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349 Ab Imperio, 2/2002 Nick BARON THE LANGUAGE QUESTION AND NATIONAL CONFLICT IN SOVIET KARELIA IN THE 1920’s Elsewhere in this issue of Ab Imperio, I discuss the establishment of the Karelian Labour Commune (KTK) in mid-1920 and the conflict which followed between ethnic Karelian officials and the Finnish émigrés on whose initiative the autonomous territory had been founded and to whom Lenin had entrusted its leadership.1 A particular point of contention was the language question. The Karelians believed that the language of local administration and education in Karelian-populated districts should be Karelian (although at this time a written language did not exist, and the spoken tongue was differentiated into several distinct sub-groups, some of which were closer to eastern Finnish dialects, but others of which had been strongly influenced by Russian). The Red Finns were equally resolute that Standard Finnish should be used. In their opinion, the Karelian vernacular was in any case merely a Finnish dialect (perhaps its ur-dialect), just as the Karelians were merely ethnic Finns who had missed out on several centuries of economic and cultural development within the borders of 1 See: Н. Барон. “Региональное конструирование Карельской Автономии” in this issue of AI (pp. 279-308). 350 N. Baron, The Language Question and National Conflict in Soviet Karelia ... “western” civilisation.2 Finnish-language education would raise the Karelians to a higher level of national and class consciousness, which in the longer term would serve the cause of both Scandinavian socialist revolution and of Finnish national unification. The Red Finns’ “revolutionary nationalism”, supported by powerful central institutions (in particular, the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs), prevailed over “petty” local interests. On 6 March 1922 the Bolshevik Party Central Committee’s Organisational Bureau (Orgbiuro), chaired by Stalin, approved all the main points of a resolution drafted by the Karelian leader, Edvard Gylling. This document included a clause which sanctioned the use of one third of the regional education budget for introducing Finnish-language education in Karelian districts of the autonomous region.3 This authoritative decision temporarily quelled formal Karelian opposition to the Red Finnish leadership. V. M. Kudzhiev, the leader of the ethnic Karelian opposition to Gylling, was transferred to party work in Omsk. From 1924, when the Karelian TsIK finally gave full backing to Gylling’s nationalities policy, the republican leadership, apparently seeing neither paradox nor irony in its actions, energetically pursued a policy of “Karelisation” (karelizatsiia) through the promotion of Finnish language and culture.4 Nearly four times as many Soviet Karelians, however, lived outside the autonomous republic (mainly in Tver region) as within its borders and jurisdiction. Teachers and party activists began to conduct their work among these populations in the local dialects, which were even more heavily russified than those of southern Karelia, and were incomprehensible to most Finns. By 1926, one hundred and thirty-one educational institutions 2 For a brief survey of contemporary ethnographic, anthropological, linguistic and archaeological literature on the origins of the Karelians, see: Nick Baron. Soviet Karelia, 1920-1937.AStudy of Space and Power in Stalinist Russia / Ph.D. dissertation; University of Birmingham, 2001. Chapter One. Fn. 4. 3 Orgbiuro protocol, 6 March 1922 // RGASPI. F. 17. Op. 112. D. 296. L. 8. 4 The resolution stated that in districts with a predominantly Karelian population, the local Karelian dialect could be used in official spoken communications, and Finnish and Russian would have equal status as written languages, see: Resolution of TsIK Presidium of Karelian ASSR, 2 August 1924 // GARK (Karelian State Archive). F. 690. Op. 1. D. 3-13. L. 1. For a general discussion of the Red Finn’s nationalities policy, see: Markku Kangaspuro. Nationalities Policy and Power in Soviet Karelia in the 1920s and 1930s // Tauno Saarela & Kimmo Rentola (Eds.). Communism National and International. Studia Historica 58. Helsinki, 1998. 351 Ab Imperio, 2/2002 outside the autonomous republic were using forms of spoken Karelian.5 Representatives of these Karelian groups now began to press for the introduction of Karelian language education and administration in the Karelian autonomous republic as well, so as to unify the Karelian “ethnos” within Soviet space and make the development and production of written materials more cost efficient. The only question they...


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