Ethnic group. The Karelians or Karjalaiset live in the borderlands of southeastern Finland and northwestern Russia, and are the titular minority of Kareliya. In their home republic, they account for less than a 10th of the region’s population; there is also a small community in the Tver Oblast. In Russia overall, there are slightly fewer than 100,000 Karelians.
   Ethnically related to the Finns, Estonians, and other Finnic peoples of northeastern Europe, Finnish Karelians generally speak dialectical Finnish, while their Russian counterparts speak Russian and Karelian. The latter is a Russian-influenced Finnic language created by Soviet authorities in the 1930s to foster a separate identity from Finns across the border. It is written with the Cyrillic script and is based on the Olonets dialect. Russian Karelians, unlike their Finnish cousins, are almost exclusively Russian Orthodox.
   During the early Soviet era, Soviet Kareliya experienced an influx of Finnish immigrants who dominated the political scene and prepared the way for an eventual merger of the Karelian and Finnish nationalities; this situation changed drastically in the late 1930s as Joseph Stalin’s purges and the Soviet Union’s Winter War (1939–1940) with Finland made Finns persona non grata in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). While the Karelian culture and language were officially supported by the Communist regime, the ultimate outcome was a steady Slavicization of the republic. Nationalist and cultural autonomy movements sprouted during the final years of glasnost, including the radical Karelian Congress, which advocated the region’s accession to Finland with autonomous status or joint Russian-Finnish administration of the republic, and the Union of Karelian People, which advocates greater cultural and political rights for the titular minority. Karelian (along with Finnish and Veps) was elevated to official status alongside the Russian language in the waning days of Soviet rule. However, the linguistic renaissance of Karelian has been limited: only 1 out of 10 young Karelians is fluent in their ancestral language, and Karelian is frequently listed among Europe’s most endangered languages.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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