Friday, April 6, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Finnish Lawyer’s New Approach on Karelia Outrages Russians

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 6 – A Finnish lawyer, long active in promoting the return of those portions of Karelia occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of the 1940 Winter War, has outraged Russians not only by her efforts to internationalize this issue but also by her filing of a series of suits seeking redress for property seized by the Soviets in that region.
Kari Silvennoinen this past week asked a Trieste meeting of representatives of the some 18 million Europeans forced to flee their homelands during and after World War II to include in its resolution a call for revisiting borders, including the one between Finland and the Russian Federation (
The meeting, which included representatives of the Istrian Union (which is backed by both the Italian government and the EU) as well as ethnic Germans from what is now Kaliningrad oblast and Estonian Setus living in Russia’s Pskov oblast, rejected that appeal, but Silvennoinen made it clear that she is not discouraged.
Silvennoinen said that she has devised a three-part legal strategy designed to force Moscow’s hand. First, she said, she has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, but that body has refused to hear her case because she has not yet gone through the Russian court system.
Second, she continued, she has been working with Russian lawyers in St. Petersburg to launch just such a case there. Not only could such a case become the basis for an appeal to Strasbourg, but it clearly could be used by Silvennoinen and the Finns who agree with her to raise the profile of this issue.
And third, she indicated that she does not exclude launching a case in the American courts. Citing the recent case in which American courts ordered the return of art by Gustav Klimpt seized by the Nazis, she said that Finnish purchases of wood products in Karelia could “from a legal point of view” be considered trafficking in stolen goods.
Not surprisingly, most Russians have ignored Silvennoinen’s efforts, but some Moscow observers are concerned that the Finnish government may in fact be behind them. And many ordinary Russians appear outraged that such suits could ever be brought to court.
In an essay that appeared in February, Aleksei Chichkin argued that “raising territorial claims against Russia” is now “a political fashion in Finland.” Both Finnish journalists and Finnish officials are now talking about something they would not have dated to discuss earlier (
Not only has Silvennoinen herself been an official consultant to the Finnish Foreign Ministry since 2005, but in addition parties interested in reclaiming Karelia – including both ProKarelia and Greater Suomi – also now have seven seats in Finland’s parliament.
And while that is a small number, Chichkin says, the influence of these groups on Finnish foreign policy is disproportionate because three of these seven deputies currently sit on the influential foreign relations committee of that parliament, the highest number ever.
Both Silvennoinen and these parliamentarians regularly argue that Stalin forced Finland to cede the territory on the basis of the notorious secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that led to the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and to a series of border changes in Eastern Europe.
Needless to say, suggestions that these borders should be revisited or that Moscow should pay compensation to those who lost property as a result or to their heirs is anathema not only to officials at the Russian foreign ministry but also and perhaps even more so to ordinary Russians.
Appended to Chickin’s article are several readers’ comments that reflect the depth of this anger: One writer asked why Moscow should not in response “demand from Finland … Finland itself? We could declare all the stuff Lenin made ‘mistakes of the young age’ of Soviet power.”
Another wrote to ask “why not demand return of Alaska?” And still a third wrote: “A part of California is also ours! By the way, according to the agreement on the sale of California to the US, the money is still unpaid. So, we have all the rights to demand California’s return.”
Some of these hyperbolic comments are undoubtedly intended to be over the top, but they do reflect the extreme sensitivity many Russians feel whenever anyone raises the issues of border rectification in which the Russian Federation would be the loser or compensation for losses other than their own.
(Yet another example of this is a recent article by Aleksei Baliyev entitled “American Dreams: Will Siberia Become a US Protectorate?” in which the author links American policies during the Russian Civil War to what he argues are American plans for Siberia and the Russian Far East (

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