The Winter War (1939-1940) and the Continuation War (1941-1944) which
Finland fought against Soviet Russia were among the most important events
in 20th century Finnish history. This was especially so for a large number
of Finns who had lived in the south-eastern province of Karelia, the land
area which then extended nearly to the outskirts of Soviet Leningrad.
These Finnish Karelians lost their homes and almost everything they owned
in consequence of the two wars.
This paper discusses themes connected to the resettlement of these
Karelian evacuees before, during, and after the wars, focusing especially
on the final and most important phase of resettlement, which took place
after the Continuation War. How did the resettlement take place, and what
was unique about it? Who were the people and parties behind the action?
How did the resettlement of the evacuees affect Finnish society? And
perhaps most importantly, why is the resettlement process worth
Background to the Resettlement Process
This map presents the land areas of Northern and Southern Karelia, the
Karelian Isthmus, and Ladoga Karelia, which together formed the former
Finnish Karelia. The map also shows the current ownership of these areas.
Karelia and the Karelians
Geographically, Karelia1 covered a large
land area on the Finnish side of the border between Finland and the Soviet
Union. However, Karelia as it once was no longer exists, because most of
the land area now belongs to Russia. Nowadays, Finnish Karelia only
exists in a much smaller form. There is also a distinction to be made
between Finnish Karelians, who live in Finland, and Russian Karelians, who
live in areas that belong to Russia.
The Finnish population consists of different tribes 2 , each of which has its own general,
sometimes stereotypical characteristics. Karelians form one of these main
Finnish tribes. Other Finns see Karelians as lively, outgoing, talkative,
and humorous. These features are not usually connected to Finns in
general. Karelians also have their own traditions, cuisine, and dialect,
Finnish cultural heritage and folklore3
are in many ways connected to the Karelians. Karelia gave inspiration to
many 19th century Finnish painters, poets, botanists, linguists and other
experts from the arts and sciences. This led to the formation of a
movement called Karelianism, which gave immense value to Karelia and the
Karelians (Karelianismi). Related to Karelianism, a Finnish man named
Elias Lönnrot gathered legends and tales from the ordinary people
living in Karelia. From these stories, Lönnrot compiled the Kalevala,
the Finnish national epic, which was first published in 1835
(Kirjallisuus). Thus, it is evident that the influence of Karelia on
the Finnish cultural heritage has been substantial.
In addition to the cultural aspects, there is one other significant
element which unifies the Karelian tribe, and which has presumably led to
the fact that their bonding is strong even today: the resettlement. While
it is true that the entire Finnish nation suffered greatly during World
War II, it was the Karelians who were affected the most because they lost
The Emergence of a Need for Resettlement
At the end of the 1930s, the political situation started heating up in
Europe. Germany was eager to extend its dominance. Related to this, the
Soviet Union wanted to acquire more land in order to be in a better
position to defend itself in case of an attack. The Soviet Union was
strongly interested in Finland, because the country had a strategically
valuable location in the Soviet Union's defence strategy, especially when
it came to protecting its second largest city, Leningrad. Tensions grew
and the situation tightened. Under these circumstances, the Soviet Union
eventually declared a war on the Finnish front, when warfare was starting
elsewhere in Europe as well. Finland was therefore unable to remain
outside World War II.
Simply put, the Soviet Union's declaration of war against Finland was
the reason behind the need for resettlement. Finland fought twice against
the former Soviet Union during the Second World War: first in the Winter
War (1939-1940), and then in the Continuation War (1941-1944). When it was
apparent that hostilities were likely to begin, the Finnish authorities
evacuated the people living on the Finnish side of the border between
Finland and the Soviet Union; the Karelians. Then, the evacuees had to be
placed somewhere, first temporarily, then permanently, as it became
evident that Finland would have to cede large parts of its territory to
the Soviet Union.
The two wars were the reason why resettlement of the civilians on whose
homeland the battles were being fought was needed, and why Finland was
forced to gain expertise quickly in massive evacuations and
The Winter War: the First Round of Evacuation
The first exodus for the Karelians came about even before the Winter War
had begun; in early October 1939, the Finnish authorities advised the
people living in the Finnish Karelian border areas, where a possible
attack was likely to occur, to leave their homes, as the threat of a war
was very real (Siirtokarjalaisten). However, when at first nothing seemed
to happen, some of those who had already left returned to their homes
(Rapo). Unfortunately, the Winter War then did break out on the last day
of November in 1939, and evacuation turned to reality for the majority in
In fact, the 1939-1940 evacuations of the Karelians took place in three
stages: first, as already mentioned, before the Winter War; then when the
Winter War started; and finally after the Winter War had ended. The reason
for this was simply the change in the political situation; when the war
started, the authorities naturally had to enlarge the evacuation area. The
final evacuation applied to those who had not been able to leave in time,
and who had thus been forced to remain in their homes but had managed to
stay alive during the warfare. All in all, over 400,000 Karelians were
evacuated during the entire period of the Winter War (Henttonen).
The truce which ended the Winter War was concluded in 1940. Among the
provisions of this truce were that the areas of Laatokan Karjala [in
English: Ladoga Karelia] and Karjalankannas [the Isthmus of Karelia] were
ceded to the Soviet Union, and a new border was drawn. Peace, however, did
not last for long. In the summer of 1941 the Continuation War began
This map presents the areas that Finland had to cede to the Soviet
Union in 1940 and 1944. Petsamo is the northest area marked in gray and
Salla is the area below it. The large grey area in the south is the lost
part of Karelia.
Image source: Tarton rauha
The Continuation War: the Second Round of Evacuation
When the Continuation War began in late June 1941, the Finnish army was at
first victorious. The areas of Karelia lost in the Winter War were
reconquered, and a large number of evacuees returned to the ruins of their
homes. They resettled and started repair work, even while the war was
still continuing (Siirtokarjalaisten).
Then the tides of war changed. In 1944 Finland had to retreat. A peace
treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union was signed, and the border was
marked back to the same line as it had been after the Winter War
(Siirtokarjalaisten). However, this time, in addition to the areas in
Karelia, Finland also had to cede large portions of Petsamo and Salla,
situated close to the border in the north.
Finland had suffered greatly during the Continuation War. In addition
to this, the country had again been forced to cede large parts of its
territory, and it also had to pay extensive reparations to the Soviet
Union. Despite this, from the Finnish perspective the war had not been
lost. Finland had remained independent and kept most of its land area.
Nevertheless, the war was a bitter experience for the entire Finnish
nation, especially the Karelian tribe. After the Continuation War, the
Karelians had lost their homes for good.
The Consequences of the War
When the Continuation War was finally over, the consequences of warfare
had to be dealt with. Nationwide, over 430,000 people were without homes;
of these, 407,000 were Karelians. The Karelian evacuees made up 11% of the
entire Finnish population (Siirtokarjalaisten).
The challenge was significant. The economy had been weakened by the
war, and Finland had to pay reparations to the Soviet Union. Yet somehow,
all the people suffering from the traumas of the war had to be resettled
to new areas, and integrated as rapidly as possible into Finnish society
and the national economy.
The Resettlement of the Karelian Evacuees
The Situation after the Winter War
As soon as the Winter War ended, with the peace treaty with the Soviet
Union signed in March 1940, the Finnish government began discussing the
status of the Karelian evacuees. Questions arose. Should the Karelians
stay in the lost areas, which would now be part of the Soviet Union, or
should they re-establish themselves in Finland? Should they be treated as
a group, with all of the Karelians either required to leave or to stay; or
as individuals, with each person or family having a right to choose? And
above all, what was the Soviet Union's opinion about the Karelian evacuees
and their future?
The status of the Karelian population was much discussed on Finland's
behalf in the peace negotiations following the signing of the peace
treaty. The Finnish side would have wanted to include additional articles
to the treaty. The first of these would have given the Karelians a
so-called "right of option", meaning that they would have had a right to
remain Finnish citizens and move permanently to Finnish territory within a
year from the date the treaty was signed, or else go back to Karelia, most
of which now belonged to the Soviet Union. The second article would have
guaranteed freedom of religion to people who would choose to live in the
ceded areas (Hietanen 109). There was freedom of religion in Finland, but
it was not entirely certain whether this would be the case in the Soviet
Nonetheless, the Soviet Union refused all attempts to create separate
agreements concerning the evacuees by stating that they were unnecessary.
The Soviet Union was not interested in the population of the ceded areas,
and wanted to avoid all possible problems concerning ethnic minorities.
The value of the conquered land for the Soviet Union was in the military
prospects its location could offer (Hietanen 111), and depopulating the
land it had acquired would have been more than suitable to the Soviet
Union. In other words, the Soviet Union preferred the Karelians, who had
already been evacuated, not to come back.
There had been a reason why Finland was so eager to negotiate with the
Soviet Union about the status of the Karelian population. The Finnish
authorities would have wanted to keep the border open for remigration
because they were not keen on executing a massive resettlement process
(Hietanen 112). At the time, the implementation of possible resettlement
involving over 430,000 people represented a challenge beyond imagination.
In a way, it is therefore understandable that the Finnish decision-makers
tried to avoid it.
From Evading the Problem to Planning Resettlement
As already mentioned, the Soviet Union did not agree to any of the terms
proposed, and the Finnish authorities saw that the peace negotiations of
March 1940 had failed. The political and military leadership of Finland
finally faced reality by declaring that the Karelian evacuees had a right
to move to and stay permanently in Finland's area (Hietanen 116). The next
problem was where and how to resettle these evacuees.
Resettling evacuees became topical on two separate occasions. The first
need for resettlement was connected to the Winter War, but the second and
most important test for resettlement came about after the Continuation
War. The results of the decisions that affected the lives of the Karelian
evacuees after the Continuation War had long-lasting effects on the entire
Establishing a Foundation for Resettlement
In the aftermaths of both the Winter War and the Continuation War, the
Karelian evacuees were not treated uniformly, which meant that the
regulations of resettlement did not apply to all of them. Instead, the
Finnish government's decisions led to the formation of two types of
Karelian evacuees. Agricultural producers and people who had lived in the
countryside of Karelia4 were entitled to
receive a compensatory estate elsewhere in Finland. Townspeople and
industrial workers, on the other hand, had to move to cities and
surrounding areas and try to find work and a roof over their head as best
as they could (Siirtokarjalaisten), although with some help from the
state, as described in the next section.
All Karelian evacuees, however, received financial compensation from
the state for the land, property and livelihood they had lost because of
the wars (Jussila 64). While this paper will only discuss the resettlement
of Karelians, there were also other people, especially after the
Continuation War, who were entitled to apply to the government for land as
well. (Vennamo 168). By granting so many people a right to receive land,
Finland was in a way rewarding them from their efforts in the war, and
also encouraging people to start thinking about the future and giving
their contribution to the national economy.
During the short time of peace between the Winter War and the
Continuation War in 1940-1941, the resettlement issue was tackled by
enacting a law called the Prompt Settlement Act (Hietanen 308), which
legally ensured the Karelians the right to receive land in Finland. The
law passed in late June 1940 (Hietanen 149), but it never really took
effect because everything turned upside down when the Continuation war
soon began in June 1941, (Hietanen 191). Some months after that, many of
the Karelians started moving back to their former Karelian homes.
The Final Phase of Resettlement after the Continuation War
After the Continuation War was lost in 1944, Finland once again had to
figure out what to do with the enormous number of evacuees. Similarly to
the situation after the Winter War, a few Finnish political leaders hoped
that the evacuees could stay in their former habitats, despite the fact
that the land now belonged to another country. Another proposed option was
to let the evacuees deal with their problems themselves, to leave them on
their own (Vennamo 35) and not create huge, official plans about where to
Luckily, the existence of the Prompt Settlement Act of 1940 led the
authorities to seek the same kind of solution as after the Winter War:
creating plans and laws in order to resettle the evacuees (Vennamo
The Legislation and Administration Leading the Way to
There were two large institutions which took the main responsibility for
the resettlement of the Karelian evacuees after the Continuation War. One
was the Finnish Government and Parliament, and the other the Department of
Settlement Affairs (ASO)5, a branch of the
Ministry of Agriculture.
In order to implement the resettlement of the Karelians, guidelines had
to be established and necessary laws enacted. The Finnish Government and
Parliament, together with the President, took care of the immediate legal
aspects. The result was the Land Acquisition Act (Hietanen 308), which
passed on 5 May 1945 (Vennamo 50-55).
The administrative decisions made by the Government and the Finnish
Parliament then had to be turned into action. This was where the ASO
stepped in. The Prompt Settlement Act of 1940 and the groundwork made at
the time of the Winter War were highly influential when the ASO was
creating the plan for settlement on paper (Vennamo 121).
The ASO made detailed calculations concerning the land available for
resettlement (Vennamo 121). Naturally, they also had to know how much land
was actually needed. This information was gathered from applications for
land that the ASO received from the evacuees. Based on these applications,
the ASO determined the amount of land that the evacuees from each Karelian
administrative district were going to need, since part of the policy was
to transfer entire village communities. Then they tried to find a matching
area in Finland where land was available (Vennamo 122). The necessary land
for settlement was then acquired from the state, municipalities,
companies, and private owners (Siirtokarjalaisten).
After making a first rough draft for resettlement, the ASO consulted
the representatives of each Karelian administrative district that had been
lost to the Soviet Union (Vennamo 122). Based on their feedback, the ASO
created a new version, which was then submitted to the Ministry of
Agriculture for validation (Vennamo 123). An organisation called Karjalan
Liitto [The Carelian League]6 played an
active role in the process by giving proposals, providing experts'
opinions and by actively lobbying parliament representatives and
resettlement authorities to support the needs of the Karelians (Vennamo
When the ASO thought that a reasonable plan was ready on paper, it was
time to turn the ideas into reality. This meant building new homes and
repairing existing ones that had been damaged or left empty during the
war, with the assistance of experts from different fields (Vennamo
This map shows where the people of each Karelian administrative
district were resettled based on the 1945 ASO plan. The names
of the Karelian municipalities are marked in black; the main
Finnish cities are marked in light red.
The bright red area is the part of Karelia ceded to the Soviet Union.
Image source and ©: Seppo
When it came to reconstruction work, the ASO gave assistance to
everyone in need (Vennamo 183), for example by finding land to build
houses in the city areas for those to whom the Land Acquisition Act and
the resettlement plans did not apply (Vennamo 181). This meant that the
focus was not solely on agricultural people or Karelian evacuees (Vennamo
The city areas were crowded because a large number of the evacuees
had found their way there. New houses had to be built and the damaged
infrastructure repaired in those areas as well. The state was able to help
with these problems since the Land Acquisition Act gave the ASO the right
to have a say in town planning, for example (Vennamo 184). It seems that
the Finnish authorities were wise enough to realize that it was in the
nation's interest to offer help to the people in all possible ways.
The citizens could also apply for subsidies from the state. The aim of
all these benefits was to help the entire Finnish nation to get back on
its feet. Supporting the citizens like this was also an excellent way to
prevent possible revolutionary ideas from emerging, and a means to reunify
the nation. As in any time of confusion and unrest at the end of major
warfare, it was likely that some elements of the population would have
promoted their own political agendas and this could have led to another
civil war7. After the Continuation War,
communism, for example, was seen as a major threat in Finland. However,
when people were focused on reconstruction work and their everyday lives
and saw that the government was doing a considerable amount to assist
them, they did not have too much time to think about politics.
The Resettlement: a Challenge to the Entire Nation
While this paper may give the impression that the resettlement was a
simple, straightforward administrative process, this in fact was not the
case. It took several years before everyone who had been entitled to
benefits actually got what they deserved. During this time, numerous
changes were made both to the laws and to the resettlement plans.
In a way, the process of resettling the Karelian evacuees formed a
mission that could have easily turned impossible. Various aspects
complicated the process. One of them was the ongoing back and forth
movement of evacuees on the eastern border before, during and after the
two wars due to the changes in the military and political situations. The
moving started even before the Winter War, when the people were first
advised to leave.
All in all, considering the circumstances, both the first and the final
resettlements took place in a time period when Finland was in a state of
disorder. Numerous things were happening at the same time: there was a
need to create the legislation for the resettlement, buildings and
infrastructure had to be repaired, new homes constructed and resettlement
As a result of the Continuation War, there had been a dramatic loss of
manpower. There was also a shortage of food, because the war had weakened
the agricultural production, and Finland had lost areas under cultivation
to the Soviet Union. Moreover, due to both the loss of land and a need to
pay heavy reparations to the Soviet Union, a post-war confusion reigned in
the minds of Finns. But despite all this, slowly but surely, resettlement
was somehow achieved.
The Impacts of Resettlement for Finland
Needless to say, the resettlement had a profound effect on all of Finnish
society and Finland's citizens. First of all, it posed a major challenge
to the authorities and legislators. Finland had no previous experience
with large evacuations or resettling people. Luckily, the authorities were
capable of finding creative solutions to problems, and were also willing
to make compromises.
The extensive reparations which Finland was ordered to pay to the
Soviet Union after the Continuation War eventually turned out to be a
positive thing for the Finnish nation. The reparations forced Finland to
build and develop its industrial production quickly, since the reparations
were paid in part in the form of timber and metal industry products. In
addition to this, the reparations brought the nation together by
introducing a common goal to work for as a group. The goal was no less
than national survival, which would have been severely threatened, if
Finland had failed to pay the reparations to the Soviet Union.
The resettlement also created a large number of small farms. These
introduced another change in Finnish society, since a larger percentage of
the citizens were now landowners. Finally, the resettlement forced the
Finnish nation to prove its adaptability and perseverance simply in order
to survive in the challenging and continuously changing circumstances.
How did the resettlement process work in reality? In order to give an
idea, a case study of the resettlement of Karelian evacuees from an
administrative district named Sakkola is presented in the following.
Case Study: The Resettlement of Evacuees from the Karelian
Administrative District of Sakkola
Sakkola is a Karelian administrative district located on the shore of Lake
Ladoga, on the eastern side of the Karelian Isthmus. At the time of the
Second World War, Sakkola fell into the category of an agricultural
district. In 1937, the population of Sakkola is reported to have been a
little under 6,500 people. Sakkola, like most Finnish administrative
districts usually are, was divided to small villages with names such as
Kiviniemi, Röykkylä, and Lapinlahti (Sakkola, Sakkolan
The area higlighted in red on the right side of the map shows where
Sakkola is situated in the ceded Karelia. The other red area shows where
the people of Sakkola were settled in Finland, based on the ASO's plan of
Image source: Sakkolalaisten
Like most other Karelians, the habitants of Sakkola were evacuated
twice during World War II. As Leo Paukkunen has noted in his 1989 study
Siirtokarjalaiset Nyky-Suomessa [Karelian Evacuees in Present-Day
Finland], in late November 1939, when the Winter War broke out, the
administrative district of Sakkola received an evacuation command. The
habitants were evacuated to Urjala, a small administrative district in the
south-western part of central Finland, and its surroundings.
When the Winter War was over, and Finland had to cede parts of Karelia
to the Soviet Union, the evacuees who had been temporarily settled to
Urjala were resettled according to the villages in which they had formerly
resided to a wide area around Tampere, one of Finland's largest cities.
The resettlement followed the 1940 Prompt Settlement Act (reported in
At the beginning of September 1941, however, after the Finnish army had
reconquered the Karelian Isthmus, some residents of Sakkola returned to
their former homes, and others soon followed. Rebuilding began. The
Karelians' love for their homeland can be deduced from the fact that 85%
of the residents of Sakkola returned to their homes during the
Continuation War (reported in Sakkola-säätiö,
Sakkolalaisten). By the summer of 1944, 70% of all the 1939-1940 Karelian
evacuees had returned to their native region (Siirtokarjalaisten).
However, in mid-June 1944 the residents of Sakkola once again had to
say goodbye to their homes, this time for good. The second evacuation led
them to the same areas in Finland as during the Winter War. The 1945 Land
Acquisition Act, and the careful plans made by ASO, finally determined
where they were placed. A new law was needed because the earlier
resettlement following the 1941 Prompt Settlement Act had not been
entirely finished, and those already resettled back then had given up
their right to their new homes when they had returned to Karelia (Vennamo
170). The people of Sakkola were eventually resettled to ten different
administrative districts close to Tampere. Among these were, for example,
Lempäälä, Pirkkala and Viiala. Once again, the resettlement
was carried out so that village communities were not torn apart (reported
in Sakkola-säätiö, Sakkolalaisten).
Nowadays, the former residents of Sakkola and their offspring have
spread around Finland. This is only natural, especially since the
resettlement plans only applied to agricultural people, but not
city-dwellers, as mentioned above. The people of Sakkola have been
integrated into Finnish society, but their Karelian background can perhaps
still be seen in their traditions8 and
heard in the way they speak9. Sakkola will
always stay close to their heart, and they will pass on the memory of
their native region by telling stories to their children and
grandchildren. Their journey is written in the nation's history.
Veikko Vennamo: A Man with a Vision
When it came to creating plans after the Continuation War to help the
Karelians and all the other victims of the Winter War and the Continuation
War, a number of people in high places participated in the process. The
activity of some of these people stood out more than others. One of the
most active and influential politicians was a man named Veikko
Veikko Vennamo's interest in the Karelians is understandable, since he
himself was Karelian. He was born in 1913 in an administrative district
called Jaakkima, which was situated on the shore of Lake Ladoga. Vennamo
was a licentiate of law, and a Master of Jurisprudence (Eduskunta), which
made him a very competent and powerful advocate for the Karelians.
After the Continuation War, Veikko Vennamo became the leading figure of
all the people who spoke for the Karelians, and tried to fight for their
case. To this day the Karelian evacuees and their offspring remember him
with great respect. To some others, however, particularly private owners
who had to give up land for the resettlement, he may even be regarded as
something of a criminal.
Timo Soini, a well-known figure in present-day Finnish politics, and
nowadays the chairman of the Finnish political party Perussuomalaiset
[Fundamental Finns], is Vennamo's former party colleague. In his
autobiography Maisterisjätkä [A Chap with a Master's Degree]10 Soini states that Veikko Vennamo was a
passionate, charismatic personality, who was more than ready to fight for
the things he believed in (37). His witty intelligence was a great benefit
in politics (Soini 43).
Vennamo was the director of the Department of Settlement Affairs (ASO)
from 1944 to 1959 (Eduskunta). In this position he did most of his work in
favor of the Karelian evacuees, and his input to the resettlement and
reconstruction work was highly significant. Somehow, he seemed to know
that the success of these projects was vital to Finland's future.
Vennamo had a long career in Finnish politics. In 1959 he founded his
own political party, Suomen Pientalonpoikien Puolue [Finland's Party of
Small Farmers], the name of which was changed in 1966 to Suomen Maaseudun
Puolue (SMP) [Finland's Countryside Party]10. The party existed until 1979
(Värikäs). Vennamo even ran for the presidency on three
occasions: in 1968, 1978 and 1982 (Eduskunta).
Throughout his life Vennamo was always ready to defend the less
unfortunate, and fight against people who in his mind were villains. He
passed away in 1997, at the age of 84 (Eduskunta). His colourful character
and catchy slogans11 will stay in the
nation's memory for years to come.
The Resettlement of the Karelians: A Finnish Success Story?
It is evident that when a large number of people suddenly have to be
evacuated from their homes and settled elsewhere, the situation could
rapidly become catastrophic. Yet overall, the resettlement was an
amazingly positive achievement for Finland.
One of the main reasons why the resettlement of Karelian evacuees was
unique and worth remembering is that, all in all, everything happened
quite smoothly, without violence for example. When the enormous number of
the evacuees, the extremely challenging circumstances, and various other
factors are taken into consideration, the whole process could have failed
miserably, creating more problems instead of solving any of them. But it
did not. Why?
Factors Leading to Success in the Resettlement Process
According to Veikko Vennamo, one of the main reasons for the success of
the long-running resettlement process was that the evacuees were not
gathered into large refugee camps. Instead, starting from the very
beginning of the evacuation process, they were decentralized as much as
possible (16) by evacuating the Karelians so that the habitants of each
administrative district were placed to a certain area elsewhere in
Finland. This was probably the reason why many potential conflicts were
The entire resettlement process was also admirably logical. The plan
was to make adjustment to a new environment as easy as possible by not
destroying village communities, so that familiar people who were in the
same situation would be close by. This was clear already after the Winter
War in 1940, when the foundations for the resettlement were created. The
government reports declared that the evacuees entitled to receive land
ought to be resettled uniformly according to their former municipalities
and villages, while also taking religious and language factors into
consideration (Hietanen 125). This meant that, since such a large number
of the Karelian evacuees were Orthodox, they ought to be settled so that
the other Finns who were mainly Lutheran would not feel threatened, and at
the same time the Karelians would have the right to keep their own
religion. The language part meant that if Karelians were settled in
Swedish-speaking administrative districts 11, the number of evacuees
should be small enough not to pose a threat to the language status of the
administrative district (Vennamo 87).
Instead of placing the evacuees arbitrarily wherever land was
available, the government and the ASO tried to make sure that the new
habitat of the evacuees would have, insofar as possible, the same means of
livelihood as their former Karelian habitat (Siirtokarjalaisten).
In order to ensure the livelihood of the evacuees and their
agricultural input in a country which was suffering from a shortage of
food, without weakening the situation of the existing farms when acquiring
land for resettlement from them, the size and quality of the land area
given to the evacuees was defined with the utmost precision in the
aftermath of the war (Vennamo 106).
The resettlement of the Karelian evacuees was a positive example of how
cost-effectiveness could be combined with humane qualities. The goal of
the ASO was that small farms would create settlement areas by being
situated close to each other. This in turn created communities and
prohibited isolation, while work on new roads and housing that had to be
built for the evacuees was centralized and infrastructure was created
economically (Vennamo 181). Saving money like this would not have been
possible if the evacuees had been settled far away from each other.
Another positive aspect worth mentioning is flexibility. Both the
authorities and the Karelians waiting to receive a new place to live knew
that the process at hand was going to be a long-lasting one. The Karelians
had no unrealistic expectations, and they waited patiently while the
legislators did everything they could to solve the problem of their
The government was willing to make changes and adjustments to the
legislation and to their plans, such as correctives to the laws concerning
land acquisition for resettlement (Vennamo 102), for example about how
much land private owners were required to give up for resettlement
(Vennamo 105-120). The people who had to give up land also had a right to
file a complaint if they felt that they had suffered injustice (Vennamo
During the resolution of such disputes and planning, the evacuees
patiently accepted the fact that they had to put their lives on hold, and
they worked as sharecroppers until their case was dealt with. The
sharecropping system was created so that the Karelians could give their
input to the agricultural production. Some of the Karelians had even
managed to take a few of their domestic animals such as cows or pigs with
them when they were evacuated, and these animals naturally needed land on
which to graze. A sharecropping committee, which executed a lease system,
was set up. The land was mostly acquired from private owners through
voluntary agreements, but sometimes the authorities had to use persuasion
to get the land (Vennamo 157). The sharecropping system continued as
needed until 1950 (Vennamo 158).
The Other Side of the Coin: the Negative Aspects of
However, it would be falsifying the truth not to admit that, in addition
to the harmonious aspects of the resettlement for the Karelians and the
Finnish nation, there were also hardships and some areas of
misunderstanding between the Karelians and other Finns.
There were occasions where Karelians were accused of being communists,
or Russians. Other Finns sometimes regarded them as complete strangers
coming from behind the border because they spoke a different dialect of
Finnish, and had their own cultural habits and traditions. These
accusations and the occasional besmirching of Karelians were mostly
harmless, mainly caused by cultural differences, as well as the tense
political atmosphere which prevailed after both wars.
Related to the habits and traditions, a large number of the Karelians
were members of the Orthodox Church, which further nourished some people's
conceptions of Russianism, since other Finns mostly belonged to the
Even intermarriages of the Karelians with other Finns were occasionally
questioned. The success of such a marriage was doubted, because the
culture, dialect and religion of Karelians were seen as such strongly
Both of the evacuations of the Karelians had to be done quickly because
the situation was extremely dangerous, and on both occasions the need for
evacuation came as something of a surprise. There was no time to make
careful plans about where to place the evacuees, and Finland no previous
experience of large evacuations. This is why, even though it seems very
odd and inconvenient from the present-day perspective, the Karelian
evacuees had to rely on the help of others in terms of accommodation
(Vennamo 157). This system had a legal foundation in a 1930 law,
remodified in 1939, which said that the state and administrative districts
were responsible for taking care of people who have had to leave their
abodes and be evacuated (Kekkonen).
According to the law, there were three options to implement
provisioning and accommodation for evacuees: private care, group care or
independent care. In private care, evacuees received accommodation and
food from private households. The administrative districts and authorities
determined who would receive evacuees. In group care, people shared
accommodation (Kekkonen). These first two ways were mostly used with the
Karelians, and therefore the evacuees were largely situated in private
homes and public spaces, such as community halls and schools, where they
resided until it became evident that resettlement was needed, and they
would finally receive a permanent place in which to live. Private care
meant that an evacuee would receive financial assistance from the state to
in order to pay for food and shelter. This plan of action was used only on
rare occasions (Kekkonen). Naturally, taking care of strangers is not an
easy or a congenial task when you are barely surviving yourself, and other
Finns were not always happy and eager to share their households with their
Disputes over land and property were not unheard of, even though the
Finnish Government tried to avert this with laws and careful plans, and
did a pretty good job at it. As mentioned above, the land for resettlement
was acquired from the state, municipalities, companies, and, as a last
resort, from private owners. Private land was acquired according to a
ceding scale12 created by the Finnish
government (Vennamo 106). Sometimes coercive measures were needed when it
came to acquiring the necessary land for resettlement from the private
sector (Siirtokarjalaisten), which is understandable considering the
difficult circumstances, and the fact that private ownership is usually
considered to be something that cannot be interfered with.
One of the largest problems for the resettlement was the difficulty of
acquiring land from the Swedish-speaking areas along the west coast of
Finland, because the Swedish-speaking communities13 saw the language differences as a threat
to their right to use their own language in the future (Vennamo 75)14.The Swedish-speakers were afraid that
giving up land from their communities to evacuees would result in them
losing their official minority language status.
During the years following the resettlement process there were
accusations of malpractice against the administration, and especially
against Veikko Vennamo, for example, by private landowners. These
accusations were mainly related to the land acquisition for resettlement.
There was also discussion about whether the authorities had acted in
accordance with the law. Some people, for example Toivo A. Jussila in his
book Oikeus harhateillä [Justice on the Wrong Track]10, claimed that Vennamo had favored the
Karelians by misusing his status and power (12), for example by making
decisions quickly even though not everyone was in favor of them. However,
a lot of the criticism that Vennamo received may have been due to his
strong, quirky personality than any misconduct in office, as he was known
to be outgoing and quick in his moves.
Jussila supports his accusations toward Veikko Vennamo with complex
financial calculations (50-63), and claims that Vennamo's actions in the
resettlement of Karelians cost Finland enormous amounts of money. He also
implies that the evacuees actually benefited financially from the
Jussila's arguments may have some foundation, but he seems to have
studied the matter from a purely monetary point of view. He fails to
consider humane factors like suffering, the feeling of displacement and
the loss of one's home. What money could ever compensate for that?
The Final Truth: Resettlement Strengthened Both Finland and the
It is impossible to say what the absolute truth concerning the monetary
issues might be, or if such a truth actually exists. All parties concerned
certainly had their own opinions and views about the matter, and those who
did not actually take part in the action will make their decisions based
on what they know. However, ultimately the resettlement of the Karelian
evacuees was a positive achievement for the Finnish nation.
Finland survived the war, remained independent, and managed to pay its
enormous reparations to the former Soviet Union. The evacuees were
integrated into Finnish society, and the nation took care of its war
widows, war veterans, and the other misfortuned as best as it could.
The Karelian evacuees earned their place in their new habitats by
rebuilding Finland, by helping to pay the extensive reparations which
Finland had been required to pay to the Soviet Union, and by enriching the
lives of other Finns with their lively, exuberant personalities, colorful
dialect, and distinctive cuisine, among other things. Even if the
financial side did not add up with every cent, Finland still survived.
The process of resettlement made the Karelian tribe even stronger. They
shared a common experience by having survived the war and being evacuated
and resettled. The resettlement process was also the starting point for
great men such as Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish President who won
the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2008. Ahtisaari himself was one of the
Karelian evacuees, born in the city of Viipuri. In a New York Times
article following the announcement of his selection as the Nobel Prize
winner, he states that his childhood experiences strongly influenced his
career as a peace negotiator, by helping him understand people in similar
A Process to Be Remembered, A Process to Be Learned From
The Karelian resettlement process could surely be used as a model in
solving similar problems elsewhere in the world, both at present, and in
the future. Unfortunately, this part of Finnish history seems to be almost
unknown or forgotten to present generations. Considering all aspects of
the problem, the resettlement of Karelians is definitely an admirable part
of Finland's history; one which is worth remembering.
- The term "Karelia" used in this paper refers to the so-called
"Finnish Karelia", which consists of Southern and Northern Karelia in
Finland, and the areas called Karjalankannas (Karelian Isthmus) and
Laatokan Karjala (Ladoga Karelia), which were signed over to the former
Soviet Union. "Karelia" can also refer to Russian Karelia, which presently
consists of the Republic of Karelia, and the areas called Tver and
- In addition to Karelians, examples of other Finnish tribes are
the Savolaiset and the Hämäläiset. More detailed
information concerning the Finnish tribes and their differences is given
in The Tribes of
Finland: Regional Characterizations of the Finnish People, by Irina
- Up-to-date information about Finland, the Finnish culture and
history can be found for example from the vast web pages of Virtual Finland.
- Approximately 35% of the Karelian evacuees were agricultural
producers entitled to receive land (Siirtokarjalaisten).
- "Department of Settlement Affairs" is a free translation of the
Finnish term "Asutusasianosasto", abbreviated ASO.
- Karelia [in Finnish Karjala] can be spelled in English either
with a K or with a C.
- Finland had already fought a bitter civil war in 1918, after the
nation had gained independence in 1917. The Finnish Civil War was fough
between two camps: the Reds and the Whites. More information concerning
the Finnish Civil War is given in The Finnish Civil
War as Depicted in Väinö Linna's Under the North
Star, by Päivi Aalto, and in The Victims of the
Finnish Civil War, by Sini Sylvelin.
- Due to their different culture, the Karelians had their own
traditions. Easter, for example, was a big celebration for the Karelians,
since they were mainly members of the Orthodox Church. To the other Finns,
who were mostly Lutheran, Christmas was the most important festivity.
- The Karelians speak a dialect of Finnish which is very different
from standard Finnish, and it may sometimes cause problems of
understanding to other Finns, not to mention foreigners.
- The English names are free translations by the author of this
- Among Vennamo's most memorable slogans are for example
"Kyllä kansa tietää!", freely translated as "The people
know!"; "Talonpojan tappolinja", freely translated as "A peasant's death
sentence" referring to the social and administrative changes that made
agricultural production less profitable in Finland; and "Rötosherrat
kiikkiin!", freely translated as "Nail the bad guys! ".
- The ceding scale was a formula according to which a certain
percentage of a private owner's land was acquired for resettlement,
depending on the size of the estate. In 1945, for example, the owner of
25-35 hectares of land was obligated to give at least 10 hectares of it
for resettlement. The government and resettlement authorities had ongoing
negotiations about the scale, and thus a 1946 scale, for example, is
slightly different from the 1945 version (Vennamo 105-120).
- Finland is officially a bilingual country. The official
languages are Finnish and Swedish. This is because of a relatively large
Swedish-speaking minority, nowadays almost 300,000 people, mainly living
in the west coast municipalities of Finland. The people who speak Swedish
as their mother tongue have the right to be served in Swedish in official
situations and with authorities.
- Today, the Finnish law says that in order to receive bilingual
status, at least 8% of the population, or alternatively 3,000 residents of
an administrative district, have to have the minority language as their
official language. If the number of those speaking the minority language
goes under 6%, the administrative district becomes monolingual (Ruotsin-
ja kaksikieliset kunnat).
- Eduskunta- edustajamatrikkeli.
Veikko Vennamo. 24 October 2007 update.
- Henttonen, Antti.
Talvisodan evakuoinnit. Viewed 4 December 2008.
- Hietanen, Silvo. Siirtoväen pika-asutuslaki 1940.
Helsinki: Helsingin yliopiston monistuspalvelu, 1982.
- Jussila, Toivo A. Oikeus harhateillä. Huhmari: Karprint,
- Karjalan Liitto.
Karelianismi. Viewed 28 November 2008.
- - - -.
Kirjallisuus. Viewed 28 November 2008.
- - - -. Siirtokarjalaisten
historia. Viewed 28 November 2008.
- Kekkonen, Urho.
Siirtoväen huolto. 1940. Urho Kekkosen julkaistu
tuotanto. Helsinki: Kansalliskirjasto, Kirjastoverkkopalvelut.
- Lyall, Sarah.
Former Finnish President Wins Nobel Prize. The New York
Times, 10 October 2008.
Rajantakaista Karjalaa. Museovirasto. 13 March 2008 update.
- Rapo, Seppo.
Luovutetun Karjalan Historia. Luovutettu Karjala. 1 February
Ruotsin- ja kaksikieliset kunnat. Kunnat.net. Published 23
alue ja sijainti. Viewed 25 November 2008.
- - - -. Sakkolalaisten
evakkomatka. Viewed 25 November 2008.
- Soini, Timo. Maisterisjätkä. Falun: Tammi, 2008
- Vennamo, Veikko, and P.O. Väisänen. Jälleenrakennuksen
ihme. Jyväskylä: Gummerus, 1988.
Värikäs Veikko Vennamo unohdetun kansan asialla. Yleisradio OY,
YLE:n elävä arkisto. 7 February 2008 version.