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The territory behind the eastern border of Finland, which had long been populated by Karelians, Russian Karelia, White Karelia and Aunus were called Eastern Karelia in Finland.

Most of the poems in the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, have been collected from that area. When the ideas of Finnish nationalism gained ground at the end of the 19th century, some supporters of Great Finland hoped that the territory would be incorporated to Finland. It is true that the Finnish population of the territory was inspired by the same idea, but most of them still preferred the traditional administration.

At the beginning of 1918, the supporters of tribal ideas began to organize expeditions in order to persuade the Easters Karelians to join in Finland. The Senate and the Commander-in-Chief supported the project. Mannerheim went even a step further and promised not to put his sword into the scabbard (the Order of the Day of the Sword Scabbard), until White Karelia and Aunus were liberated from Lenin’s soldiers. After Germany and Russia had signed the Brest Peace Treaty on 3 March, 1918, the policy of the Finnish government became more cautious.

In April and May 1918, preparations were made in Mannerheim’s headquarters for an operation in Aunus, in order to encourage tribal thinking and to assist Russian whites in the occupation of St Petersburg. The Senate, however, prevented this project from being carried out. Mannerheim believed that the white Russians would show their gratitude by ceding Eastern Karelia to Finland (St Petersburg question).

The idea of incorporating Eastern Karelia to Finland became more intense during the tribal war expeditions in 1918-1922, and afterwards when Akateeminen Karjala Seura (Academic Karjala Association), which was founded by graduates, and other similar organizations supporting tribal ideas were rather powerful. Mannerheim did not, however, publicly give his support to these projects any more, and in the 1930s they were overshadowed by other plans.

It was not until late spring 1941, when Germany was planning the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that the representatives of the tribal organizations were again assigned the task to form tribal battallions and make preparations for arranging the administration of Eastern Karelia in case of occupation. Both the state and military leaders found it necessary to take the responsibility for Eastern Karelia when and if the Soviet Union was dissolved. The territory populated by Finnish tribes could be incorporated to Finland in connection of the peace conference, which opened entirely new financial possibilities.

At the initial stages of the Continuation War the incorporation of Eastern Karelia was quite openly discussed, and 10 July, 1941, Mannerheim issued an Order of the Day, in which White Karelia and Aunus were again conspicuously presented. In autumn 1941 the Finnish troops occupied a considerable part of Eastern Karelia, and the military administration of Eastern Karelia was established there by order of the Commander-in-Chief.

The Soviet Union had managed to evacuate the bulk of the inhabitants from the territory, and only half of the remaining population could be considered Finnish in some respects. The Russian-speaking population near the front line was confined to big camps. Economically this arrangement proved disadvantegous to Finland, as Finland was partly responsible for the maintenance of these camps.

The representatives of the military administration were preparing the process of making the territory Finnish. Petroskoi, for example, was given the Finnish name Äänislinna. The Lutheran Church, which considered the area unreligious, made efforts to convert the population into Lutheranism. A great many of the people living in the area, however, were Orthodox by faith, and Mannerheim found it necessary to set exact limits to the conversion enthusiasm of the Lutheran priests.

As the Finish occupation of the territory came to an end in 1944, only a few thousand Eastern Karelians followed the Finns to Finland. The rest of the Finnish-speaking population stayed there, and found themselves in a precarious position, because the suspicions of the Soviet Union were now directed to them. A great deal of energy was spent to collect evidence against the Finnish occupiers, but few cases led to charges of war crimes. All in all, it could be said that the Finnish occupiers managed to handle the situation better than was the case in other European and Asian territories.

Commander-in-Chief 1918 | Headquarters 1918 | Vaasa Senate | Hannes Ignatius  | Martin Wetzer | Harald Hjalmarson | Ernst Linder | Gösta Theslöf | Jägers | St Petersburg Question | Relations with Germany | Cross of Liberty | Eastern Karelia | Uusimaa Dragoon Regiment | Fir Twig | Finnish Flag | Swedish Brigade | Civil Guards | Jäger Conflict | Heikki Kekoni | Red Prisoners | Wilhelm Thesleff  | Aarne Sihvo | Rudolf Walden  | Air Force - Air Weapon | Red and White Terrorism | Great Parade 16 May, 1918 | Åland Question | Monarchy | Mannerheim's Resignation