The Finnish Karelian League was established by Karelian local governments, parishes and provincial organizations on 20th April 1940 - immediately after the Winter War. At first the chief aim of the association was to attend to the interests of Karelians who had lost their homes in issues of resettlement and compensation. After the resolution of these economic issues in the beginning of the 1960s, the association shifted its emphasis to the preservation of the Karelian cultural heritage.
Today the Finnish Karelian League comprises about 500 Karelian societies operating in Finland and abroad. The vast majority of its 50 000 members are evacuees, but 5 000 young people also play an active role. The young established their own organization, the Karelian Youth Association, in 1980, but the young and the old remain in close co-operation with each other.
The Karelian League arranges a host of activities for example in handicraft, sports, music, theatre, folk dancing and travel. These activities culminate annually in the Karelian Festivities, which gathers more than 10 000 people to attend seminars, processions, concerts and folk dancing and other activities throughout Finland. Besides the culture issues, the Finnish Karelian League has revived the issue of ceded Karelia in the 1990s. The League hopes that those in charge of Finland's foreign policy will bring up the Karelian issue with Russia and try to find a solution with the help of cross-border cooperation.
Throughout recorded history, Karelia had been under the rule of either Sweden (Finland) or Russia (Novgorod), but its inhabitants were almost exclusively Finno-Ugrians. After Finland gained independence in 1917, Karelia was divided between the two states, Finland and Soviet Union.
After the war a total of 430 000 evacuees, 407 000 of whom were Karelians, were resettled in different parts of the country. The Soviet Union populated the unsettled ceded area quickly.
In addition to the Karelians, the inhabitants of Petsamo and a partly of Salla and Kuusamo also had to leave their homes in Northern Finland. The evacuees, comprising more than 11 % of the Finnish population, were relocated in different parts of the country through a resettlement programme that was commended by the international community. Resettled communities were not broken up. The Karelian evacuees assimilated quickly and have since played a significant role in the political, economic, scientific and cultural life of their new communities and the country as a whole.
In their negotiations with the Soviet Union, Finland's post-war leadership, including Presidents Paasikivi and Kekkonen, tried to bring up the subject of the return of ceded Karelia, but without success. The response was always a clear 'no', as it still is today.
For further information contact: the Finnish Karelian League, Käpylänkuja 1, FIN-00610 Helsinki, Phone +358 9 7288 170, Fax +358 9 7288 1710, E-mail: toimisto(at)karjalanliitto.fi