The city government of Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Karelian Republic, has begun putting up street signs with names in both Russian and Karelian, even though ethnic Russians form 80 percent of the city’s population and even though Karelian is not a state language in the republic.
That has long infuriated Karelians, given that Karelia is the only non-Russian republic where the titular language lacks that status. But even the appearance of Karelian on street signs in the republic capital has infuriated some Russians.
Yegor Kholmogorov, the Russian nationalist editor of the Russian Observer portal, says that this concession to the minority opens the way to separatism. It recreates in Karelia a situation like the one that existed in the union republics of the USSR before that country disintegrated.
The Karelian share of the population is so small as to be within the margin of statistical error, he continues, but if Khrushchev hadn’t disbanded the Karelo-Finnish SSR in 1956, the commentator continues, it would have declared its independence the way the other union republics did and then united with Finland.
Putting Karelian on street signs is “a harmful initiative, and it would be well if the competent organs would examine those behind it.” Because Karelia is located on the border of the Russian Federation, any growth in separatist attitudes is something that must be addressed and reversed quickly.
A second Russian observer, Anatoly Tsyganokov, the head of the Petrozavodsk Center for Political and Social Research, says there is no good sense to add Karelian to the street signs as there are so few Karelian speakers in the city and the republic. And doing so won’t make the republic a tourist magnet for Finns as some suggest.
According to the analyst, most deputies in the republic legislature are opposed to adding Karelian, but the governor, Artur Parfenchikov, is behind it; and that makes it difficult to block such initiatives. If this ends with street signs, fine; if it goes further, “it will split society and create the basis for socio-political conflict.”
Staunton, Sept. 9
Source: Window on Eurasia