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Tver Karelians Struggle to Preserve Their Language and Culture (Photo Essay)

Karelian population has dwindled from 150,000 people in the 1930s, to today

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This article originally appeared at Russia Beyond The Headlines


Tver Karelia is a part of the Tver region, a two-hour drive from Moscow, which for the last 500 years has been inhabited by Karelians, a small but proud ethnic group.

The Karelian language is unique in that it is still spoken in its archaic form and does not borrow vacabulary from other Baltic-Finnish tongues.  

Despite years of proximity and close contacts with Russians, the Tver Karelians are struggling to preserve their native language, culture, customs and traditions.

Karelians are generally of medium height, fair-haired, with grey-blue (rarely dark) eyes. Among their distinctive traits of character are abruptness, resourcefulness and great attachment to nature and their land.

In 1930 the region was home to around 150 000 Karelians, but only about 15 000 by 2002. The national roots of the Tver Karelians lie in village life.

The village of Klyuchevoy in the Maksatihinsky district of Tver region is a large village, where the inhabitants still speak the Karelian language.

More than 100 houses in the village were once inhabited. There was a farm, not rich, but productive. They used to plant buckwheat, rye, oats, barley and potatoes and keep cows, calves, pigs, chickens, sheep and horses.

There used to be a village administration, hospital, library, post office, club, school, church, dairy and bakery.

Locals provided themselves with all necessary household items. They made boots and shoes, wove baskets and clothes made of flax, embroidered shirts and hats, made troughs, barrels and dishes, produced tar, steamed cranberries, went fishing and baked sulchiny (a kind of flat cake).

In 1958 the village received an electricity and water supply system. A lot of people lived there. People celebrated both Soviet and Orthodox holidays together.

Today only 25 houses out of 150 are inhabited. By January 1, 2014, there were fewer than 100 permanent residents, mostly of retirement age.

People here have close family ties. At the very least they try to preserve culinary traditions: they pickle cottage cheese for the winter, brew beer, cook thick cranberry or oatmeal kissel and cook eggs in a stove.

But youngsters leave the village. Now there are only three children left.

Although the village club, library, museum, shop and post office are still working, the village administration and the school are closed. The last pupil graduated from the 4th grade in 2013; her mother taught her.

Despite the depressing statistics, the Tver Karelian self-appointed authorities are working on a solution and hope to preserve the language and culture of the Karelian people, their history and customs.

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