Timo Vihavainen turns over some pages
  in the history of Finnish-Russian relations

It was in the first half of the 19th century that learned society first began to cherish the instinctive wisdom of the common people. For the romantic nationalists, it was now no longer only the noble savage who had access to true wisdom. Rather, it was advisable to search for the hidden treasures of the human mind in the collective wisdom of each nation. It was no longer believed that reason, good laws and rational conduct were all that was needed in order to build a happy society.
     In fact, the Enlightenment – all its arrogance notwithstanding – has never been able to offer humanity much more than decades of slaughter, ruins and tears. Even if one did not, like Thomas Carlyle, ask why one should be happy at all, this loss of faith in progress deprived the great European nations much of their self-satisfaction. At the same time it offered entirely new possibilities to ethnic groups that could not boast of a glorious history, advanced learning or polished manners.
     The Finns, like many other 'young' nations in Europe, did not have a developed literature in their own language – although they had had a literary language since the 16th century. Neither did they have a national history of their own, as distinct from the history of Sweden. From the point of view of the 18th-century Enlightenment, the case of the Finns was rather discouraging. It was possible to maintain that this people had, during the course of history, produced nothing remarkable. There was room for the suspicion – presented in a quasi-scientific guise – that history itself had proved that the Finns were incapable of producing treasures of culture, or of creating a state. The Kalevala, appearing in the heyday of romantic thinking, changed everything at a single blow.
     In creating the Kalevala – first published in 1835-36 – its compiler, Elias Lönnrot, gave to the nation a history, great literature and even a new variety of literary language, as distinct from the existing religious and juridical versions. There was no more room for doubting the Finns' inborn abilities – at least, this was what the proponents of Finnish nationalism thought. In fact, creating national eposes was much more remarkable than adopting and pursuing rational ideas, which had neither deeper wisdom nor personal nature and were therefore quite uninteresting. With the Kalevala, the Finns were elevated to the same level as the other nations, which had created their national eposes: the Sumerians and the ancient Greeks, to mention just two. The Russians had also begun collecting bylinas, Russian-language folk poems – which, coincidentally, were found in the same territory as the poetry of Kalevala – but it was questionable whether a cohesive Russian national epos existed.
     The idea of the Kalevala as a cohesive epic product of the Finnish nation attained great popularity in the 19th century. Various scholars who practised comparative research founded their judgment of the Finns on the poetry of Kalevala, which soon became available in many languages. The character of the Finns, as reflected in Kalevala, was considered by most observers to be remarkably peace-loving. There was very little armed battle in the Kalevala; people preferred to compete in singing and witchcraft rather to resorting to violence.
     Nineteenth-century Russian scholars rather unanimously considered that the Kalevala reflected a very primitive state of society, where larger administrative and military units were absent. It did not, in their opinion, witness to an ability to create a state in the future either. For such Slavophiles as A.F. Hilferding and Nikolai Danilevsky, the conclusion was clear: the Finns were doomed to remain under Russian domination because they were not able to form a state. They also believed that the Finns were constitutionally unable to create a great culture of their own, but – this they benevolently granted – they could well be used as 'ethnographic material' for the Russian empire and thus contribute usefully to world history.
     Finnish nationalist scholars, especially in the first decades of the 20th century, began to find in Kalevala heroic themes, vestiges of catholicism and other 'Western' influences. This led them to induce that the runes of Kalevala had been born not in eastern Karelia, where they were collected, but in western Finland. This theory of an 'eastern refrigerator', whose primitive surroundings had preserved the ancient treasures of the more developed western Finland, was quite widely adopted. In the Soviet Union this theory was used for quite distinct political purposes.
     In general, the issue of the origins of Kalevala became highly political in Soviet Russia. This happened especially during the 'great turn' of 1929-30, when apolitical scholars were ousted from the Soviet scholarly institutes and everything began to be seen and explained in terms of class-struggle. A champion of class-based ideas, the academician Nikolai Marr, reigned supreme in Soviet linguistics. He explained that every language had a class nature. This implied that it was not relevant to consider that cognate languages somehow belonged together. In fact, he inferred, languages attracted and repelled each other in terms of class.
     At this time, the Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic of Karelia (the area also known as Russian or eastern Karelia) was ruled by Finnish communists who had fled from Finland during the abortive Finnish revolution of 1918. The Finns had introduced the literary Finnish language in Karelia, and now they faced a dilemma: should they submit to the linguistic norms of bourgeois Finland, or should they follow a class-based orientation and begin to adopt the linguistic innovations of their class brethren, the Russians? The foremost researcher of the Finno-Ugric languages in the Soviet Union, D.V. Bubrich, considered that the solution was evident and unavoidable: the Finnish language – a bourgeois one – should be rejected in Karelia and replaced by the heavily Russified Karelian dialect which was spoken by the local population. The non-bourgeois nature of the Karelian language (as Bubrich preferred to call it) was above all suspicion and readily adopted elements of Russian – the truly proletarian dominant language of Soviet Union, the Fatherland of the toilers of the world!
     For Bubrich, who wanted to liquidate the Finnish language in Karelia, the theory about the origins of Kalevala became a weighty argument. If Kalevala was not created by the Karelians, but just preserved there like fish in a refrigerator, then there was one argument less for those who advocated the use of Finnish in eastern Karelia. The Kalevala was Finnish, and that was that. Apart from class, there was nothing that really united or divided the Finns and the Karelians. The dominant Finnish minority in eastern Karelia fought back and stressed Kalevala's Karelian, as well as Finnish, nature. At the end they were defeated, even though they tried to Russify their Finnish as much as possible, in a desperate effort to survive.
     From the beginning of 1938, the Finnish language was liquidated in the Soviet Union altogether. It was replaced by a Karelian literary language created under the guidance of Professor Bubrich. Some contemporaries quipped that he created a new language in three months, which was a world record not approached since the well-known history of the tower of Babel. Bubrich's heroic effort was not crowned with success, however, and no wonder. Nobody could really speak the new language, and Bubrich himself was arrested, accused of sabotage.
     Bubrich's fall from grace did not, however, mean that the Finnish language was reintroduced. And his theory about the origins of the Kalevala was rejected. In 1939 – with the Soviet Union was in a very belligerent mood – the anniversary of the Kalevala was celebrated in Russian and in a heavily Russified Karelian language. It was boldly stated that the Kalevala belonged completely to the Karelians and that the Finns – a totally alien people – had no share in it. Interestingly, the topics of the Kalevala now seemed heroic and warlike for the observers.
     In 1940, after the Soviet-Finnish Winter war, the Karelian language was abruptly abandoned in Soviet Karelia. It was once more replaced by the ordinary Finnish literary language, which had been rejected as bourgeois just some years ago. Now it was explained that eastern Karelia – which attained the status of a Soviet republic – was inhabited by a Karelian-Finnish people. The reasons for this unique linguistic revolution or series of linguistic upheavals were, of course political, but there were also unavoidable scholarly consequences. If there was a united Karelian-Finnish people, then it was unavoidable that the Kalevala was its product, because it was not possible to draw a line of distinction between the Finns and the Karelians.
     The president of the new Karelian-Finnish Soviet Republic, Otto Wille Kuusinen, happened to be an enthusiastic amateur folklorist. In his address in the anniversary jubilee of 1949 he celebrated the Kalevala as the fruit of the joint creative effort of the Karelian-Finnish people. This people was not united, however. According to Kuusinen's speech, the Kalevala actually belonged to the toiling classes of the Karelian-Finnish people and was created by them. As regards the exploiting classes, they had no share in the Kalevala and no right to speak in its name, as the Finnish nationalists were doing.
     In the meantime, Finnish folklorists arrived at the conclusion that that Kalevala had not been born in any particular part of Finland but on Elias Lönnrot's writing table. By and by it was admitted that Lönnrot's active role in creating the Kalevala had been decisive, even if he had added very few new verses that were totally his own writing.
     Thus the passions aroused by the question of the Kalevala's national origins began to fade on both sides of the border. It was not until 1998 that a new Russian translation of the Kalevala was published. The translators, Eino Kiuru and Armas Mishin presented it as as epic compiled by Elias Lönnrot on the basis of ancient Karelian and Finnish folk songs.
     There is no longer a Soviet Union. There is no longer a Karelian-Finnish people. Of the once populous Finnish contingent in the Karelian republic only few remain. But the Kalevala remains, and interest towards it is flourishing both in Finland in north-western Russia.
     The Finns' ability to run a sovereign state is no more in serious doubt, and the question of the relationship between the eastern Karelians and the Finns is interesting only for researchers, not for politicians. This is a happy state of affairs, and it may be assumed that the results of folkloristic study may nowadays be more objective than they were just a couple of generations ago.

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