Some notes from the Koli seminars 20.12.2017 & 25.1.2018
Koli is one of the most iconic tourist sites in Finland. Everybody knows the national landscape from the top of the Ukko-Koli, the view that has made its way to the self-understanding of the Finnish identity since the end of the 19th century.
Besides the view, Koli is a national park with unique nature and cultural history, a popular ski resort and home for approximately 250 people.
With major future schemes, Koli might be all that and much more. The question is how we change our environment and what we perceive through that change? According to the vast plans for Koli and areas nearby, the amount of tourist will reach over million in a year (five to ten times more than today) , new tourism centers, housing areas, services and cottages has been built, after a couple of decades. Koli is changing.
The main idea for the future is Koli Cultura - a centre for nature tourism and culture. Koli Cultura's motto is "Karelianism of Sustainable Development." This refers to the respect for nature and values cultural traditions while considering mankind's future through the principles of sustainable development (http://www.kolicultura.fi/pages/en/sustainability). This is a very ambitious project.
Actors dealing with these plans are very diverse group. Metsähallitus (Finnish forest administration) takes care of the national park. Important areal enterprise North Karelia S-group runs the Koli-hotel and ski slopes, several small entrepreneurs have their own ideas, local societies of different kind are important actors and municipalities of Lieksa and Juuka are presenting the local administration.
Municipalities and entrepreneurs are exited with these plans and opportunities. Lieksa and Juuka are struggling with the loss of population and workplaces. Koli is a one chance to turn the wheel. Metsähallitus is trying to find out the way to keep possible changes suitable for the national park. Locals appreciate the national park, but there are also many criticizing the limits park means for the land use. This situation has been more or less current since the founding of the park 1991.
Change of the governmental structure in Finland is about to go action from the beginnings of the 2019 and 2020. This change means that municipalities have less to do with healthcare and social matters, but more resources for well-being and vitality, including developing tourism. In North Karelia and Koli this means that the main task for the future is to have more tourists to North Karelia and Koli. The municipalities and areal organization of tourism, Karelia Expert, are investing more for marketing and produtization. They are also chancing their organizations more effective and suitable for present-day needs.
How does this future image fit with the historical image of Koli? With the plan of Koli Cultura and principles of sustainability, the aim is to make the wholeness work, but I did not notice a real conversation concerning the limits of acceptable change (LAC). Metsähallitus is using this concept to follow and evaluate the development of the tourist sites. Even though the famous view from the top of Koli would not change much, the wholeness, which that image is presenting, will face major changes through wanted development. Discussion concerning the acceptable limits of change can be left in the sidelines because of the passionate need for economic benefits, or because this viewpoint is too abstract to take concern at this point of the discussion. Examples from other popular tourist’s sites with great increase of tourism show that in some point, it will occur.
In the seminar held in December, people were trying to reach the “Spirit of Koli”. One viewpoint of that overall idea of the area and future of it was defined to as field of open discussion for all parties involved. Concerning the contradictory history of the land use and decision making in Koli, that seems a very justifiable guideline.
I attended a seminar with two colleagues from the GreenZone-project concerning Russian nature’s impact on Finland organized by the Ministry of Environment on December 11th 2017. As a bystander in the natural scientific discussion I was happy to learn a great deal of new and useful concepts and ideas and most of all to get inspiration for my future research. Instead of writing a summary of the contents of the interesting lectures I thought it would be more fruitful (for me and for you, my potential reader) to contemplate the notions and concepts that I thought were the most interesting in today’s world through the eyes of a humanist and a historian.
The speakers came from versatile scientific, political and civic societal backgrounds – although the majority of them were men. I have to admit, that in some strange level I was happy about the “men in suits” talking about nature and climate; somehow, I take that as a sign that the world is gradually entering a stage of mental change. If there has to be “all” or “most male panels”, let them talk about things that matter.
The starting point of the seminar was the Green Belt of Fennoscandia (GBF), the area of existing and planned protected areas along the border of Finland, Russia and Norway. It is the northern part of the European Green Belt, which stretches from south up along the Finnish-Russian border. Many speakers also mentioned the Barents Protected areas (BPAM) project, which aims to promote and protect biodiversity and boreal-arctic nature. The co-operation roots from the 1970’s, and new technologies such as geographical information system has provided new measures in the work of preserving biodiversity of the area and in that way to also restrain climate change.
As I was observing the – mostly natural scientific – discussion on nature and geopolitics these were some of the keywords I picked up: connectivity, ecological entities, ecological corridors, biodiversity, holistic areas, ecosystem services, healthy nature – healthy human, co-operation, trust, personal relations. The key term seems to be connectivity. Everything is connected: nations, continents, the centres of power with the periphery, people, human wellbeing and the nature, different nature areas to each other.
With every national or communal decision we prioritise, appraise the nature and make choices at the expense of others. While talking about “ecosystem services” – the role of nature in human health and wellbeing, local communities, tourism, cultural heritage etc. – the perspective is on human benefit. One message between the lines was that all kind of nature counts, not only nature resorts and the places we have chosen to preserve, not only the important biodiverse entities connected to each other with ecological (meta)corridors. Not only green areas and forests and swamps and but also water systems, which also cross borders and act as a lifeline for nature and man. Nature also counts on its own, not always in relation to people – and it will most definitely outlive man.
One of the most interesting viewpoints was the one of Ville Brummer (from Crisis Management Initiative CMI), who talked about trust. His thoughts resonated not only with my current research but also the interest I have on the emotional history of the Finnish Civil War. Brummer’s thesis was that an individual – maybe also a nation – strives for personal autonomy, and that is why trust is a key issue also in making people to engage in nature conservation.
Trust – and in many cases personal relations – is also crucial for intercultural scientific co-operation, as it was stated in many presentations. The differences between the infrastructure and official policies – as well as in scientific culture – are so big, that the actors in natural scientific research and natural conservation must achieve a level of personal trust in order to proceed and strive for common goals, which has to be seen to benefit both nationalities. Many big dreams were stated concerning for example the updating of Unesco’s world heritage site list in 2018 and the 80th anniversary of the Finnish natural parks on the same year. The big question is, however, how to secure the long-term continuance of international nature conservation in changing conditions and new people replacing the old familiar persons.
Only One Earth
In the world of political tension environmental issues should be the last ones to be compromised. The co-operation concerning nature and sustainable development is also a way to achieve positive connotations on the co-operation and encounters across national borders. That is one of the key issues of the GBF co-operation: both the nature and the people benefit from it on both sides of the border. Ironically borders and barriers are also one of the reasons the European Green Belt exists, because the iron curtain and national border zones have allowed nature to take its own course without human intervention.
In the opening of the first UN environmental meeting in Stockholm in 1972 Olof Palme, the host of the meeting, stated that “the air we breathe is not the property of any one nation, we share it. The big oceans are not divided by national frontiers, they are our common property.” You could say the same thing about the forests and the green areas, which are becoming increasingly important for humankind. They should be protected, researched and cherished. Unlike the air or the wide oceans, the forests are divided by political barriers and borders, and that is why communication and co-operation is crucial. In Finland, the forests have been called the “green gold”, and today the saying resonates on a completely deeper level than before, as the value of the green areas, water systems and other nature’s carbon sinks become more and more important for our future.
Finally, a small note. After a lot of talk about nature and climate I was waiting anxiously what we would be served, and was happily surprised as I noticed that no red or white meat was served either at breakfast or lunch. Although one could endlessly bicker about the carbon footprint of lettuce and cheese etc., I was happy that this time the organiser was living more or less as they preach. Also the new premises of the ministry in the heart of Helsinki are told to be energy efficient and the ecological footprint has been taken in consideration in the planning, reconstruction and everyday use of the space – as one would expect it to be, for credibility’s sake.
The 2017 was declared as ”The year of ecology” and simultaneously as “The year of protected areas” in Russian Federation. According to this announcement the Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation with support from the Ministry of the Environment of Finland, Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and some international funds organized the international conference focused on the Green Belt of Fennoscandia. This forum named “International and Interregional Connectivity of Protected Areas in the European North” took place in Petrozavodsk on 13-16 of November.
The conference combined scholars from various institutes and universities, nature reserves and national parks representatives, heads of the Ministry of the Environment and members of international nature protection organizations. Participants of the conference discussed during three days different issues of the Green Belt of Fennoscandia: biological diversity, new nature protected areas foundation, legal features, history and culture, international cooperation.
According to the Andrey Gromcev, head of laboratory for landscape ecology and forest protection, the Republic of Karelia has only 4,8% protected areas which is the lowest level in the North-West Russia. At the same time, he stressed the considerable role of protective forests and water protection areas, which surround national parks, rivers and lakes. Considering these areas, the total protected territory in the republic is more than 17%. But the main question is how this system works? Does this mean, for example, that the coastal territory of the Ladoga skerries, determined 200 meters according to the legislation, remains untouched?
Another important issue discussed on the conference was the creation of new nature protection areas. Bo Storrank from the Finnish Environment Institute noted the growth of the protected areas in the Barents region which now achieved 13,2%. Natalya Polikarpova, deputy head of the Pasvik Nature Reserve, presented the new planning nature protected area on the northern tip of GBF – Vuorjema. This unique area combines ecological and historical features such as pearl mussels, the 200-year-old stone board and battlefields in World War II.
Sergey Tarhov, the director of Kostomukshsky strict nature reserve, demonstrated the new concept of the nature protection – Metsola biosphere reserve. This planning protected area combines Kostomukshsky strict nature reserve on the south, Kalevalsky national park on the north and territory between them – or zone of cooperation (see the map). The main aim of the biosphere reserve is to promote and expand connections between people and nature. At the same time, the creation of the new protected area always takes time and effort. In the case of Ladoga skerries national park the project has not been completed for 25 years. Ending on an optimistic note, I would like to cite the first deputy minister of Nature Use and the Environment of the Republic of Karelia Aleksei Pavlov promised to open national park Ladoga skerries until the end of 2017!
Members of the Greenzoneproject took part in the Historical Research Day Conference (Historiantutkimuksen päivät) organized by Turku University and Åbo Academi in October 19-21. The annual scientific conference attracted a huge number of historians from the any parts of Finland. 87 sections dedicated to any problems of the Finnish history worked during three days. Maria Lähteenmäki made a presentation devoted to space, place, politics and public remembrance and Jani Karhu focused on the history of urbanization and development of urban space in Finland.
Maria Lähteenmäki and Aleksandr Osipov took part in the section concentrated on the Finnish-Russian border issues. The Green Belt of Fennoscandia concept includes not only the environment and protected areas problems – it is based on the international cooperation, where the border factor plays considerable role. Associate Professor Helsinki University Aappo Kähönen considered the Finnish-Russian border changes and the formation and development of border guard forces. 10 years ago the Russian part of the border area was reduced formidably which facilitated access to the protected areas near border and promised new tourism flows. On the other hand some checkpoints on the Finnish-Russian border are still closed for visitors: for example Suoperä-Parikkala. This checkpoint is a direct route to the Ladoga skerries from the Finnish side, but amazing infrastructure sponsored by TACIS not yet used now due to bureaucratic hinders. Hence the meaning of the border on the territory of the Green Belt of Fennoscandia still important.
During the Historical Research Day Conference we have visited also another sections and took part in conversations. Unfortunately there were no one section devoted to environmental history, protected areas and ecotourism (only professor Laura Kolbe concerned the tourism issues briefly). We have no decrease the meaning of other topics, but the case where environment history are out of the conversation is unusual. Considering the fact that environmental issues and nature protection are one of the top discourses in society now, we could regret about the lack of these topics on the conference.
Looking forward to the next Historical Research Day our team plans to organize the own section focused on the protected areas history, cultural heritage and emergence of ecotourism and its possibilities. This section should be based on a historical approach, archive documents and oral history tools presenting historical point of view to the issue.
The Mental Landscape and the View from the Window – Visiting the Karelian Summer Home Salmela on a grey August Day
The Karelian people evacuated from the areas extradited to the Soviet Union during the Second World War lost a lot, but most of all they lost a landscape. Nature is the core element in reminiscing childhood, and the “key scenery” of your life is both part of your identity and a link to the previous generation. When the landscape is lost, that connection is in a way also broken.
The key element of the Karelian landscape was water. The mighty lifeline of the ancestors, river Vuoksi, the mystical, stormy but often gentle and much loved Lake Ladoga and the beaches and summer paradises along the coast of the Baltic Sea – not to mention numerous other lakes, ponds, rivers and puddles left in the hearts of the Karelian refugees. The mythical, almost stereotypical image of Karelia is a person standing on a higher place, cliff, rock or an esker (harju) with the wind in their hair looking at a wide landscape consisting of water and islands.
These were some of the thoughts in my mind when I visited the Karelian Summer Home Villa Salmela located in a former island in eastern Helsinki on a cloudy August day after being reading oral history documents of the former Karelian refugees all week.
We came with my son and my husband from the seaside to the boat dock by our friends 1950’s wooden fisher boat, so it felt like an authentic way to arrive in a summer villa in Jollas. My son was very eager to explore the slippery rocks on the seaside and was especially interested in the small patch of sand next to the water, “the beach”, as he called it as he was hustling away regretting he hadn’t taken his toy boats with him. Before we could catch up with him he was in the water almost to the waistline and was naturally soaking wet.
Luckily for us this little swimming accident was a great way to break the ice and feel the generosity and warm welcome in the villa. When we came in, there was a cosy fire burning in the stove, and the five-year-old was immediately seated next to the fire. Then the personnel went to get an ironing board and an iron, and we managed to dry up the wet socks and pants – meanwhile the boy was sitting in his underwear by the fireplace drinking juice and eating Karelian pies with a teddy bear they had also fetched for him.
After enjoying the treats from the little café – including delicious mint leaf tea – we went to explore the house. According to the website of Villa Salmela the beautiful wooden house, originally Villa Bergsund, was built in 1886 and has been rented to the Karelian associations after the city of Helsinki bought it in 1969. Although a bit shabby the villa had a very nostalgic atmosphere with old furniture, crochet blankets and different memorabilia from Karelia.
The lost “Karelian landscape” mentioned above I found upstairs in a little summer room or a balcony with large windows to the sea. Also the flowers in the garden reminded me of the detailed descriptions of blossoming Karelia in the biographies I had been reading. Downstairs we met an older woman, originally from Räisälä, who was asking about our roots and recommending getting a membership in the Karelian associations, whose membership count has been diminishing with time.
We were warmly welcomed again with a request to stay over night and use the sauna next time – the rooms upstairs can be rented, and you can use the sauna and the grill for a small fee. I can imagine the waterfront would be amazing in a warm summer day, and you could easily spend a couple of days just enjoying the nature and the scenery. The season is unfortunately closing for this year, and the villa and the café will be opened again next May.
We said goodbyes to the villa and continued our way home via Tammisalo canal. We had the luxury to dock the boat in Hakaniemi and cycle back home from Tokoinlahti to Alppila alongside the good smelling railroad tracks and through the green Alppipuisto Park. We could reach the landscape of our hearts in real life, while many people in today’s world can reach it only in their dreams. Be kind. People are anchored in places, and everyone carries the landscape of their childhood with them for the rest of their lives.
More information about the Karelian summer home see:
The destination of my Lapland excursion in this summer was the Urho Kekkonen National Park (UKK Park), especially the Raja-Jooseppi (literally Border Josef) homestead in the North-East corner of the park. The UKK Park is the second largest national park in Finland (2550 km²) which is in the Inari-Sodankylä-Savukoski region in Finnish Lapland. It has been established in 1983 and Korvatunturi (the mystical home of Santa Claus J ) is located in the area. In 2015 there was some 300.000 visitors in the park.
The Raja-Jooseppi homestead is located on the banks of River Luttojoki, close to the Russian border. The 235 km long river flows through the eastern parts of the municipalities of Inari and Sodankylä in Finland and in the southern part of Pechenga in Murmansk Oblast, Russia. The entire river was within Finland’s borders during the years 1920‒44. Behind River Luttojoki, there is a gorgeous view of the hills on the Russian side. The site has remained almost unchanged: the buildings have been renovated and the grounds have been kept open. There is also a trench dating from the war (1939‒44). I warmly recommend the site; it is really worth to visit!
A brief history: Around 1910, Jooseppi Sallila from South-West Finland and his partner Matilda Lehikoinen came downstream and onto the bank of River Luttojoki. There was a sauna that had been built by two reindeer herders Uula Valle and Arvid Pokka in the middle of wilderness, and Jooseppi and Matilda settled down in the sauna building. They made their livelihood from gold digging, pearlfishing, fishing, hunting and reindeer husbandry. They also bought cows and sheep to the farm. One sign of prosperity was the large potato field. Hay was mowed from the grounds and the nearby island.
Within ten years, a group of hand-made buildings appeared on the grounds. First they lived in the sauna building, but soon they built a new cottage with wall logs that were carved white. The cowshed was made for two cows, but at its best it housed four cows. The potato cellar, which was dug upstream, was absolutely necessary for storing food. The baking oven was set up outside. The grounds and the surrounding rail fence were completed in 1920.
See more: http://www.nationalparks.fi/en/rajajooseppihomestead
Alexander Osipov & Jani Karhu
Maria Lähteenmäki, Jani Karhu and Aleksandr Osipov took part in the 9th International Congress of Arctic Social Science in Umeo, Sweden in the last week. Largescale scientific event encompassed about 800 scholars from all the world. 22 sections proposed broad field for researchers and were dedicated to different sciences: history and archeology, languages and literature, culture and health. Maria Lähteenmäki was a chief of chair Forced Migrations and Transnational Mobility in the Artic Nations. Jani Karhu and Aleksandr Osipov participated in the Arctic tourism session.
In his presentation, Jani Karhu introduced the main ideas and organization of GreenZoneProject and gave a short report concerning his case study. In his case study Karhu is concentrating on possibilities and challenges of ecotourism in three Finnish national parks inside the greenbelt area, Koli, Urho Kekkosen Park and Petkeljärvi.
Karhu opened the problematic and politically contradictory development of Koli national park. Tourism has long history in Koli, going back to the 19th century, but the national park is founded as late as 1991. When the park was founded, the ski resort and the hotel were left inside the park. This means limited possibilities to the growing of conventional tourism. Those who supported the vast development of the ski resort were against the national park.
After the park was founded, the nature tourism started slowly find its way to Koli and there are multiple possibilities to grow sustainable nature and history tourism. The cultural history of Koli is rich and the layers of history can be found from various places. Challenge is how to recognize and materialize all those possibilities and how to create important networks between different operators inside the area. Tourism is fluctuant field of business and the risks of single entrepreneurs are high, this raises the threshold to utilize all the possibilities of nature and history tourism.
The report of Aleksandr was dedicated to problems of ecotourism in the North Karelia and it’s focused on the Paanajärvi national park case study. The history of the Paanajärvi national park, which is an important part of the Green Belt of Fennoscandia, is not yet written. This study based on the TACIS reports and materials of local press of the Republic of Karelia, which were published in 1987 until nowadays on the Russian and Finnish languages. Those sources allow to trace the foundation of the park and also fascinating discussion about two alternative projects on this area – hydroaccumulative power station and the first touristic project ski mountain center.
The park foundation in May 1992 didn’t solve the main problems: lack of infrastructure and experience in organizing of tourism and weak financing. From the other hand foundation of the park had a negative impact to the close settlement Pjaozerskiy – center of forestry of the district. Usually we talk about the human impact to the environment but in this case the influence was mutual, because reduction of logging area led to population outflow from the settlement. In the early 1990-s nature did not considered as an object of tourism and recreational using but only as object of forestry.
Participation on some TACIS projects provided development of tourism infrastructure in the park and Pjaozerskiy became a center of tourism. However, TACIS projects and financing not became to panacea to the Paanajärvi and tourism is not an effective tool of economic of the region.
Work of the section allowed to definite similar problems of tourism in Arctic region, but approaches and solutions may be different.