What was the most important lesson of the six-day journey around the lake Ladoga with a group of happy researchers in mid-August 2019?
The images are blurred together, but the most touching ones are related to the partly hidden and more visible marks of human culture (and brutality) in nature. Our route took us from Vyborg to Käkisalmi (Priozersk), Novaja Ladoga, Šlisselburg, Vitele, Rautalahti and Sortavala. The area was marked by a constant variation between rural and urban, and the gravitation of Saint Petersburg was eminently present in the Leningradskaja oblast. Our goal, however, was to get to know something about the mighty Lake Ladoga and nature surrounding it’s shores, affecting the lives of the people living with the lake.
The relatively recent (world) wars of the 20th century dominated our thoughts while driving through the giant graveyard dotted by both Russian and Finnish memorials and places of remembrance. The most touching ones were hidden and silent, covered with vegetation and moss, celebrating the soothing fact of temporariness. In the corner of the former graveyard of village of Sakkola we came across a small, modest moss-covered statue with a engraving imitating the words of the Finnish poet Eino Leino: “Oh, sensitive be to each other you should …”  (Oi ihmiset toistanne ymmärtäkää) in both Finnish and Russian. This statue in the corner of the former churchyard next to a beautiful broad-leaved forest, behind the more ceremonious memory stones and the traces of the former church steps and a dugout left a permanent mark on this occasional visitor.
Another beautiful graveyard was a Russian one on a valley near the lake Ladoga in Salmi, where the thick green nature formed a nature’s shrine over the graves and memorials. The blue water of Ladoga in the distance made the atmosphere even more meaningful. Also the former orthodox church in Salmi (the church of Saint Nicholas) was a celebration to nature and temporariness: nature was slowly taking over the reddish brick walls forming a beautiful temple of nature.
The most memorable nature experience took place in Vitele, where for the first time I was able to sink my feet in the Ladoga, connect and root with the lake. Also there the traces of man were present: one could find pieces of slag left by a former iron factory polished smooth by the waves of the lake. Another time I put my feet on the muddy Taipale river whilst listening to a story about the horrific battles taken place in the second World War making the Taipale river an intangible memorial of Finnish national cultural remembrance. I remember the sadness of the moment, the steep banks of the mighty river – and the smell of clover coming from the fields nearby.
It is said that one can enjoy nature more with information about the human history and traces in the area. This proved to be very much true on our journey. People pass by and nature keeps on living, but we by-passers can find wisdom and consolation from the presence of previous generations. “The place you are standing on is holy” was a text written in many Finnish memory stones. One could state that one should treat with respect all natural environment, which has witnessed the happiness and suffering – life – of previous generations. Listen closely to the natural environment, and the they will speak to you.
 Eino Leino: Hymyileä Apollo (Smiling Apollo) 1898. Translation Rupert Moreton, see
Connecting with nature and history: Lake Ladoga in Vitele, former Jänisjoki (Läskelä) papermill in Harlu, ruins of Salmi church and a memory stone in the former Räisälä graveyard. Pictures Oona Ilmolahti.
Concordia res parvae crescunt, discordia maximae dilabuntur (as concord makes small things grow, discord brings the greatest to ruin) states the text above the door of the Finnish National Art Museum, Ateneum. So true this is, and true that was in a Nordic Museology Association Conference held in above mentioned building in September 2018, where a feeling of mutual understanding and (Nordic) togetherness was very much present. But at the same time, mutual togetherness can also create borders and exclusion. Borders also happened to be the topic of this interesting conference.
I participated in the conference for several reasons; mainly to give a presentation about our project and themes connecting nature with public remembrance, memory organisations and museums, but also to get a deeper understanding of museology as a discipline and the current trends in heritage work in general. I was able to follow about three quarters of the lectures, and I will bring out just a few eye-opening ideas I picked up mainly from the three key-note lectures.
First about expressing yourself. Professor Janne Vilkuna, who gave the introductory speech, stressed the importance of lingual diversity and mother tongue: for most of us it is the only way to truly express ourselves without compromises.
This was an important viewpoint in a conference where most, but not all, participants could associate using their own language. Vilkuna also brought up an important conceptual issue: “museology” should be called “heritology”. Museums are not about buildings, institutions and stagnation, but heritage, togetherness, flexibility and also looking forward. From our project’s point of view: nature is not easily musealised, put in a building in a showcase for people to gaze at, although nature is an essential part of our cultural heritage, an essential part of being human. Cultural nature relationship has to be lived, experienced and interpreted together with communities, both in and outside the museum building.
There were certain similar key elements in all the key-note lectures held by Simon Knell (University of Leicester), Áile Aikio (Sámimusea Siida) and Sanne Houby-Nielsen (Nordiska museet). One common thread was the need for an open, democratic, diverse, and openminded museum, where the objects are not only being heard, but where objects become subjects. This is a crucial message in a “Trumpian world of populist politics” – a poignant formulation used by professor Knell in his presentation. The other big theme for me was that nothing should be taken for granted; the museum buildings are not biologically evolved to what they are, but we humans have created them for our own needs and purposes. That is why they also can (and should) be changed and reinterpreted.
Their main task should be to enable empathy, create bridges over the barriers and borders in time, space and culture, and to disengage themselves from their original national (in this case also Scandinavian, European and even colonialistic) metastories. Also the spatial borders can be crossed and re-thought, and we have to remember that our way of seeing and interpreting our physical environment is not universal. Áile Aikio used the term “spiritual landscape” to describe a scenery, which besides the physical nature includes the spiritual worldview of the beholder, unifying the cultural and natural landscape, material and intangible, as one.
Museums after spatial turn, emotional turn, participatory turn, technological turn and “intangibility turn” are opening up in many ways, and judging by the papers in this conference this means – in addition to crossing professional and institutional borders – also new discoveries, joy, excitement and open-mindedness – and above all, questioning the obvious. “We have always done it that way” is not a phrase to say lightly anymore. In a world where physical and intangible borders and barriers are again put up the importance of cultural memory organisations is growing: the common heritage must include everyone and it must be used in bringing people together, not in excluding the ones who do not fit to the big story or political agenda. Borders are everywhere, but where there are borders, there are also bridges. Cultural heritage and museums are one way to cross borders to create mutual understanding and a feeling of common humanness.
Alexander Osipov & Jani Karhu
The 2nd International Conference on Sustainable Tourism Management was held in Amsterdam from 26 to 28 August 2018. Jani Karhu and Aleksandr Osipov took part in the conference and presented their own papers. The approach of the conference organized by JOAMS journal was defined as multidisciplinary. In practice this means that the conference consisted of various sectors of science such as history and culture, art and architecture. Case studies, presented at the conference, covered European, Asian and Latin American countries.
One of the main topics of the event was tourism and its forms: ecotourism, rural tourism, culture tourism etc. Researchers discussed actively the issue of the relationship between tourists and the local population. Dewa Ayu Made Lily Dianasari focused on the community perception of ecotourism principles. Her research was based on the data, collected in the Indonesian ecological village. The concept of the ecological villages was supported of the authorities of Bali. According to this research, the local population is interested in cultural and nature conservation and ecotourism development. On the other hand, should the local population respond to the needs of tourists, maintain their aims and transform the own way of life?
The same question could be addressed to another speaker from Bali Ni Made Tirtawati, presented a paper, dedicated to the young generation involvement to the tourism industry of certain villages. Results of this study demonstrate that young generation is the “tools” in the development of cultural tourism products. However, is it a part of everyday life or participation of youth is essential to the survival or it is a kind of dictatorship? Thus, case studies from Bali are not only outstanding results of co-existence of local population, nature and tourists.
One of the keynote speakers, professor Rajive Mohan Pant spoke about the same rural village tourism theme in his presentation titled Achieving Sustainable Development Goals through Rural Tourism: Insights from three Himalayan Countries. In his presentation Pant pointed out that solutions have to come out from the within and Rural Tourism has the potentials to take care of a few sustainable development goals, crucial for human existence. In Nepal, Bhutan and in India tourism in rural area villages, is a growing business and especially the system of home accommodation in villages has produced good results.
Another example presented by Aleksandr Osipov concerned the Paanajärvi national park. The author argued that emergence of the park led to an imbalance between human and nature. The reducing of logging area led to the unemployment and people outflow from the closest settlements to the park. Transformation of local economy from forest industry to the tourism was slow. Returning to the idea of a mountain ski center near the park could be a way out for local economy.
In his presentation History and Potential of Sustainable Nature tourism in Finland Jani Karhu crossed the same issues with Osipov. Human-nature relationship has been one of the key issues purchasing National Parks and further, the idea of sustainability in Finnish aspect. In Koli and Urho Kekkonen national parks, it has been a matter of anthropocentric versus ecocentric confrontation; from which point of the view the nature and the National Park areas are utilized. The potential for growing the sustainable tourism business is prominent, but keeping the growth in sustainable limits is a real challenge.
All these presentations pointed out the potentials of Sustainable tourism, but also some differences between came out. In poor countries like Indonesia, Nepal and Bhutan, it is a matter of how to share the economic benefits, prevent the poverty, and at the same time keep the traditional culture real and alive. In Carelia and especially in Finland poverty is not a first issue, and local cultures are not under the pressure of transition because of tourism, it is more about how to develop rural areas and National Parks and which comes first: nature protection or financial benefits?
The discussion around cultural heritage and memory organisations is currently strongly linked to intangible and living heritage. As a part of this trend the human–nature relationship and natural heritage are regarded as part of national and global pool of intangible tradition, which should be acknowledged, preserved, transmitted and kept alive. In Finland the focus of living heritage and nature has been in forests. This can be seen in both the wiki-inventory of intangible heritage and the official living heritage list, where forests and activities linked to forestland constitute a major part of the suggestions under the category “nature and universe”. The Finnish National Board of Antiquities has accepted in the official National Inventory of Living Heritage for example the Finnish Forest Relationship, collecting wild herbs, mushroom picking and freedom to roam freely in nature (jokamiehenoikeudet, right to access public or privately-owned land).
In a Baltic sea nation, “the Land of a thousand Lakes” with over 300 000 kilometres of coastline, elements linked to water and human–water relationship are however conspicuously absent in both the above-mentioned lists and in the nature-talk in general. In the National Inventory of Living Heritage there are some specific local traditions connected to water, such as fishing in the rapids of Torne river, winter seine fishing in lake Puruvesi or sailing with traditional lapstrake boats in the coastline of the Baltic sea. Also sauna, the hard core of Finnish national saga and a tradition that is very much alive, is for its part linked to the Finnish water relationship.
It is said that “every Finn has a Forest Relationship”, a connection with and to the forest. In a country where forest covers most of the surface area this is a natural train of thought – although it is in many ways artificial to define a certain kind of relationship with nature as a feature of a specific geographical or ethnical unit; it could be considered that people living in a similar climate zone have experienced the forest and nature in a similar way regardless of their national identity. Of course it can be stated, that in Finland – as well as in Norway and Sweden – the freedom to access also privately-owned land enables people to enjoy forests more equally.
One feature belonging to the chaotic and even apocalyptic world of 2010s is the stressing the importance of nature-human relationship and the healing powers of nature. Many books have been written about the importance of restoring the lost connection with nature. In this genre as well, the forest environment is dominant: forest showers, forest submersion, forest yoga, forest recipes and talk about the therapy forest and the health forest (terveysmetsä) are all manifestations of the – often urban – nature talk.
At the individual level the almost mythologised Finnish forest relationship with its healing powers is not however unambiguous. At least for yours truly finding a personal forest relationship has been challenging. I have tried going to the forest to find its healing powers – almost every time failing miserably. In the Finnish culture and folklore the forest is connected with many oppressive features, and it has often been seen as a scary place, which can swallow you completely, the home of spirits and gnomes, and a manifestation of secret desires and the hostile dreamworld. At least it is the home of unpleasant insects, scratching branches and feelings of getting lost. Even though the positive physiological effects of the forest or a green space in general to blood pressure and cortisol levels is undoubtedly genuine, the idea of a national forest relationship is culturally complex, and the fear of the forest is also written in our genes.
Compared to forest relationship I can easier locate my relationship with the sea and other water systems. Born and raised on the Finnish Southern Coast the sea is the most central element in the unity a regard as “nature”. I also share the memoryscape known to almost every Finn about the lake or riverside cottage and the purifying, healing and almost spiritual unity of water and sauna. After the more or less unlucky attempts to connect with the forest I found the healing power of nature quite suddenly in my own hometown, in a brisk wind by the Gulf of Finland. The wind blew away my anxiety and stress, the long-distance view to the sea took care of the rest. Even better this healing power can be sensed on the water, when the rocking of the waves nurtures the brain, swinging you like you were a child – or an adult trying to calm yourself down. Also, the sounds of water: waves coming in and out of the shore, babbling streams, rippling of the water against the boat, even murmuring waterfalls, are proven to be calming and relaxing. Of course, the wide waters are also associated with fears and danger – the preferences we have are linked to our growing-environment, the positive and negative experienced in nature we have had as a child and potentially even our genes.
It is easier to have a personal relationship with a water system than a forest, because a sea, lake or river always has a name: Baltic Sea, Lakes Saimaa, Pielinen, Päijänne, Inari, rivers Aurajoki, Kemijoki … – not to mention the hundreds of ”islandlakes” (saarijärvi) ”blackponds” (mustalampi) and “holylakes” (pyhäjärvi) or for example water systems named after different fish. There are tens of thousands of personalised waters in Finland, with whom the individuals have tight, lifelong relationships. If the physical connection to ones “own” body of water is cut, it is remembered and missed; people describe the union of water and sky, the pearl necklace of the islands, the lingering gaze to the distance, the simultaneous feeling of danger and affection. From the pier one goes down to the shining water or jumps to a boat, which with the help of the wind and waves takes you to the open sea, nearby island or trading post. Boating, fishing, laundry, swimming, trade, sailing, birds and plants, the ice roads and ice holes – we have countless connections with our water systems, which can be traced back hundreds and thousands of years. It is remarkable, that not even the quite widespread Finnish winter ice swimming has not found its way to the intangible heritage suggestions. The meaning of water systems as a “road network” and the basis of our settlement history has been partly forgotten in the era of airway, railroad and motorised road transportation. When we talk about the sea, lakes and rivers, we most likely address the subjects of pollution and decline of their fauna and flora. The positive effect of the water connection is more rarely outspoken.
If and when we want to split our nature-relationship into smaller categories, we should also take into consideration water: sea bays, open seas, small and big inland lakes, ponds, rivers and brooks. The lakes are a central image, when Finland is sold to foreigners. In the national vocabulary the coastline of the Gulf of Finland is been underestimated – most likely because of the Swedish-speaking dominance in the area, which has not fitted into the nationalistic agenda. The marine way of life in the coastline is regarded as a unique minority culture, not part of Finnishness as such. The core of the Finnish national nature talk are the deep green Karelian forests, where one can be hidden and left in peace. The water connects, the forest separates. The Baltic Sea has been an important route of trade and culture, and the influences brought by waterways have bit by bit spread to the rest of the country, and the ships smelling of tar have been a familiar sight also on inland lakes.
Of the elements of nature and in our environment in general water is the most crucial. We – and the world we experience – would not exist without water. Every single one of us has also a cultural water relationship, often through a specific water system. And the water relationship, if any, is an essential part of our nature-relationship and our connection with the universe and our culture.
For more information about the work on Finnish Living Heritage see for example http://www.aineetonkulttuuriperinto.fi/en/index
People going for a swim in the Helsinki archipelago – which has been said to be the countryside for the people of Helsinki – in 1950. The Finnish habit of swimming in natural waters all year round can be regarded as living cultural heritage. It also fits todays discourse on nature’s importance for both mental and physical health. Picture: Helsinki City Museum Picture Archives.
The decision of Russian Government from the 28 December 2017 confirmed the establishment of the Ladoga Skerries National Park. This decision summarized 30 years discussion around the park between scholars, local and central authorities, and local people. The importance of the Ladoga Skerries cannot be overestimated: the establishment of the park provide the missing link of the Green Belt of Fennoscandia. The park is located on the north cost of Ladoga, its area is 1220 km² and it includes coast, water area, and approximately 500 islands. This is unique natural complex combining rare species of animals and plants, objects of cultural and historical heritage (about 65), and popular tourism destination.
The first idea of the national park appeared in the end of 1980-s according to the proposal of scholars of Karelian Branch of Academy of Science. The proposal was supported by the Government of the Republic of Karelia and by the European Union. The project “Ladoga Skerries National Park”, sponsored by the EU started in 1999. 3,5 mln. euro were spent for the detailed project description envisaged the establishment of solid infrastructure and business plan for the tourism development. Unfortunately, this project stayed on the paper.
The attitude of local population to the park was negative for a long time due to the concept of national park is relatively young and unclear in Russian context. Numerous meetings in the Sortavala and Lahdenpohja regions revealed fears and anxiety of local population: they stressed that the establishment of the park will hinder entrance to the area. However, when timber and stone quarry industries occupied this area it become clear, that national park is the best way for the region.
According to the modern project of the park, just 3% of the area are strictly reserved, other territory are available for tourists. Unfortunately, during the longtime discussion nature of some islands was destroyed or consumed. Nevertheless, territory of Ladoga Skerries National Park has a huge potential for tourism. I suppose that convenient location of the park, closeness to the Blue Highway, connecting Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia and closeness to the main attractions in the Republic of Karelia Valaam Monastery and Ruskeala Lake will provide tourism flow during the whole year. This is a perfect opportunity to connect cultural and historical heritage with nature wilderness on the coasts of the biggest lake in Europe.
Maps from the National Archive of the Republic of Karelia
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: