KARELIANS (incl. Ludes)

They call themselves karjalaised, karjalazed, livviköid, lüüdiköid. In the Scandinavian sources the name Karelia has occurred since the 8th century; the Karelians were first mentioned in the Russian sources in 1143.


The Karelians live in their original territory in the Republic of Karelia of the Russian Federation (172,400 sq. km., capital city Petrozavodsk, in Finnish Petroskoi) and dispersed in many other places in Russia (including, as small communities, in the provinces of Tver, Novgorod, Leningrad, and Murmansk), in Finland and Sweden.


Year In Karelia In the whole Russian Federation Knowledge of the
native language
Percentage of the total population of Karelia
1897   208,100   42.3%
1926 100,781 248,000   38.2%
1939 108,600 253,800   23.2%
1959 85,500 167,300 71.4% 13.1%
1970 84,200 146,100 63.0% 11.8%
1979 82,140 138,400 55.6% 11.1%
1989 78,928 124,900 47.9% 10.0%
2002 65,651 93,344 48.4% 9.2%


The number of people speaking Karelian began to decrease at the beginning of the 20th century, but the assimilation of Karelians has become critical during the Soviet period, owing to massive immigration of Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians to Karelia. In the national Republic of Karelia the ratio of Karelians who can speak their native language is 48.4%.

Turning Points in the History of the Karelians

12th c – the Karelians fall under the hegemony of the feudal Republic of Novgorod, they are converted to Russian Orthodoxy;

13-14th c – Karelia becomes the area of conflict between Russians and Swedes, in 1323 the Russian-Swedish border divides the Karelian territory;

1478 – Karelia falls under the hegemony of Moscow;

17th c – many Karelians migrate from the territories that come under Swedish jurisdiction with the Peace Treaty of Stolbovo (1617) to Tver and Novgorod areas in Central Russia and to Northern Karelia;

18th c – establishment of industrial enterprises with imported workers; Petrozavodsk becomes an important industrial town;

1920 – establishment of the Karelian Working Commune (autonomous province);

1939 – elimination of the Tver-Karelian National District; the Karelian-language writings are destroyed.

Danger Signs

The Karelians constituted only 9.2% of the population of Karelia according to the 2002 census. The inner national unity of the Karelians has slackened. Based on the census of 1989, 47.9% of the Karelians in the Soviet Union indicated their mother tongue to be Karelian, 45.5% Russian, and 6.6% some other language; in the whole Russian Federation the numbers were 48.6%, 46.3%, and 5.1%, respectively. 40% of the Karelians who live in cities, 50% of those living in industrial settlements and 64.6% of rural Karelians consider Karelian their mother tongue. The assimilation of the language is most extensive in the cities of Karelia, because there the communication between the generations in Karelian is almost non-existent. 70% of rural Karelians are living in areas where the assimilation of their language has been less rapid. Rural Karelians are the Karelians’ hope of survival as a nation, but the hopes should be supported by an efficacious national policy, including the creation of circumstances for the proper functioning of the spoken and written Karelian language.


www.suri.ee: Karelia, Karelians and Vepsians

www.fennougria.ee: Karelians