The Official Karelia
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From the History of Karelia
    Historical Precis
  • May 20, 1784 - Olonetskaya Province
  • June 8, 1920 - Karelian Labour Commune
  • July 25, 1923 - Karelian ASSR
  • March 31,1940 - Karelian-Finnish SSR
  • July 16, 1956 - Karelian ASSR
  • November 13, 1991 - Republic of Karelia

The territory of Karelia began being inhabited after the Ice Age, e.i. in 7-6 millenium before Christ. Ancient population went hunting and fishing. In the first millenium A.D. the dwellers of Karelia were able to mine and process iron and began agriculturing and cattle breeding. The ethnic structure of the population has been known since the end of the first millenium A.D. By that time it consisted of Finno-Ugrian language group tribes: Korela, Sum, Ves and Saami (Pol). They inhabited Karelian isthmus and in the North of the Ladoga Lake (Korela), between the Ladoga and Onega lakes (Ves) and farther to the North (Saami). In the beginning of the 2nd millenium part of Karelians extended to the shores of the White Sea. At the same time the same territories were penetrated by the Slavs. They helped to develop agriculture, salt work and sea trades.

When in the 9th century the Ancient Russian State came into being 9its name was Kievan Rus) Karelia appeared to be under its influence. After Kievan Rus splitting and decaying in the 12th century Karelia became part of Novgorod Feudal Republic, but it preserved its independence till the end of the 13th century. First the tribe and then (since the 12-13th centuries) administrative center of Karelia was the town of Korela (now Priosersk of Leningrad district). In 1227 Karelians were baptized into Orthodox Denomination by the Novgorodsky Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich. Ves also had been baptized.

The dwellers of Karelia joined the Novgorod citizens to participate their struggle against aggressive German and Swedish crusaders on the shore of the Baltic sea. At the end of the 13th century the crusaders seized part of the Western Karelian land where they founded the fortress Viborg (1293). But their farther advance was repelled. Under Orechvetsky treaty of 1323 the main part of Karelia and Korela, where a fortress was constructed by Novgorodians in 1310, was survived under Novgorod Republic.

Under Novgorod ruling (12-15 centuries) Karelia transformed from tribal into feudal state and the process of Karelian nation shaping had been overall completed including some Ves tribes inhabiting Olonetsky istmouth.

In 1478 Karelia and other lands of Novgorod the Great were attached to the Russian state. Estates of the Novgorodsky boyars were confiscated in favor of the state. As a result all the peasants turned into independent cultivators. A few of them were in monastery serfdom.

At the end of the 16th-beginning of the 17th century Sweden makes its expansion to the East. In 1610-1611 the Russians and Karelians heroically defended the town of Korela from Swedish troops. They could seized the town only after 6 month siege. Under conditions of Stolbovsky treaty of 1617 Russia ceded Karelian istmouth to Sweden and as a result a lot of Karelians moved to the territory of Russian state. The migrants settled both in boundary and central districts of Russia. The largest part of them (25-30 thousand) settled down on the territory of Tverskoy land and it gave life to the ethnic group of the so called Tversky Karelians.

With the loss of Karelian istmouth the fortress-town Olonets built in 1649 became an administrative and trade center of Karelia. In the 17th century iron work crafts were very popular among peasants, the goods being brought to Tverskaya fair. Shungskaya fair in Zaonezhye became more important as it served as a link between Karelian Pomorye and Southern Karelia.

Under Peter the First power the set of mining plants was built on the territory of Karelia. It was called Olonetsky mining plants (Petrovsky, Povenetsky, Alexeevsky, Konchesersky). These plants played a very important role at the time of Northern war. They supplied the Russian Army and Navy with cannons, cannon balls, pistols, swards and other armament. Petrovsky plant gave life to Petrovsky settlement (1703), then grown into the town of Petrozavodsk. Under Nishtadtsky peaceful treaty of 1721 the Karelian istmouth was given back to Russia.

The Northern war having finished, all the Petrovsky plants had been closed but Konchesersky. However, the Russian-Turkish war (1768-1774)gave a new impulse for metallurgy development. In 1773-1774 Alexandrovsky cannon plant was built in Petrovsky settlement, and it became one of the leading military enterprises of the state by the end of the 18-19 century.

The most part of Karelia was included into Petersburgskaya and, later, into Novgorodskaya provinces, and since 1784 had become part of Olonetskaya province with the administrative center in Petrozavodsk. The rest of the territory was included into Viborgskaya and Archangelskaya provinces.

Since the second half of the 18th century the capitalism had been developing in Karelia, some private saw mills were built in the settlement. After the serfdom abolition (1861) the logging had been developing rapidly. Saw mills were equipped with steam engines. The amount of workers had been growing, too. Karelia became one of the most important supplies of wood and saw materials for inner markets and for export. In 19th century the Onega lake and the Byeloye sea saw the first ship; a regular ship rout was established between St. Petersburg and Petrozavodsk. Overall the economy of Karelia kept its traditional features. For 215 thousand of population there were only 3 000 workers and employees. A new railway road was built up to Murmansk in 1914-1915. It promoted economic and cultural connections with Petrograd and other towns of the state.

Soviet power was established in November 1917-April 1918. Since the spring of 1918 Karelia had been an arena of the battles between the Red Army and the Byelaya Army and interventionists. By the summer of 1919 the Byelaya Army and interventionists seized Karelian Pomorye and the northern shore of the Onega lake, and the Byelofinns captured the western boundary districts of Karelia. But the Red Army troops overtook the initiative after the victorious battles near Petrozavodsk, Vidlitsa and Lizhma and the rival was defeated in February-March of 1920.

On the 8th of June Central Committee made a decree on the formation of a new autonomous oblast - Karelian Labor Commune (KLC) including parts of Archangelsk and Olonets provinces inhabited by the Karelians. In February 1921 the First All-Karelian Congress was held. April, 26 Sovnarcom RSFSR made a decision on the main trends of economic development of KLC. Karelia was given economic independence. But peaceful development of the economy was violated by peasant rebellion in 1921. The reason for the rebellion was lack of food and resentment of mass labor mobilization. Finnish troops joined the peasants` rebellion. February, 1922 the rebellion was suppressed by the Red Army troops.

July, 25 1923 Karelian Labor Commune was transformed into Karelian ASSR by the Central Committee decision. The process of rebuilding Karelian economy had been generally completed by 1925. Logging had been increased and some saw mills were reconstructed in the course of industrialization developed in 1920-1930. New branches of industry such as pulp and paper, furniture, mining, economy of power appeared. In Kondopoga (1929) and in Segezha (1938) pulp and paper mills were built. Former Alexandrovsky plant was rebuilt into Onega Tractor Plant produced equipment for forest industry. By the end of 1930 Karelia had produced 5% of forest production(15% of forest export), 5 % of paper, 25% of skis, 80% of quartz, 30% of granite. The population of the Republic made 0,2% of the total USSR population. But the development of industry was achieved by extensive type of economy development including raw resources and the lack of social financing. The important role played "the so called labor camp sector of economy". In Karelia were built many of labor camps - SLON, Byelbaltlag, Soroklag. By the prisoners` hands Byelomorsko-Baltiysky channel, Segezhsky PPM, Pindushskaya shipyard and others were built. By 1940 Byelbaltlag produced more than 50% of logged forest. 1929-1933 brought negative change in the peasants` life - these were the years of collectivisation. Forced collectivization (1929-1933) lead to agricultural redundancy.

The Republic suffered great loses under repression of 1930. Thousands of people, the brain and sole of the nation were put to death and tortured in labor camps. The Chairman of Sovnarcom E. Gyulling, the first secretary of CPSU G. Rovio were among them.

After the Soviet-Finnish war of 1930-1940 Karelian ASSR was transformed into Karelian-Finnish SSR in March, 31, 1940. The status of the union republic was kept till 1956, when Karelia became an autonomous republic within the RSFSR.

During the Great Patriotic war of 1941-1945 the biggest part of Karelian Republic was occupied by Finnish and German-fascist troops. More than 100 thousand of Karelian citizens struggled in the Soviet Army troops and in guerilla groups. June 21, 1944 the troops of Karelian battle-front were on the offensive and June 28 Petrozavodsk was set free. At the end of July the Soviet troops came to the state border of the USSR on Finland. Thousands of Karelian citizens were honored by the state awards for their heroic deeds on the battle fields and in the home front. 26 people were awarded by the title "The Hero of the Soviet Union". The war brought a lot of harm to Karelian economy and culture. Nearly 200 enterprises, schools, clubs were completely destroyed. By 1950 the economy had been rebuilt and achieved the pre-war level. Karelian wood supply had played an important role in rebuilding destroyed towns and settlements of the European part of the country. The logging had increased till the middle of 1960, then it was began decreasing as new branches of industry had to be developed - pulp and paper, mining, machine making, metal processing. New enterprises were built and started: Petrozavodskbummash, Radio plant, Kostomukshsky GOK- the latter was build in cooperation with Finnish firms.

Gradual decreasing of social-economic growth rate was characteristic for Karelia and for the whole country in 1970-80. The reason was in administrative-commanding type of the government system and the extensive development of economy.

August 9,1990 the Supreme Soviet of Karelia adopted declaration on the state sovereignty of Karelian SSR and November 13, 1991 Karelian ASSR was renamed as the Republic of Karelia. After the USSR splitting the Republic of Karelia signed the Federative treaty March 31, 1992 as a full and equal subject of the independent Russian Federation, chosen the market way of economy development and democratic reforms. November 1992 the First National Congress of Finns, Karelians and Veps was held. It discussed the current problems of national-cultural development of Finno-Ugrian population of Karelia. In 1991 and 1994 the Constitution of Karelia, adopted in 1978, underwent considerable changes in accordance with new terms of social development.

Karelia has been always famous for its culture development. The icons of ancient painters and unique monuments of old Russian architecture- Kizhy church, (1714-1874),Kondopozhskaya church (1774), Kemsky cathedral (1711-1717) are recognized all over the world. The Finnish folklorist E. Lyonroot wrote Karelian epic runas in the Northern Karelia in 1830. These runas served the basis of the famous epos "Kalevala.". In 1860 P. Ribnikov studied the living forms of Russian epos in Prionezhye. The outstanding masters of folk poetry are world wide famous. They are: A. and M. Perttunen, V. Kievelainen, A. Lechtonen, M.Micheeva, T. and I. Ryabinina, I. Phedosova, V. Schtegolyonok, F. Konashkov and others.

In the course of cultural transformations Karelian intelligentsia has been formed. Science, professional literature and art has been developed. The works of composers G. Sinisalo and K. Rautio, the painter S. Yuntunen, the sculptor L. Lunkinen, the writers A. Timonen, Ya. Rugojev, O. Stepanov, D. Gusarov, N. Laine, T. Summanen, T. Guttari won both Russian and International recognition.

N. Korablev
(Karelian Research Center of Russian Academy of Sciences)

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Created: November 18, 2004. Last updated: November 18, 2004.
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