Chairman of the Board, Writers’ Union of the Karelian Republic
Today, Karelians, Vepsians and Finns make up a mere 11 per cent of the population in Karelia. However, there was a time (early twenties) when the share of Karelians and Vepsians was 43 and 3,2 per cent, respectively. Finns are not the native people to this area. During the 1920s and 1930s, Finns migrated to Karelia from Finland, America and Canada; people of Finno-Ugrian origin arrived from the Leningrad Region as well. Many of them were subject to repression in 1937 and 1938. In 1939, there were only eight thousand Finns in Karelia. The population increased, though, greatly in the late forties. Deprived of opportunity to return to their native home – the Leningrad Region, about 20 thousand Ingrian Finns moved to Karelia at the permission of authorities in 1949.
The Karelian literature during the Soviet regime was mostly Russian and Finnish. Attempts to create the Karelian and Vepsian written language failed. It was not allowed to teach in the Vepsian language. On the other hand, neither of the three groups of Karelian nation (north Karelians, Livviks and Ludiks) accepted the Karelian language that was combined artificially from three dialects. The majority of Karelian writers continued to use the Finnish literary language which is similar to the northern dialect of Karelian.
Voluminous literature published in Finnish was known very well in the former Soviet Union. Names of J. Virtanen, L. Helo (Finns), N. Jakkola, A. Timonen, J. Rugojev and P. Perttu (Karelians) gained great recognition in the country.
The first book of poetry in Karelian was published in 1939 jointly by F. Isakov and N. Laine under the title Huondes (“Morning”). However, only as late as in the seventies there appeared authors (like B. Brendoev and P. Lukin) who started regularly publishing books in Karelian.
Later still (in the eighties and early nineties) the first publications in Vepsian appeared – poetry of N. Abramov, A. Andreyeva and V. Yershov.
Foundation of the Writers’ Union of Karelia dates back to 1926 when the Karelian Association of Proletarian Writers was formed. The most active members of the literary unions attached to the newspapers Karelian Kommuuni and Krasnaya Karelia, as well as the Ukhtinsk literary union, joined the association. J. Virtanen became the generally recognised leader of the literary movement. He also became the official head of the Karelian Association of Proletarian Writers.In 1933–1934, the association had 49 members. In the year of 1934 the Writers’ Union of the Soviet Union was organised, and simultaneously the Soviet Writers’ Union of Karelia was formed. However, a few years later most of the authors who wrote in Finnish were excluded from the Union and subsequently destroyed in Stalin’s concentration camps, including the chairman J. Virtanen. Among those repressed were writers and poets of great talent: Eemeli Parras, Santeri Mäkelä, Ragnar Rusko (Nyström), Oskari Johansson, Lauri Luoto. Two writers returned from the GULAG. One of them, Urho Ruhanen, reflected this period in his book Syytettynä suomalainen (“A Finn is Accused”). The book was published in Finland in 1989.
In mid-1992 the regular state subsidy to the Writers’ Union of the Karelian Republic was annulled and it was reorganised on voluntary basis. That same year, a new organisation emerged, the Union of Karelian Writers, whose name does not reflect the realities, since among its members there is only one true Karelian – Ortje Stepanov. If it continues this way, literature may suffer greatly, for without native environment and regular contacts languages tend to fade. In this aspect, either a union or at least some sort of association of national writers might be a good solution.
Fortunately, literary magazines are still being published in Karelia. These are Sever (a magazine of Russian writers), Karelia and Kipinä (a magazine for children). A new magazine Verso was established; it concentrates on culture of Finno-Ugrian people and the problems of Ingrian Finns, and publishes poetry and articles as well. In the recent years it has become more difficult for writers to publish their books, so the existence of periodicals gives them the only chance to reach their readers. Luckily, both the form and contents of Karelia and Kipinä have changed for the better since the new editors-in-chief took over the magazines.
The most remarkable works of literature of late are novels of documentary style Ups and Downs of Petri Pohjaranta and Countrymen of Alajärvi in the Whirligig of Time by J. Rugojev and the novel The Bells of Lie Pekka Perttu. The motif of their works is the fate of Karelian people. Rugojev creates an image of the whole nation by portraying individuals, while Perttu does this by describing lives of Karelian families. Rugojev in his novels demonstrates the dramatic situation of the peasantry in the 20th century: dispossession of kulaks, arrests during the Stalin’s times, the post-war destruction of countryside, the thoughtless managing of agriculture in the more recent years. Perttu produces a vast picture of country life in the late 19th and early 20th century when the Karelian village was isolated from the whole world. Even in the beginning of the collectivisation it became evident that the new political system was hostile to the people and favoured destruction of the Karelian village and, as a result, eradication of age-old traditions, language and culture.
Our prominent scientists E. Karhu and E. Kiuru contribute to the magazines, too. They treat the problems of Karelian and Ingrian folklore, as well as the condition of Finnish population in Russia, particularly in Karelia.
Two seminars for writers in Finnish, Karelian and Vepsian languages were arranged by the Writers’ Union of the Karelian Republic, with active participation of linguists V. Ryagoyev, L. Markianova, P. Zaikov and N. Zaitseva. The follow-up to the seminars was publication of two books in two Karelian dialects: Candles in the Window – a poetry book by M. Pakhomov in Ludik dialect, and The Golden Evening – collected stories by O. Mishina in Livvic dialect. A book of poetry by N. Abramova in Vepsian was published with the support of the Vepsian Cultural Society and the Kastrena Association (Finland). The Ministry of Education of Karelia provided financial support for publication of a book of Karelian poetry by Z. Dubinina in 1995.
The condition of literature in Finnish at present is rather disturbing. In the first place, many writers using the Finnish language have left for Finland. Secondly, Taisto Perttu, a Finnish poet well known in Karelia and far beyond, Y. Rugojev, P. Perttu who wrote in Finnish, and translator K. Juntunen have passed away.
On 31 October 1994 the 11th Congress of the Writers’ Union was held. Great attention was paid by the participants to the sharp problems of our days: the threat to survival of literary magazines without financial support, the invasion of cheap low-grade literature at the books market and almost total lack of publications of those professional writers who are determined to keep high standards in contemporary literature.