BOUNDARY AS SOCIAL PRACTICE AND DISCOURSE:
THE FINNISH-RUSSIAN BORDER AS AN EXAMPLE
Department of Geography
University of Oulu
Fin-90570 Oulu, Finland
The boundary has been the key concept in political geography. Boundaries are typically
understood as empirical manifestations of state power and territoriality. This paper suggests a
multidimensional approach which could serve the analysis boundaries in the world of de- and
reterritorialization. Boundaries are understood as institutions and symbols that are produced
and reproduced in social practices and discourses. The meanings of the Finnish-Russian
border are discussed both on the scale of Finnish state and one locality that was divided by
the new border after World War II. The roles of this border have varied a lot, reflecting not
only the Finnish-Russian relations but also the changes in global geopolitics. Current
economic practices and discourses strive to open the border to permit a more free movement
of capital and people, but in terms of Finnish foreign policy, security discourses and territorial
control it is still a relatively closed border.
Keywords: boundary, discourse, foreign policy, spatial scale
Boundaries have become objects of substantial interest within various academic fields since
the turn of the 1990s. Scholars within various disciplines study intensively not only the
concrete roles boundaries but increasingly also their symbolic and metaphoric meanings as
well as their roles in the constitution of identities. Simultaneously several new border study
institutes have been established and new journals have been launched (NEWMAN and
PAASI, 1998). Many interdisciplinary books have also been published (e.g. WELCHMAN,
1996; SHAPIRO and ALKER, 1996).
The major background for the current interest has doubtless been the collapse of the rigid
post-World War II dichotomy between eastern and western blocks. The disappearance of the
former ‘iron curtain’ has changed profoundly the geopolitical landscape of the world and
created a number of new boundary disputes. The simultaneous rhetoric on globalization and
the increase of various ‘flows’ - cultural, economic, ‘human’ (migrants, refugees) - has made
boundaries, border-crossings and questions of identity particularly topical. Some authors have
been ready to declare the death of nation-state in a borderless world (OHMAE, 1995), while
others have claimed for more analytical approaches to scrutinize the changing roles of state,
boundaries and sovereignty in the globalizing world (ANDERSON, 1995; HIRST and
THOMPSON, 1996). Despite the effects of globalization, changing meanings of sovereignty,
environmental problems or the postnationality arguments, the state will apparently be – while
being the key medium in the governance of the international system - the ideal form of
organization for most ‘nations’ in the near future. Therefore, rather than mechanically
repeating the arguments how states and boundaries are disappearing, the challenge for border
scholars is to develop new approaches for understanding the changing meanings of
boundaries (PAASI, 1998).
Political geographers in particular produced the language of border studies at the turn of
current century to depict the modern world that became territorialized along with the rigid
boundary lines that characterized the state-centred world. Exclusive lines replaced loose
frontiers. State territoriality has been crucially shaped by the ideas of boundedness and
exclusion. Political geographers, too, were thus involved in the creation of a territorial trap:
an image of the world as being divided into distinct territorial units (AGNEW, 1994). This
rigid, modernist boundary language has maintained its position in political geography up to
recent years (PAASI, 1998). Traditional border studies in political geography have typically
regarded boundaries as lines that shape and modify all forms of interaction and make
crossborder links possible. The major context for these studies has been the border area or
border landscape itself. Many studies have described these local contexts and compared their
In this paper I will comprehend boundaries not merely static lines but as sets of practices and
discourses which are ‘spread’ into the whole society, not merely to the border areas. The
production and reproduction of boundaries is part of the institutionalization of territories –
this is the process in which the territorial, symbolic and institutional ‘shape’ of territories is
produced (PAASI, 1991). Therefore boundaries manifests themselves in numerous social
(economic, cultural, administrative, political) practices and discourses that may be
simultaneous and overlapping. Power and governance are a part and parcel of the
construction of boundaries and this is particularly obvious in the case of state borders.
Boundary discourses may also become materialized, which can be seen in the ‘iconographies
of boundaries’ that manifest themselves e.g. in legislation, memorials, films, novels and
education – as well as in the concrete boundary landscapes - that produce, express and
reproduce territoriality (PAASI, 1996; NEWMAN and PAASI, 1998). Boundaries exist and
gain meanings at different spatial scales, not merely state level, and these meanings are
ultimately reproduced in local everyday life. Production of boundaries rarely occurs in border
areas themselves since whereas the latter usually are national peripheries in an economic
sense, their essential meanings in foreign policy, national economy and politics are typically
produced in centers. This means that there exists usually many competing discourses on the
roles of boundaries.
The present paper analyses the Finnish-Russian border as a set of social practices and
discourses. This border is a fitting illustration of the deterritorialization and
reterritorialization processes occurring in Europe and elsewhere, as well as of the increased
cross border activity. During the Soviet time it was the longest border between a western
capitalist state and the leading socialist state, a much used example of a closed ideological
border. After the Soviet collapse the cross border activities have crucially increased. At the
beginning of the 1995 it became, with Finland’s entry into the European Union, the only
border between EU and Russia. I will scrutinize the meanings of this border both on the scale
of Finnish state as well as on the local scale, in the case of Värtsilä, a small Finnish
community that was divided between Finland and Soviet Union as a consequence of World
War II. The article draws on diverging materials, such as historical documents, statistical
materials, interviews and media discourses.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE FINNISH-RUSSIAN BORDER
The meanings of boundaries are not constant but may change crucially according to social and
political situations. The ‘truths’ and arguments regarding a state, its relations to other territories
and therefore the meanings of boundaries are historically contingent. This is obvious in the case
of the Finnish-Russian border, too. The Finnish state gained its independence in 1917 after
being an autonomous state, Grand Duchy of Russia since 1809 and before that an administrative
part of Sweden since the 12th century. During the autonomy period Finland did not have a
foreign policy of its own, even if it had a national economy and customs border with Russia.
Before 1917 this border was open, very much a formality, and there was an intensive economic
and cultural cross border interaction (PAASI, 1996). After 1917 Finland’s territorial strategy
changed, so that it tried to secure its boundaries and use them to signify the territoriality of the
state. The eastern border of the state was finally confirmed, actually created, three years later, in
the Peace of Tartu (1920). Before that – in practice up to 1922 - the location of border generated
conflicts between Finland and Russia because of the Finnish speaking population that remained
on the Soviet side to constitute finally a part of the ‘Workers Commune of Karelia’ that was
established in 1920 and became in 1923 an autonomous republic.
On the Finnish side the construction of exclusive political boundaries was a crucial part of
nation-building process of the strengthening state and this found many expressions. One aim
was to develop the living conditions in border areas – to ‘nationalize the peripheries’ to increase
the political reliability of the inhabitants. The border also became an economic one, since
whereas in 1910 almost 30% of Finnish exports had gone to Russia, in 1930s only 0.5% went to
the Soviet Union (MICHELSEN and KUISMA, 1992). During the 1920s and 1930s the aim of
the public policy was to create economic connections to Western Europe and the US.
Also the foreign policy and popular discourses regarding the Soviet Union changed. Before
World War II Finnish publicity and education painted a dark view of the Soviet Union as the
Other. The border became a mythical manifestation of the ‘eternal opposition’ between two
states and a crucial constituent of Finnish national identity. Finland’s refusal to cede some parts
of the territory to Soviet Union led to the Winter War (1939-40). In the following Continuation
War (1941-44) justifications were also sought for extensions to Finland's territory towards the
‘natural boundary’ in the east when the Finnish troops moved over the old border to occupy
Russian areas in Eastern Karelia (PAASI, 1996). As a consequence of the war Finland had to
cede huge territories to the Soviet Union. The border was confirmed in Paris Treaty in 1947,
along the line that had already been confirmed in the Peace Treaties of Moscow in 1940 and
THE POST-SOVIET GEOPOLITICAL ORDER AND CONTESTED BORDER
Foreign policy can be partly seen as a set of boundary producing discourses that are exploited
in the creation of territorial identities (CAMPBELL, 1992). The boundary discourses of
foreign policy experts may differ radically from those prevailing in the civil society and
outside the states. This is obvious in the Finnish case, too. In the cold war geopolitical order
Finland, defeated in the war but still an independent state, belonged to the neutral but disputed
camp between Eastern and Western blocks. The ‘neutrality’ which formed the corner stone of
the official foreign policy discourse before the Soviet collapse formally placed Finland outside
the blocks, but in practice international images were strongly coloured with Finland’s pacts with
the Soviet Union that were established after war. Soviet Union also tried to effect by many
unofficial ways on Finnish foreign and security policy. Finland was a western country in the
geopolitical literature before World War II, but many post-war representations placed it in
Eastern Europe - a famous expression for this was the idea of ‘Finlandization’ (PAASI, 1996).
Finland’s enter into the EU and western links in security and defence policy have again changed
the location of the state in geopolitical imaginations. The EU in particular has become an
important instrument in Finnish security policy.
Modern state has usually several different territorial strategies (TAYLOR, 1994). As a power
container it tends to preserve the existing boundaries whereas as a wealth container it strives
towards larger territories. Further, as a cultural container its tends towards smaller territories,
even if representations of a homogeneous national culture are crucial in most narratives of
nation. Taylor’s idea illustrates also the meanings of the Finnish-Russian border. During the
Soviet period the border was closed, a taboo, and cooperation was formally organized on state
level. After the Soviet collapse the border has become a significant topic in economic, political,
military and cultural discourses, which find many expressions and forms.
In the postwar years one theme draws together several Finnish discourses, i.e. the question of
the location of the border. The roots of this theme are in the debates on the Karelian territories
that Finland ceded to the Soviet Union after war. This area was 12.5% of Finland’s territory
and the cession led to the resettlement of 420 000 people to other parts of Finland. This
created a national trauma that has bursted out after the Soviet Union dispersed. Before that,
during the 1970s and 80s, arising from the ideological interests of the organizations for
resettled Karelians, the economic interests of local municipalities and the emerging heritage
industry, a kind of ‘reconstructed Karelia' was constructed in Eastern Finnish border areas.
Monoments of war, houses built in Karelian style, the symbols of Orthodox religion and
spectacles exploiting the Karelian heritage mushroomed in the border area. This symbolic
space provided the Karelians with cultural representations that perhaps partly mentally
substituted their lost territory but it stimulated the tourism sector, too (PAASI, 1996).
This substitute was not enough for all Finns and during the 1990s some Finnish associations
became active in promoting debates on the future of the ceded area. The major idea was to
make the leading politicians and ‘statecraft’ interested in the Karelian issue, defined by these
associations as a ‘problem’ (THE KARELIAN ASSOCIATION, 1996). Particularly the Peace
of Tartu Movement has been very active in promoting these views, mainly in newspapers. It has
openly challenged statecraft and claimed these areas back to Finland, using at times Ratzelian,
organistic rhetoric when describing the ‘sufferings’ of the ‘wounded body’ of the state which
could be healed only by joining the ceded areas with their organic connection. Some discussion
along these lines had been going on in the civil society since the war, but the Soviet collapse
brought these demands into public debate which has at times been very lively, particularly in
summer 1997 when President Yeltsin asked the Finnish media to stop this discussion.
Official foreign policy and the Finnish Border Patrol Establishment have been on a different
track. Current boundaries have been confirmed in three peace treaties and no territorial claims
exists. This view is also linked with a broader geopolitical frame, the EU - one criteria for the
new members is that they should not have any border disputes. Official foreign policy in
Finland coincides with that of the Russian authorities. Surveys among Finns also show that a
great majority of them, 80% in 1995, are not claiming negotiations with Russia on these areas.
These surveys have also been carried in Russia, where in 1998 70% of people answered that the
ceded areas should not be returned to Finland (MIKKOLA, 1998).
Whereas the discourses claiming the ceded areas back have aimed at the de-territorializing of
the current territorial frame in a very concrete way – by re-territorializing it by moving the
border line - the foreign policy has tried to maintain current frame but also de-territorialize it in
a very different way. Several examples from the last few years indicate the deterritorialization
of the traditional exclusive forms of foreign policy. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union
Finnish foreign policy has taken long steps towards the west – the membership of the EU as
the major example - but simultaneously it has struggled to keep the link to the east and even
strenghten the links that would integrate Russia into this larger European space. The first
effort was perhaps the ‘near area cooperation’ agreement (1992), which aims at promoting
peaceful and stable development, strengthening economic relations and minimizing
environmental problems. In this context a whole new discourse has emerged – not only on the
Finnish-Russian relations – but also on the new ‘regionalizations’ in Baltic sea and Barents
region (FORSBERG and VAAHTORANTA, 1993). It should be noted that border questions
are not included in this agreement. Later Finns had a visible role when the membership of
Russia in the Council of Europe was prepaped. Current discussion of the ‘Northern
dimension’ in the EU policy is also illustrative, since this initiative came originally from
Finland. The aims of this effort are complex: firstly, to emphasise cooperation and economic
benefits to lower old barriers between west and east, based on traditional power politics.
Secondly, to get the mineral and energy resources of Barents area and North-Western Russia
within the reach of EU. The effort to create cooperation with Russia is, therefore, not just a
matter of economy and cooperation but also security policy.
Concomitantly with this relative deterritorialization of the border, the foreign and security
policy practices and discourses continually evaluate the limits of sovereignty. The sovereignty
then puts its limits on the deterritorialization. In July 1997 President Yeltsin suggested to
Finland’s President Ahtisaari ‘common border control’ but Ahtisaari reminded that
‘sovereign states always take care of border control independently’! The enter into EU and
becoming its only border with Russia actually put stress on organizing a more effective
guarding system, since customs operations are now carried out for the whole EU area. Border
surveillance is increasingly technical - during the 1990s cameras and electronic monitoring
systems have been taken into use - which makes the control of the boundaries of the national
space more effective and invisible. The nature of boarder guarding has also changed. Whereas
this action was very formal during the Soviet time, now increasing cooperation and change of
information with Russians e.g. on crimal activities is characteristic. The border control is very
strict and e.g. the number of refugees who have entered Finland over this boundary has been
very low, varying from 7 to 45 between 1994-1997. The number of people who been turned
back from the border has been increasing continually, but the total number, some 800 people in
year 1997, is very low compared with the intensity of cross-border passanger traffic.
DETERRITORIALIZATION, ‘FLOWS’ AND CONCRETE CROSS BORDER
Even if there has been extensive trade between Finland and Soviet Union up to recent years, 70
years of almost no transborder activity transformed the peripheral areas on both sides of the
border very dependent on their own national political and economic centers. They were typical
'alienated borderlands' (MARTINEZ, 1994). The border was closed and cross-border activity
was permitted in some controlled places, which for the Finns rendered possible tourism and
some joint construction projects. Cooperation was thus regulated and organized at state level.
Finnish economy was very dependent on bilateral trade and more than 20 percent of Finnish
exports went to Soviet Union e.g. in 1985-86. After the Soviet dispersal also the export rates
collapsed. The share was 13 percent in 1990 and in 1992 less than three percent (SWEEDLER,
1994). Now the share is rising again. In 1996 6% of exports went to and 7.1% of imports came
from Russia. These rank Russia as fifth both among countries of destination and origin (STV,
Cross-border traffic began to intensify in several places at the turn of the 1990s. Finnish tourism
to Soviet Union turned increasingly to business and shopping trips and to the visits of old
Karelians to their former home areas. A new phenomenon was the tourism of Russians to
Finland. Whereas 8500 Russian cars arrived in Finland in 1991, they numbered almost 170.000
in 1996. In 1996 Russians spent in Finland 455 000 nights, which ranks them on the third place
after Swedish and German visitors (SVT 1997). The attitudes towards Russian tourism have
changed more positive - they spend a lot of money - and e.g. in southeastern Finland it is
increasingly popular to study Russian language (AROLAINEN, 1996).
Since the ’near area cooperation’ agreement was signed by the Finns and Russians in 1992,
local authorities on both sides have actively promoted cross border operation to open up routes,
to establish connections and to develop the economy in the area. This agreement emerged from
the dispersion of the Soviet Union and it gave more power to the republics to organize e.g.
foreign relations if they were not in conflict with the Russian central government. The number
of crossing-points is now 27 altogether (Fig. 1). Six crossing-points are open for international
traffic and two new international stations (Imatra and Kelloselkä) will be financed by the
support of the EU Tacis program and will be opened as soon as possible (SIUKONEN, 1998).
Several temporary crossing points are now open for timber transportation, in some places they
used in passanger traffic, too. The total border crossings in passanger traffic have risen from
0.96 to 4.1 million persons between 1990 and 1996. The number of Russian passengers has
increased rapidly since 1994, being almost two million in 1997, while the number of Finns
seems to be decreasing after the first boom (Fig. 2). The flows of people have also created
images of threath: smuggling, organized crime and control of alcohol flows have been popular
themes in media discourses (e.g. ÖSTERBERG, 1996; NAULAPÄÄ, 1998)
The deterritorialization of the border has not only given rise to various ’flows’ but has created
new social practices that are gradually turning border areas into 'interdependent borderlands'
(MARTINEZ, 1994). Cross-border interaction is becoming more versatile, varying from
cultural to environmental, from economic develoment to humanitarian projects. Actors in
Finnish border communes are looking forward to changing their peripheral locations and to
opening communications with Russian areas. This optimism is motivated by the change to get
resources from the EU’s Interreg program as well as from the Tacis program that was founded
to help the cooperation between the EU and CIS countries. Several Tacis-based projects are in
progress on the Finnish-Russian border area. Much effort has concentrated on developing the
infrastructure for border crossings: customs houses, services, etc. Geographers have discussed a
lot of place marketing during recent years (KEARNS and PHILO, 1993). Beside the concrete
land use planning and construction activities, the opening of the border has created a specific
‘border-crossing’ marketing. Finnish communes and consulting firms have been active and
many plans have been produced and are under construction to materialize the potential provided
by imagined ‘corridors’, gateways and regionalizations.
The Russian area behind the border is divided between three larger territories: the Leningrad
region, the Republic of Karelia and the Murmansk region. Different areas are shaped by the
Finns as providing different possibilities. Forthcoming international crossing point in
Kelloselkä, for instance, has been represented in the media as being a ‘venthole’ for the
northeastern Finland and to open not only links for business travels and goods transport but also
for the ’European tourists to Kola peninsula’ and the ’shopping of Russians in Finland’. Local
actors also trust on the future exploitation of the gas and oil fields in the Barents region
(VÄLIMAA, 1997). In southeastern Finland expectations are optimistic because of the potential
provided by two large Russian cities, St.Petersburgh and Vyborg. The Soviet trade and visitors
are seen increasingly important for this area. Beside the positive effects, the actors in social and
healt sectors have been worried about the increasing rates in crime, alcohol consumption,
prostitution and venereal diseases and these topics have very visible in the media.
In spite of the increasing cross border activity and optimism also problems exists. The border is
still dividing two completely different societies and the gap between the standards of living on
each side is among the largest in the world – often compared to the situation prevailing on the
US-Mexico border (SWEEDLER, 1994). Recent surveys sho that every fourth of the Russian
Karelians see their personal economic situation catastrophic. JUSSILA et al. (1997) point out
that since the Soviet collapse the vast majority of Russian Karelians have experienced a huge
deterioration in purchasing power even if some people have managed to accumulate enormous
wealth. This simply means that most Russians are - and will - not be ’happy border crossing
consumers’. It is then very unlikely that this area will become an 'integrated borderland'
(MARTINEZ, 1994), where people, goods and ideas will ’flow’ without limits.
The location of border areas was strategically important during the Soviet period and thus
their territorial structure has been shaped cricually by the strategic thinking and regional and
production policies. The Russian areas behind the border are urbanized, e.g. in Murmansk
region urban population is 93% of the total population (appr. 1.1 million) and in Karelian
Republic 74% (appr. 0.8 million). Whereas in Finland the strategy was to nationalize the
peripheries of the territory after 1917, the Soviet idea was the to peripheralize and non-
nationalize the border area because of the fear of Finnish border communities (LYNN and
FYER 1998). This continued after World War II and took place ideologically but also in
settlement policy, according which the dominating part of the population e.g. in Russian Karelia
finally consisted of non-Karelian people. Soon after war people from Russia, Ukraine and
Belorussia began to settle the area. The share of Finnish population is today some 2.6%
The Russian border has also become more open to economic flows. The number of firms with
foreign investments increased rapidly. Whereas the number of foreign firms registered in
Russia was only 23 in 1987, in 1990 they numbered near 2000 and in 1995 almost 15000.
About 85 per cent of them had a partner from an industrialized western state. US, German
and Chinese firms were the largest groups among partners (ESKELINEN et al., 1998:21).
The economic policy of the Karelian Republic trusts on border location and natural resources
and it has established a legislation to encourage foreign investment (LYNN and FYER,
1998). The Republic stresses resourse based industries (timber, fishing and mining) but also
such border related activities as tourism, transport and communication are important
(KORTELAINEN, 1997). The number of firms with foreign investments has increased also
in Russian Karelia. Whereas there were 20 registered firms in 1990, in 1992 they numbered
170 and in 1995 more than 400. ESKELINEN et al. (1998:23) remind, however, that a
distinction between registered and operational firms is crucial, since e.g. in 1995 only 211
firms were actually operative, i.e. they reported employees and other activities. The proximity
of Russian Karelia to Finland has become evident in the number of small investments and
other forms of cooperation across the border. This activity has occurred in several forms
(ESKELINEN et al., 1998). Firstly, companies in Eastern Finland have subcontracted
assembly work to Russian Karelia, secondly, different civil and public organizations have
been involved in numerous local projects, and thirdly, numerous training and development
schemes have been launched. One motivation behind these activities is the belief that they
will improve the physical and social infrastructure of future interaction (p.45).
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, not only a hope and enthusiasm, but also certain
scepticism has prevailed on both sides of the border. In Eastern Karelian, for instance, soon
after the Soviet collapse some debate arose whether the aim of the Finns is the ‘neo-
colonization’ of the Karelian areas in an economic sense and the exploitation of their natural
resources (SYKIÄINEN, 1993). Karelia has been seen, from the viewpoint of foreign capital,
primarily a source for raw materials, mainly because of huge forest resources: forests make up
70 percent of the Republic’s surface area. More recently, as far as the structural funds of the EU
are concerned, the lack of information has at times led to suspicions that the Finns use their
Russian partners to benefit of the programs. The actors in the border communes both in Finland
and Russia have organized joint seminars to promote trust among the partners and to clarify the
aims and possibilities of the EU programs. The cooperation over the boundary works quite well
on political level but the practice is different because Russians are lacking in finance capital and
many cultural and institutional factors prevent real commitment to the cooperation
(SIUKONEN, 1998). On the other hand, the surveys carried among the Russian business
partners, show that they are experience their western counterparts as being passive
(ESKELINEN et al 1998).
While the Finnish foreign policy stressed good relations with Soviet Union during the
postwar period, the feelings in the civil society have been more complicated, mainly because
of the violent history of border areas. This lack of trust still characterizes the current situation
and may be an obstacle for the future crossborder activities. Social representations are often
galvanized by old, deeply embedded visions and judgments and this is perhaps still the case
on the border between a western capitalist state and the former leading socialist state
(PAASI, 1996). The surveys carried among local people on both sides of the border
(KINNUNEN, 1995) display that the Finns and Russians do not know much about each other
and Russians’ opinion of the Finns is more positive than the Finns’ views of them. The
Finnish opinions are also polarised so that some people favour cooperation while others have
deep prejudices and suspicions. As far as the development of crossborder activities is
concerned, about half of the Finns but two thirds of Russians see this as positive. One third of
the Finns find the opening as negative but only a few percent of Russians think so. This
survey was carried out in Northern Finland and Russia in 1994 but it is obvious that at least in
Finland these results are indicative of the broader opinion that prevails in the civil society.
Neither all members of the security elite have been unreservedly delighted of the post-Soviet
developments and the challenges of new deterritorializations on infrastructures, for instance.
Some military leaders have been worried about the strategic changes that would take place after
the new road connections have been built over the border, particularly in Northern Finland. This
infrastructure is, however, crucial in organizing any kind of cross border activity. No explicit
threat from Russia is experienced in military circles, however, but after the Soviet collapse old
enemy images still existed, even though not explicitly directed to Russia (JOENNIEMI, 1993).
The comment set forth by General Hägglund, Commander-in-Chief in Finnish Army, is perhaps
indicating a new era: The Finns should not turn their back to Russia but instead keep links
All previous examples illustrate the fact that boundaries are not only lines in the forest but
also meaningful symbols and institutions which are deeply sedimented in various social
practices and discourses.
LIFE IN A DIVIDED COMMUNITY: THE PERSPECTIVE OF LOCAL
The construction of narratives on national identities and threats and on bounded, exclusive
national spaces are expressions of national socialization processes and boundaries usually have
a crucial role in these narratives (PAASI, 1996; 1997). In daily life the questions of identities,
culture and memory become complicated, fragmented and diversified, depending crucially on
where people live - space makes a difference. SHILS (l981) argues that individual histories
always include elements of the history of a 'larger self', family, neighbourhood, locality and
nationality. This collective memory unites individuals as parts of the histories of these entities.
In daily life at local scale the question of distances, well-being, culture, economy and
administrative practices becomes very concrete. In the border areas the social control of people
in relation to the border is typically very strict – in these areas the local scale and the state meet
each other in very concrete terms.
After World War II Finland resettled 420.000 inhabitants from the ceded areas. While tourism
to Leningrad and some other places was popular among Finns during the Soviet period, it was
almost impossible to visit the ceded territories freely. The loss of the home areas was therefore a
hard experience for the spatial identities of evacueed people. The Karelians preserved their lost
landscapes and homes in their collective memory, in literature, collective action, myths, etc. The
return to home and past became the major goal for most of them. The ceded areas, at least a
visit there, became utopian dream (PAASI, 1996).
Värtsilä was a rapidly developing community before war and it was located some 100 km
from the border. It was the major iron industry centre in Finland with some 6000 inhabitants
and about 1000 workers in the iron factories (see Fig. 3). The locality emerged during the 19th
century as a typical product of the rising industrial capitalism. People living in community
often had a long local family history and therefore had a strong identity with the place and the
industrial milieu. Värtsilä was divided by the new border line after World War II. New border
ruined the whole infrastructure of the commune: iron factories, commune centre and all
services remained on the Soviet side. In 1947 a specific frontier zone was established on the
Finnish side of the border which considerably restricted movement in the border area. Foreign
people, for instance, needed a permission from Finnish security police to visit the zone. The
border turned a closed, controlled and mystical phenomenon. The ceding of the area
destroyed also the population base of Värtsilä. Before war it had some 6000 inhabitants,
immediately after war some 3000. Since the commune could not provide jobs, out-migration
continued at rapid rate. The population in 1950 was 2000, in 1960 about 1700 and in 1980
922. Today there are some 700 inhabitants (PAASI, 1996).
Russian Värtsilä became part of the larger adminstrative area of Sortavala and it still could be
seen from the hills on the Finnish side. It was formally forbidden to even look across the
border to the Russian side but people did it, anyway, to maintain their memories. New
inhabitants and factory workers were recruited from other parts of the Soviet Union. They
were chosen by the Party which allowed only reliable communists to the border community.
At the beginning of the 1990s the population of locality was some 3000. Finnish speaking
population in Russian Karelia has been a small minority and this was evident in Värtsilä at
the beginning of the 1990 (PAASI, 1996). During the Soviet era the iron factories employed
1000 people, today some 600 (TYKKYLÄINEN, 1998).
The completely closed border also destroyed the spatial basis of traditional local identities.
Since the war it took almost 50 years when the Finns were allowed to visit their old home
area behind the border. All activities on the Finnish side of Värtsilä were directed towards
Finland. Only a railroad connection for timber trade joined the two sides of Värtsilä together.
The period of 50 years was long enough to produce several overlapping territorial identities
among people living in the locality. The depth interviews that were carried on the Finnish side
during 1987-1989 showed that the attitudes towards the boundary varied a lot among
generations (PAASI, 1996). The generations who had experienced the old, ceded community,
the creation of the new border and the loss of their homes seemed to live in a world where the
memories of the lost community still formed a crucial part of regional identity. The younger
generations who had not experienced the years of war, seemed to live their daily life in a context
which had always been limited by geopolitical facts. For these people the boundary had always
been were it still is and the rules for acting in border areas had always been part of their daily
routines. These people simply did not have any experience of different situations and former
territorial disputes. There was also another important difference between the generations. It was
typical for the older people to be afraid of the new border after war, but for younger generations
the boundary has been a rather neutral phenomenon, actually part of the taken for granted
When the border was gradually opened for person traffic the number of border-crossings
increased radiply, since it became possible for the older people to bring their utopian dream
alive and visit old home areas in ceded territories. The opening of the border came at an
opportune moment, for there were still some 180,000 former refugees alive who were born
there, and an immediate boom in nostalgic journeys to Karelia ensued. The total number of
border crossings in the Finnish-Russian border increased rapidly and this also occurred in
Niirala border crossing station in Värtsilä. The number of border crossings was 26 000
already in 1989, in 1997 about half million (Fig. 4). Most Finns soon became familiar with
pictures depicting former refugees searching in Karelia for something that might bring back past
local memories and identities which were broken off 50 years ago.
Like many Karelians, also those born in Värtsilä have established associations, one in
Joensuu, Eastern Finland and one in Helsinki. The Värtsilä association in Joensuu has today
less than 200 members and the number of activists is hardly 30. Their activities have
concentrated on maintaining local forms of identity and heritage as well as on organizing
visits to the former home area behind the border. Like among the Karelian people in general,
also among Värtsilä people the number of nostalgic trips behind the border has decreased, to
a great extend due to the fact that the utopian land did not anymore exists: if the war did not
destroy everything, the Sovjetization of landscape and infrastructure had changed the rest
(PAASI, 1996). Already during the first visits to old home area the huge gap in the standard
of living became obvious. One new form of local activism has been to bring clothes and other
help to the children and elderly people living in the Russian Värtsilä.
Värtsilä was one of the first localities were cross-border activities were seen as a serious
challenge for the future and it is still one of the major routes to the east. Soon after the
opening of the border plans for a great future in cooperation were created and an idea of
Värni, a technology village, was created. This was soon registered in 1992. The partners were
Finnish, Karelian and Russian firms and five communes from eastern Finland. The idea was
to provide the Finnish, Russian and other firms with a possibility operate in a context that
would open a possibility for exploiting “enormous eastern markets” (OKSANEN, 1994). The
economic success has not been, however, good, even if the number of border crossings have
increased enormously. The early expectations and plans after the opening of the border were
perhaps too optimistic also in Värtsilä, as they have been in many places. Local Finnish
enterpreneurs critizice Finnish and Russian bureucracy, lack of financial resourses and
Russian investments and, finally, cultural and institutional differences. Nevertheless as small
sawmill company, Karlis Ltd., owned by one Finnish and four Russian partners, is an
example of a more succesful project. This project - a real example of the emerging capitalism
rather than the activities of local authorities - employs some 35 people, only one of them
comes from Finland. The Finnish co-owner’s office is just on the Finnish side of the border
where he conducts business. Ninety percent of sawn timber is delivered outside Finland.
Wage lavel is about 1/8-1/10 of the wages in Finland but for local people it provides a clear
alternative for unemployment (TYKKYLÄINEN, 1998).
Crossborder interaction has also had its effect on shaping the forms of local culture.
According to the interviews carried in 1998 the number of people who are able to use a kind
of combination of Russian and Finnish languages is increasing continually. Similarly
friendships relations between Finnish and Russian families have been created. Local
inhabitants have often long term visas and this renders possible to do shopping - e.g. cheaper
gas and cigarettes - in Russia. Increasing interactions can also be seen in the fact that mixed
marriages between Finns and Russian are becoming more common. The opening of the
border has also has its effect on the local ‘moral landscape’ which behave obvious in
interviews at beginning of 1998. Seven Finns - men in particular - have recently divorced
from their Finnish spouse and got married with a Russian. In an small community of some
700 hundred inhabitants has been is a very visible phenomenon. De- and reterritorializations
of the border, then, manifest themselves als in shaping the borders of social and personal
spaces as well.
Much of recent discourse of the roles of nation-state and boundaries has suggested that both
are fading away in the ‘postmodern’, globalizing world. Territoriality is, however, also in the
current world explicitly linked with nation-states and their socialization processes, which aim at
the continual production and reproduction of the national social space. Boundaries play a major
role in the symbolization of this space. While the current world is increasingly characterized
by ‘flows’, boundaries still exist as symbols of the sovereignty of states, even if they do not
have such a dramatic role in distinguishing territories as they did in earlier times.
This paper illustrates the complexity of boundaries by analysing the changing meanings of the
Finnish-Russian border. The collapse of the Soviet Union changed radically the formerly closed
and peripheral position of the border area and Finland and Russia now share a motivation for
crossborder interaction and cooperation. The implications of the Russian transition and the
opening of the border have been comprehended along similar lines on both sides and the
strenghtening of the economic ties is an important challenge in local and regional development.
The problem is that the infrastructural prerequirities for cross-border cooperation are weak in
the area. Much of the efforts to strenghten cooperation has concentrated on creating these
prerequirities (buildings, roads, customs houses, education of people, etc.). Challenges are
difficult, as ESKELINEN et al. (1998:47) remind, since during the Soviet era transport links
were not developed towards the border, border regions are sparsely populated and urban centres
with their service facilities are usually far away from each other. The separation of neighbouring
regions also has produced remarkable cultural and institutional differences. All these problems
are structural which makes their removal very difficult.
The collapse of the Soviet Union transformed in Finland not only economic but also political,
security policy and military practices and discourses regarding the border areas. The political
role of the border has changed since it is also the border of the EU and Russia. In Finland this
larger institutional space is used both as a new scale for identification and a source of
resourses in organizing cross border activities. The military, border guarding and foreign
policy elites maintain traditional national narratives of sovereignty but different forms of
deterritorialization also characterize new security policy discourses.
All these examples show that traditional political geographic interpretations about boundaries
as lines are perhaps too narrow in the contemporary world characterized by the processes of
de- and reterritorialization. Boundaries are complicated, historically contingent phenomena
that are concomitantly both contextual social institutions and symbols and are constituted at
various spatial scales in various institutional practices and discourses.
AGNEW, J. (1994) The territorial trap: the geographical assumptions of international
relations theory, Review of International Political Economy 1, 53-80.
ANDERSON, J. (1995) The exaggerated death of the nation-state, in ANDERSON, J.,
BROOK, C. and COCHRANE, A. (Eds) A Global World? Re-ordering Political Space, pp.
65-112, The Open University, Oxford.
AROLAINEN, T. (1996) Kaakonkulman onnenpäivät, Helsingin Sanomat, 11 February.
CAMPBELL, D. (1992) Writing Security. United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of
Identity, Manchester University Press, Manchester.
DAHLSTRÖM, M., ESKELINEN, H. and WIBERG, U. (Eds 1995) The East-West Interface
in the European North, NST, Stockholm.
ESKELINEN, H., HAAPANEN, E. and IZOTOV, A. (1998) The emergence of foreign
economic activity in Russian Karelia, Univ. of Joensuu, Publ. of Karelian Institute N:o 119.
FORSBERG, T. and VAAHTORANTA, T. (1993) Lähialuepolitiikan tuleminen, in
FORSBERG, T. and VAAHTORANTA, T. (Eds) Johdatus Suomen ulkopolitiikkaan, pp.232-
260, Gaudeamus, Helsinki.
HIRST, P. and THOMPSON, G. (1996) Globalization in Question, Polity Press, Cambridge.
JOENNIEMI, P. (1993) Euro-Suomi: rajalla, rajojen välissä vai rajaton?, in JOENNIEMI, P.,
ALAPURO, R. and PEKONEN, K. (Eds) Suomesta Euro-Suomeen, pp.17-48 Rauhan- ja
Konfliktin-tutkimuslaitos, tutkimustiedote 53. Tampere.
JUSSILA, H., BERTOLINI, J., HÜNERKOCH, A., RAUTIO, S. and WEBBER, J. (1997)
Price levels and purchasing power in Finnish and Russian Karelias, in KORTELAINEN, J.
(Ed) Crossing the Russian Border, Univ. of Joensuu, Dept. of Geography, Publications No.3.
THE KARELIAN ASSOCIATION (1995) The Karelian Issue, Helsinki.
KEARNS, G. and PHILO, C. (Eds 1993) Selling Places, Pergamon Press, London.
KINNUNEN, P. (1995) A look across the border: the views and expectations of the people in
Northern Finland and Northwest Russia, in DAHLSTRÖM, M., ESKELINEN, H. and
WIBERG, U. (Eds) The East-West Interface in the European North, pp. 45-56, NST,
KOIVISTO, P. (1996) Venäjälle ei saa kääntää selkää, Kaleva, 4 June.
KORTELAINEN, J. (Ed 1997) Crossing the Russian Border, Univ. of Joensuu, Dept. of
Geography, Publications, No.3. Joensuu
MARTINEZ, O. (1994) The dynamics of border interaction. New approaches to border
analysis, in SCHOFIELD, C.H. (Ed.) Global Boundaries, World Boundaries, vol 1, pp. 1-15,
MICHAELSEN, S. and JOHNSON, D. (1997) Border Theory. The Limits of Cultural
Politics, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
MICHELSEN, K. and KUISMA, M. (1992) Nationalism and industrial development in
Finland, Business and Economic History 21, 343-353.
MIKKOLA, P. (1998) Alueita ei takaisin Suomelle, Kaleva, 8 February.
NAULAPÄÄ, R. (1998) Itärikollisuuden uhra on torjuttavissa, Helsingin Sanomat, 13
NEWMAN, D. and PAASI, A. (1998) Fences and neighbours in the postmodern world.
Boundary narratives in the postmodern world, Progress in Human Geography 22, 186-207.
OHMAE, K. (1995) The End of the Nation-State, Free Press, London.
OKSANEN, K. (1994) Värni, teknologiakylä rajan takana Värtsilässä, Rajaseutu 71, 22.
PAASI, A. (1991) Deconstructing regions: notes on the scales of spatial life, Environment
and Planning A 23, 239-256.
PAASI, A. (1996) Territories, Boundaries and Consciousness: The Changing Geographies of
the Finnish-Russian Border, Chichester, Wiley.
PAASI, A. (1997) Geographical perspectives on Finnish national identity, Geojournal 43, 41-
PAASI, A. (1998) The political geography of boundaries at the end of the millennium:
challenges of the de-territorializing world, in ESKELINEN, H, LIIKANEN, I and OKSA, J.
(Eds) Curtains of Iron and Gold. European Peripheries and New Scales of Cross-Border
Interaction, Ashgate, Aldershot (forthcoming)
SHAPIRO, M. and ALKER, H. (Eds 1996) Challenging Boundaries, University of Minnesota
SHILS, E. (1981) Tradition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
SIUKONEN, T. (1998) Tacis-rahojen viipyminen hidastaa raja-asemien tekoa, Helsingin
Sanomat, 27 January.
STV (1997) Statistical yearbook of Finland, Helsinki.
SVT (1997) Statistics Finland, Tourism Statistics 1997, Transport and Tourism. Helsinki.
SYKIÄINEN, R (1993) Itä-Karjalassa tehdään Suomesta hirviötä, Kaleva, 10 June.
SWEEDLER, A. (1994) Conflict and cooperation in border regions: an examination of the
Russian-Finnish border, Journal of Borderlands Studies 9, 1-13.
TYKKYLÄINEN, M. (1998) The emergence of capitalism and struggling against
marginalization in the Russian North, in JUSSILA, H., MUTAMBIRVA, R., and
MAJORAL, R. (Eds.) Marginality in Space, Ashgate, Aldershot (forthcoming).
TAYLOR, P.J. (1994) The state as container: territoriality in the modern world-system,
Progress in Human Geography 18, 151-62.
VÄLIMAA, S. (1997) Sallaan 50000 ylittäjän raja. Kaleva, 15 December.
WELCHMAN, J. (Ed 1996) Rethinking Borders, University of Minnesota Press,
ÖSTERBERG, E. (1996) Alkoholia virtaa itärajan takaa, Helsingin Sanomat, 8 January.
Fig. 1. Border crossings points on the Finnish-Russian border.
Fig. 2. Border crossing on the Finnish-Russian border in 1994-1997.
Fig. 3. The location of Värtsilä commune and the border line established after World War II.
Fig. 4. Border crossing at Niirala crossing point in Värtsilä in 1989-1997.