauses that aim at providing a legal framework for the cooperation in the neighbouring areas. Moreover, there is an encouraging of direct cross-border contacts between regional and local authorities taking place, and the agreement makes it legitimate to engage oneself in cooperation across the border on the basis of cultural heritage and historical ties.

The impression that a conceptual change has actually been aspired for has been strengthened by an interpretation provided by Ilmari Susiluoto (1994), a Senior Research Fellow at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He depicts the changes that have taken place as a historical turning point arguing that the agreement implies that after 70 years of isolation and iron-curtain mentality there has now opened up possibilities for genuine cooperation, based on geographical proximity and natural human interests, on the regional level.

This is to say that the border is now less of a symbol through which both the contradistinction between Finland and Russia as well as their dependence of each other is expressed. Instead a certain de-politization of the border appears to be taking place allowing for more pluralistic understandings - resembling those views that historically have been quite favourable Karelia - of political space to unfold.

The changes that have taken place might be explained by rethinking in Russia as well as in Finland, but there is also a third actor involved. The negotiations with Soviet Union and laetr Russia took part at the eve of Finland's accession talks with the European Union. Obviously Finland felt itself to be under pressure to make moves prior to the beginning of negotiations on entering the Union. These negotiations would have been complicated, it was thought, with the existence of defence policy commitments or open border disputes with Russia. 13  There are no indications of the EU having raised the issue, but the Finnish interpretation of the EU-logic has been that borders should be stable and not subject to conflicts. Finland's concern was presumably not just restricted to the negotiations on accession. The border issue also provided an opportunity to engage oneself in Europe-making, with Finland as a potential EU-member influencing EU's eastern border, and thereby also the conditions for the future relationship between the European Union and Russia.

It might on good grounds be argued that both the concern for good relations with Russia and the need of complying with the understanding prevailing within the EU, pushed Finland in the direction of downgrading and to some extent re-interpreting the Karelian question. There might be two logics at play - one traditional statist and geopolitical logic of either-or and another more cooperative one underlying European integration - that have a parallel impact, although they differ considerably from each other. Both the concern with Russian views and the need to be in tune with the EU-approach speak for a policy of refraining from any claims of restitution, and particularly the latter encourages an aiming at a lowering of the border by measures of "low policy" cooperation.

The policy pursued more recently seems to be based, to state it somewhat differently, on the assumption that aiming at restitution is neither realistic taking into account the prevailing circumstances, nor is it warranted as there are other, more favourable options available. There is a refraining from raising any territorial claims as such claims are taken to be tantamount to the undermining of international treaties and agreements. Instead of a redemption Finland opts for a policy of circumscription. Jaakko Blomberg (1996) summarizes one aspect of the policy pursued as follows: "Finland has based the policy pursued in the context of the CSCE/OSCE on the understanding that preserving peace and stability in Europe requires a respecting of the borders that emerged with the war. Such a respect implies that all the states refrain from making territorial claims. What is at issue here is one of the basic pillars of international order".

However, the policy does not merely constitute of staying with the border as it is. There is also a positive goal involved in the sense of aiming at reducing the obstacles resulting from the existing borders. Blomberg corroborates this by stating that "the line chosen is one of supporting exchange and cooperation between neighbouring regions". In other words, the aspiration is not one of status quo, not to speak of any re-drawing of borders in the sphere of "high politics" but making room for "low politics" that turn the Finnish-Russian border more passable, porous and furnish it with a multifaced character. With these policies a previous barrier functions less than it used to do as a sluice-gate at a fixed geographical point and assumes a far more cooperative character.

Moreover, also "high policy" aspirations are now seen as gaining from cooperation among neighbouring regions as evidenced by the Finnish Governments report to the Parliament on security policy (1995:25). The report observes that the growing contacts between citizens, extended opportunities for action by NGOs, new economic collaboration and lively interaction across the common frontier have all meant that the opportunities offered by social reforms in Russia and the effects of the instability in that country have an immediate impacts on Finland. "The new situation has made possible cooperation in neighbouring areas that allow Finland to give concrete support for economic and political reforms in Russia and to work in cooperation with Russia in resolving and preventing common problems that could endanger stability". 14 It appears that indeed the Finnish approach to the Finnish-Russian border has changed, and in this context also to the Karelian question tends to assume a new character.

Russian Views

It seems that over time only minor changes have taken place in the Russian attitudes towards the Karelian question. There has been concerns about its reopening in a negative mode as an either-or issue, and hence the option of adjusting and re-drawing the border in any formal way has been categorically rejected. Changes in the location of borders have been regarded dangerous and therefore politically impossible to execute. However, this line has not prevented Russia from adopting a positive attitude towards policies regarding "low-policy" cooperation in border regions, although this has been a relatively recent phenomenon. For example the Karelian Republic has been allowed considerable liberties in terms of engaging itself more actively in crossborder cooperation.

The rejectionist view, according to which there is no Karelian question or need for discussing it, has grown a bit more soft with the recent years. Foreign Minister Kozyrev and President Yeltsin both stated in 1992 that there existed no issue concerning borders and that no territorial claims prevailed between Finland and Russia (Forsberg 1995:216). Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Lukin, the Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the Duma, both reiterated these views in 1994, referring at the same time to the enlargement of the cooperation of neighbouring districts and the establishment of free-economy areas (The Karelian Association, 1996:47).

More recently Russian political leaders have been somewhat more forthcoming and ready to make at least symbolic concessions on the Karelian question even though talks on border shifts have been strictly avoided. Increased understanding has been shown for the wish of Finnish Karelians to discuss the issue, visit their homeland and raise cultural monuments there. In May 1994 President Yeltsin for the first time acknowledged, responding to questions from journalists during President Ahtisaari's visit to Moscow, that the annexation of Finnish Karelia was an aggressive act of Stalin's policy. 15  Juri Derjabin, Russia's ambassador to Finland, has met with groups advocating a return of Finnish Karelia, and has stated publicly that the decline of the town of Vyborg is something that Russia should be ashamed of, i.e. that there has been some mismanagement of the Karelian heritage in the ceded areas. 16

In 1996 it seems that the heat surrounding the Karelian question during the first half of the decade has largely run out, and there is little interest on either side once again to return to the issue in terms of altering the border. Russia stays with its reserved attitude, and hence the issue is blocked in terms of restitution as Finland has pledged not to make any moves without the consent of Russia. The decline of the issue as one pertaining to a re-drawing of borders seems to encouraged a discussion on the transparency of the border in question, and the initiation of various projects that would lower it. Particularly the leadership of the Karelian Republic has been active in this regard. Their persistence has contributed to the emergence on the Finnish side of a discussion on the value of engaging oneself in active cooperation. There has been pondering on the existence of profitable targets for investments, improving infrastructure, effective ways of tackling environmental hazards, questions pertaining to growing immigration or issues pertaining to the spread of organized crime. So far this discussion has had only modest concrete impact, although Finns have the most extensive contacts with the Karelian Republic compared with any other foreign presence.

Future Options

The first part of the 1990s brought about, due to the re-emergence of the Karelian question, an extensive discussion on the nature of the Finnish-Russian border. The traditional statist logic still influenced the debate to a considerable degree. It coloured the thinking of those advocating a restitution as well that of the opponents (cf. Joenniemi, 1996). However, also a different, more societal, cooperative and less territorially fixed thinking emerged. This latter logic has been strengthened by developments of integration with the border between Finland and Russia turning into an external border of the EU. The changes are quite obvious in the case of Finnish thinking but have, to a degree, also influenced the line pursued by Russia.

The various dynamics that have contributed to the peripheralisation of the Finnish-Russian border, and provided the Karelian question features of a statist border dispute, have declined in importance. With the European, integration-oriented and inclusive logic getting stronger, the way of perceiving the issues involved has gradually changed. The debate has assumed a different character in benefitting from a kind of "civilization" of borders in the current Europe. Instead of dividing, the border agreed upon in the Peace Treaty of 1947 increasingly groups Finland and Russia together. A previous boundary of mutual division shows signs of transforming into a frontier. There is less peripheralisation and with the endeavours of making increasingly use of the resources of the border-region, the previously very statist borders appears to be on its way of assuming a new, trans-statist meaning.

In other words, a process of de-bordering is also at work in the Finnish-Russian relations. The strategies applied work around borders, this initiating a formation that transcends the previous territorially defined space along the border without leading to new territorial demarcations.

The new logic has entered with considerable force. It appears to be so powerful that changes can be discerned even in the publications of the Karelian Association. In the beginning of the 1990s the Association focused mainly on a restitution of the ceded area, whereas the more recent statements devote considerable attention to the option of introducing various transborder schemes of cooperation. 17 Instead of shifting the border in a formal sense, the effort is now much more one of lowering it in order to make space for an intense network of crossborder contacts.

The most recent programme of the Association (1996:50) states that "Finland's membership in the European Union offers additional possibilities of cooperation of neighbouring districts, in the field of economy as well as culture". It is further observed that the development of St. Petersburg and the Karelian Republic have become more important than before as regards the Karelian question, and it is noted that the growth of significance of St. Petersburg adds to incentives for crossborder cooperation. "Emphasizing Finland's role as a bridge between Russia and the European Union and an active cooperation of neighbouring areas, constitutes at the same time current Karelian policy". It is further remarked "that the more we are positively involved with the ceded Karelia and the Karelian Republic, the more natural seems the presence of the Finnish population and its return to the native districts in the ceded Karelia". In other words, the previous insistence on statist measures of restitution now runs parallel with an emphases on a domestication and societization of the border through various forms of "low policy" cooperation.

The moral connotations pertaining to the Karelian question as well as divisions into "we" and "they" with clearcut territorial delineations seem to be in decline, and this provides space for more functional arguments to take over. This is to say that a foundational change has taken place as the implementation of the EU-approach is now seen as providing a way of making progress towards a settling of the question. Although there is still a broad variety of options to regain the ceded areas in the discussion, these ranging from buying it entirely or partially, leasing it or providing the region with partial autonomy in the manner of the autonomy of the Åland Islands, the most discussion has been devoted to the idea that the areas with a Karelian background on the Russian and Finnish side of the present border should be turned into a region of transborder cooperation. Formulas should be adopted similar to those applied in the border-regions between Germany and Austria, Germany and Holland as well as Germany and Poland. The various parts of Karelia should, according to the more recent thinking, remain part of the present states. There is no need to alter borders in a statist sense, but instead of dividing border should invite for cooperation and unify.

The implementation of such a cooperative strategy would emphasize the importance of local actors, and in some cases perhaps also the Karelians themselves. 18  Moreover, it would invite the EU to assume an active role in the shaping of one of its main borders, for example by utilizing the various funds and programmes for transborder cooperation (Tacis, Interreg). There would be a role for the states as well, but not in the sense of changing statist borders and making territorial adjustments. In the context of a transborder strategy the states are relegated to a supportative role instead of being a decisive actors. It has been demanded, for example, that the Finnish Government prepares a Karelia-programme in the context of advancing cooperation between neighbouring regions and in the Baltic Sea region at large. The states should remain in the background, allow other actors to assume a central position and refrain from implementing and returning to a strict territorial logic demanding the constitution of an unambiguous borders.

This is to say that the Karelian question shows considerable signs of transformation. It appears to move from an unresolved territorial issue and correction of an border felt to be highly unjust to an opportunity and resource with European connotations. Undoubtedly the new thinking yet has to become stronger in order really to yield results. It is still in its initial phase, and there has so far been little implementation and active interaction if compared to many other transborder region in current-day Europe.

However, the new ideas are there, and they are probably there to stay. They have already achieved relatively firm ground in the Finnish debate and the policies pursued by Finland, and enjoy some support in Russia as indicated by the effort to establish economic free-zones and the many proposals for cooperation emerging from the Karelian Republic. Moreover, the EU is taking some first steps in coming at grips with its new eastern border. Presumably this latter factor will in the future be rather important. With a certain de-territorialization of politics there will presumably be a downgrading of many of the previous concerns leaning on a traditional statist approach as regards borders and territorial issues.

Moreover, the new spatial dynamics might call for solutions that could re-furnish Karelia with its historical role as a 'third'. It could gain some subjectivity of its own in an increasingly pluralistic Europe, a "Europe of many voices". This option is so far more potential than real, but in any case the territorial determinants of social life and political processes appear to be on their way of becoming less strict, this auguring for a return of the Karelian question in a manner beyond restitution and an adjustment of statist borders.


Note 1: Pertti Joenniemi works as a guest research fellow at COPRI and has been nominated to an acting project director for the NORD-project. An earlier version of this paper was presented at an international symposium organized by the Center for Slavic Research, University of Hokkaido, Sapporo 24-27 July 1996. Tuomas Forsberg and Anssi Paasi have provided valuable comments to the previous version. Back.

Note 2: It seems that for example the inaccuracies in a report on the Karelian region carried by the Economist in January 1993 indirectly illustrate the peripheral nature of the region. Back.

Note 3: Actually such a logic can be traced back as far as to the year 1323, i.e. the Peace of Nöteberg, when the Kingdom of Sweden and the Republic of Novgorod agreed upon a mutual frontier which split Karelia between them. The changes of the frontier from the 14th to the 19th centuries reflected a struggle between Sweden and Russia, and in the 20th century a contest between Finland and Russia. It seems, however, that with increased emphases on the building of modern nation-states in the 19th and 20th centuries the trend has been more outstanding, and in this sense an either-or constitution has labelled particularly the more recent developments. Back.

Note 4: On the Russian side Karelia is equated with the Karelian Republic, which is in turn, in the older Finnish usage of language, has connotations of Eastern Karelia. These different conceptualizations and ways of reading the issue cause considerable confusion in the debate. Back.

Note 5: The illustration has been published by the Karelian Association, The Karelian Issue, Helsinki 1996, p.4. Back.

Note 6: A summary of the discussion has been presented by a study group established by the Karelian Association, see Karjala-työryhmän raportti 31.1.1995. The report is mainly based on a study carried out by Arja Kuittinen and the study has also been published separately. See Arja Kuittinen, Neuvostoliiton hajoaminen käynnisti vilkkaan Karjala-keskustelun lehdistössä. Keskustelua Karjalasta. Karjalan Liitto, Helsinki 1993, pp. 22-26. Back.

Note 7: Over time a decline in support seems to have taken place. Polls carried out in December 1995 indicated that only 17 percent of the respondents supported an opening of the question on governmental level while 80 percent took the view that the Finnish government should not take any initiatives. See Helsingin Sanomat, December 27, 1995. Back.

Note 8: See Karjala-työryhmän raportti 31.1.1995, Karjalan Liitto, Helsinki 1995, pp. 47-55. Back.

Note 9: An interview with general Hägglund, then Chief of Staff and now Commader of the Armed Forces, in Keskisuomalainen, March 29, 1992. In Dagens Nyheter (March 6, 1992) Hägglund explained his way of arguing by stating that it would be unwise for geostrategic reasons to push the Finnish border back towards St. Petersburg. This is so, he states, as the value of this region for Russia in defensive terms has increased over the recent years. Such a move, if implemented, would transform Finland into Russia's zone of forward defence and consequently the Russian military leadership would prepare plans to take territorial advantage of Finland in view of a crisis. For a broader analyses on the geopolitical reasoning surrounding the Karelian question, see Penttilä, 1993. Back.

Note 10: President Koivisto devoted a whole chapter to the Karelian question in his recent book Historian tekijät (The Makers of History), pp. 455-458. The issue came up already during Koivisto's visit to Japan in 1987. It then became obvious that the Finnish and Japanese attitudes to ceded regions were different, with Finland pursuing a much more restrictive policy. The issues relevant for Finland and Japan are not fully comparable as the Karelian question is regulated by statist agreements, whereas that of the Northern Territories has more openness is this regard (cf. Ishiwatari, 1995). The matter was also touched upon in the context of Prime Minister Nakasone's visit to Finland in 1988. The Japanese leadership hoped for a more active stance, and perhaps some support for its own posture, but to no avail. In 1989 President Koivisto signalled to Moscow that Finland would not raise the Karelian question even if the Soviet Union would make concessions to Japan regarding the Northern territories. See, Suomen Kuvalehti, December, No. 49, 1995, p. 18. Finland's policy has obviously been one of dislinkage and has been based on the avoidance of multilateralization. Back.

Note 11: These views have been put forward in interviews in Demari, January 24, 1994 and Ilta-Sanomat, April 9, 1994. Back.

Note 12: See the statement of Director General of the Foreign Ministry, Jaakko Blomberg, in Suomen Kuvalehti, December, No. 49, 1995, p. 20. The newspaper itself concludes that Finland was perhaps too much in a rush in accepting negotiations on a neighbourhood-agreement. "According to established view in the Foreign Ministry the previous Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Aid would have expired by itself without any negotiations. Hence there was no need to cede Karelia again for a second time as a price to be paid for getting rid of the FCM-Treaty". Back.

Note 13: Measures were taken to dismiss any impressions of that there existed a border dispute. Hence the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave a order to its embassies, in January 1993 on the eve of the EU-negotiations, not to display and distribute copies of a particular issue of the Finnish Defence Review. The paper contained a critical article on the Karelian question written by Martti Valkonen, a Finnish journalist posted as a correspondent in Moscow. Back.

Note 14: The increasing conceptual clarity and interest in transborder cooperation has so far not yielded any impressive results. On the contrary, Eskelinen and Varis (1994) label the situation as somewhat chaotic as to the organization of cooperation, and this goes for both the Finnish and the Russian side. Investments have been modest and it seems that other regions such as the Barents or St. Petersburg regions attract much more interest leaving the ceded Karelia and the Karelian Republic in a peripheral position. It is, however, important to note that it is no longer the border as such that disencourages investments or other forms of cooperation, but it is due to factors such as a lack of legistlation, weak infrastructure or an increasingly high rate of crime on the side of the Karelian Republic (cf. Ries, 1994). Back.

Note 15: See Helsingin Sanomat, May 19, 1994. Back.

Note 16: Interview with Ambassador Juri Derjabin, Helsingin Sanomat, March 4, 1992. Back.

Note 17: The Karelian Association has had activites through-out the 1990s that can be interpreted as supporting a strategy of transbordering, although the main emhases during the beginning of the decade was certainly on aspiring for a restitution. Back.

Note 18: It may be argued that the opting for a strategy of transborder cooperation implies that in fact the previous inhabitants of the ceded Karelia are deprived of an option to move back to the region, but one may also ask whether that option would be used if a restitution really took place. It may turn out that in both cases the options opening up are used by others, and only to a minor degree by the previous Karelians or their decends. Back.