CLEAR-CU T MADNES S I N RUSSIA N KARELI A
Only a few grand ol d pines had been left standing, and this because so far the site had only been covered wit h a harvester, manufactured i n Finland for Finnish conditions which do not feature trunks so thick, and which could not therefore fel l such trees. They too would soon be torn down.
of Karelia were ceded to the Soviet Union i n the Second World War, and on the Finnish side of the border there is still an area known as Finnish Karelia. The consequence of this tangle of interests is that claims made over Karelia's forests i n Finland evoke strong emotional responses.
M y first trip to the area i n summer 1996 left me angry but not resigned. I was thoroughly unprepared for the immediacy o f the colonialist atmosphere, and how i t would strip me of my academic distance and leave me sharing, with the Finnish activists who were my initial guides, their anger and disgust.
A short visit to the area around Kostamuksha gives the impression that, whereas outsiders are polarizing debate into pro- and anti-logging camps, the local view has remained perhaps not surprisingly - largely unheard. Decades o f control by outsiders and foreign bureaucracy have not, however, despirited the locals who have sought and achieved co-operation between their own political actors, the regional level and NGOs from elsewhere. The focus of their work has been cultura l and ecological . Environmenta l group s have also sprung up i n Kostamuksha, a town made up mostly o f immigrants brought i n to work i n its ironworks, and surrounded by the extremes of intense pollution and a zapovednik or strict boreal forest nature reserve.
Our route took us north from Akonlahti to Vuokkiniemi. Akonlahti had been emptied o f inhabitants by force and razed to the ground i n the 1950s. But i n 1996 a village festival was organized there, attracting descendants of the old inhabitants from as far away as Sweden. As we drove we kept an eye out for new clear-cuts. We stopped our cars on the side o f the road and followed the fresh tracks of heavy goods vehicles into a clearing a few metres from the side o f the road. A Western
As threats from climate change increase, so too does the importance of unfragmented species habitats for mitigating its effects.
concern with 'aesthetics' has spread the practice o f leaving a strip o f forest alongside the road to camouflage unsightly clear-cuts. As we came into the open clearing the first thing we saw was a Finnish harvester, and then a small trailer carrying the name and
I n the villages, the sense of humour and the irony with which locals describe the recent entry of loggers, tourists, and even of environmentalists, puts the grand schemes of both well-meaning activists and profit-seeking industrialists into a new perspective. The political rhetoric, familiar from Western debates, posits humans as being somehow separate from nature, beholden either to manipulate i t or to protect it , but rarely to live i n it. 3 The expertise o f local people is all too often ignored, as is the possibility that a meaningful life for locals may not conform to the ideals of activists. I too was yet another intruding outsider, one of many who have come with questions, often with promises of better times to come, but frequently also bearing trouble o f one kind or another. Nevertheless, mindful of the fact that the fate o f Viena Karelia lies very much i n the hands of political and economic structures beyond it , locals want their story to be told.
telephone number o f a Finnish contractor from a few dozen kilometres across the border. Next to the trailer was an old tour bus carrying the name o f a Finnish football club. Behind these there was a scene o f utter devastation. Only a few grand old pines had been left standing, and this because so far the site had only been covered with a harvester, manufactured i n Finland for Finnish conditions which do not feature trunks so thick, and which could not therefore fell such trees. They too would soon be torn down.
Clear-cutting, rarely practised around the small villages even during the Soviet period, is a tangible sign o f how times have changed. "We've lived from the forest all our lives," said Galina Vatanen, a schoolteacher from Vuokkiniemi, the largest o f the Karelian villages. "I n the last few years so much has been going on i n the forests around here." As logging continues, the landscape is undergoing constant change.
Until recently, the military presence ensured that the entire
The Ecologist, Vol . 27, No . 6, November/December 1997