13 May 2022

Four hundred years ago Ingrian Finns settled on the territory of St. Petersburg and Leningrad region. Who are they and how their descendants live today

Ingrian Finns were among St. Petersburg’s first residents. They settled in the territory of today’s St. Petersburg in the 17th century and were involved in the construction of the city. During the Soviet era they survived repression and deportation and in the 1990s the majority of them emigrated to Finland. Paperpaper.ru research department contacted dozens of Ingrian Finns’ descendants living in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region who continue to keep their traditions and culture.

How did Ingrian Finns settle the lands of the river Neva? What challenges do modern Ingrians face? And who supports their culture today? Here are the main results of our research.

Ingrian Finns have been living on the territory of today’s St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region since the 17th century

The 17th century Swedes called the river Neva lands “Ingria”. At that time Sweden was at war with Russia: its army took Novgorod and laid siege to Pskov and Tikhvin. The Treaty of Stolbovo was signed in 1617 and under that agreement Russia lost access to the Baltic sea as well as Ivangorod, Koporye and Oreshek fortresses. As a result Ingria’s ortodox population — Russians, Izhors, Vod, Karelians — fled their homes. Finnish migrants took their place since the Swedish government had offered them some benefits such as exemption from military service, for example.

The territory of today’s Gatchina, Pavlovsk and the fortress Oreshek surroundings were settled by Savakot — one of the two main ethnic groups of Ingrians from the South-East of Finland. The other one — the Äyrämöiset — from the Äyräpää region on Karelian Isthmus settled on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland.

Under the Treaty of Stolbovo, the population of Ingria was guaranteed religious freedom. However, Ingria’s ortodox residents were the subject of constant harassment: they were not allowed to trade and appear in court. Also, the Swedes preached Lutheranism and imposed it on the conquered territory. As a result the indeginous population began to leave Ingria, thus Savakot and Äyrämöiset became the first Ingrian Finns. Later they were joined by those Izhors, Vod and Karelians who had turned to Lutheranism.

In the 18th century Ingrians participated in the foundation of St. Petersburg and were among its first residents

During the Great Northern War (1700 – 1721) Peter I regained Ingria. Ingrian Finns participated in the founding of St. Petersburg and were among its first residents. According to the tax paying population census, 58, 979 peasants lived in Ingria: 22, 986 Finns, 14, 511 Izhors, 5883 “old” Russian residents, 10, 457 immigrants from Russian cities.

Peter the Great provided Ingrians with religious freedom. So Finns continued to move to St. Petersburg province, were engaged in trade and worked as coachmen. Every tenth Ingrian family raised orphans and was paid for doing it by the government. In 1782 the first Finnish primary school was built near Gatchina. The Finnish nationalist movement, the Fennoman, started growing in the 19th century. They favored the transfer from Swedish language to Finnish for educated classes of the population. They were also advocating for its official status and the creation of Finnish national state.

In St. Petersburg province, Fennoman supporters opened more than 200 Finnish public schools. At the same time they began to sell Finnish newspapers. In 1917 Ingrian Finns started creating local authorities and held two meetings in April and September. However, after the revolution the Soviet government declared these authorities bourgeois and nationalist. Finnish newspapers were closed.

In June 1919, 150-200 (the numbers later increased to 400) armed Ingrians took customs post Kirjasalo in the Lembolovo region, situated 50 kilometers from Petrograd. They declared the independence of Northern Ingria, but were able to keep it only until the autumn of 1920.

During the Soviet era Ingrian Finns were repressed and deported

In the early 1930s those Finnish families who didn’t join collective farms were declared to be “kulaks” and forcibly relocated from the Leningrad region to the Murmansk region, Krasnoyarsk Krai and Yakutia. In general around 27 000 Finns were deported in 1935. In 1937-1939 Finnish national village councils, formed in the 1920s, were eliminated along with Finnish newspapers and educational organizations.

During the Great Patriotic War Finns who lived in Leningrad were evacuated to Arkhangelsk, Vologda, Kirov, Irkutsk regions, Western Siberia and Yakutia. A lot of them were living there as special settlers, unable to leave. In 1946 the special settlers regime was lifted but the Ingria Finns were banned from moving to the Leningrad region. The only exception were Great Patriotic War veterans. The ban also applied to Ingria returnees from Finland who were settled in neighboring regions.

We don’t know the exact number of the victims of political repressions. In 2000 at the Congress of Slavists in Tampere it was reported that 65, 000 out of 134, 000 Finns in the USSR had been repressed.

Ingria Finns were rehabilitated in the late 20th century. In 1990 the repatriation programme started and 30, 000 people moved to Finland

Passport restrictions were removed from the Ingrians back in 1954 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs order. However this did not lead to their mass relocation to the Leningrad region since they were not guaranteed the return of their property. Ingrians were scattered over the USSR, and a lot of families stopped speaking their native language.

The battle for Ingrians rehabilitation resumed in the late 1980s.

One example of organisation which defended the interests of Finns was the Ingria Union (“Inkerin Liitto”), founded in 1989. In 1993 Russian Finns were rehabilitated by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation. Due to the severe economic situation in Russia in the 90s a lot of them moved to Finland under a repatriation program was launched by President Mauno Koivisto. This program was running until 2016. According to Finnish Migration Service, up to 30, 000 Ingrian returnees and their descendants had benefited from it.

In 1977 Ingrian Lutherans were able to create a parish in Pushkin. In 1991 with the help of Finnish and Swedish citizens a Lutheran church in Gubanitsy was reconstructed. On January 1, 1992, the work of the independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria resumed.

People who have Ingrian roots often identify themselves with Ingrian Finns due to family traditions

During our research, St. Petersburg citizens who think of themselves as Ingrians told Paperpaper.ru that it was Finnish language that pushed them to study their nationality.

Inna Nippolainen, Ingrian Finn:

— My great-grandmother died when I was 14 years old. We were taking some of [her] things, and found a bag with photos. <…> Going through these pictures I saw that my great-grandmother signed them in Finnish, although she spoke Russian as well.

I realized that in our family neither my father nor her other grandchildren would have understood these captions. But I was wondering what she had written. I didn’t know her at all: she died when I was a teenager, and before that she was ill and we didn’t speak to each other a lot. It turned out to be the only way of communication. I couldn’t understand the language she used to speak to me through these captions. That is when I decided to learn Finnish.

In the stories of Ingrians from 25 to 30 years old, grandparents were most often named as the guides into the culture of the Ingria.

There are 18 parishes of the Church of Ingria in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria, operates in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region and consists of 18 parishes. All services are conducted in Russian and Finnish. One of the parishes is situated in Annenkirche — St. Anne’s Lutheran Church — on Kirochnaya Street.

The Church of Ingria received state registration in 1992, but its history began in the 17th century. In 2011, the Church celebrated its 400th anniversary.

According to the Ingrians, who were interviewed by Paperpaper.ru, the Church of Ingria unites the Ingrian community, which is mainly divided into small groups and individuals. A solemn rite of admission to the Church community is an important part of the Ingrian and Lutheran culture called confirmation.

Confirmation can be done at any age: to get it, children go to Sunday school and confirmation camp and adults prepare with the rector.

The main purpose of the Church of Ingria is the development of Lutheranism, and not the revival of Ingrian culture. According to one version, it is the reason why the Ingrian culture fades out

First of all the Church of Ingria deals with Lutheranism, not Finnish culture. Rector of the Theological Institute of the Church of Ingria (TICI), pastor Ivan Laptev told Paperpaper.ru the church, with the exception of some small parishes, focuses primarily on religion, and not on nationality. For this reason, the Church does not have to hold services in Finnish only.

Ivan Laptev, TICI rector:

— At the dawn of the revival, [in the 1980s], it was decided that the Church was not only for the Ingrian Finns, but for everyone. We follow religion more than any national traditions. There still remains the connection of the Church with historical roots. We have an old liturgy in Finnish by Mooses Putro (Ingrian composer, author of the hymn of Ingria, as well as church hymns — note Paperpaper.ru). Anyway, if the liturgy is in Finnish, there is almost always a translation into Russian.

However, Laptev admits that during the revival of the Ingrian community, it was important for its representatives to preserve their identity. Laptev believes that “to a certain point it helped to preserve the faith and those things that needed to be shared”. In his opinion, there are still parishes of the Church of Ingria, in which national identity comes first.

According to ethnographer Olga Konkova, initially the Lutheran church contributed to a certain “fading” of folk culture, as it separated ordinary and church life and did not support folk holidays and rituals, recognizing them as pagan.

Olga Konkova, director of the Center for Indigenous Peoples of the Leningrad Region:

— Initially the Church had the function of uniting Ingrian Finns, and starting from the 19th century, choirs, embroidery and sobriety circles operated at Lutheran parishes and holidays were organized.Now due to the fact that there are few Ingrian Finns, the official doctrine [of the church is] that it is not only the Finnish church, but the church of all. Services are often held in Russian. Some folk traditions are completely gone. After all, it was the Lutheran faith that was one of the pillars of ethnic self-determination for the Ingrian Finns. And the Lutheran Church has always been very strict in relation to ancient folk traditions and archaic folklore and therefore did not accept them.

In addition to services, the Church of Ingria organizes Finnish language courses, family and children’s camps, excursions, lectures and holidays. The Theological Institute of the Church of Ingria in the village of Kolbino trains pastors and theologians.

The Ingrian Finns have their own traditional holidays. Once again the celebration of Yuhannus marked the beginning of the culture revival

One of the main holidays of the Ingrian Finns is Yuhannus. It used to be a pagan holiday of the solstice, which later became associated with the image of John the Baptist. It is celebrated on Saturday around the 20th of June with a music festival outdoors and a huge fire in the evening.

Susanna Parkkinen, Ingrian Finn:

— Yuhannus is a very important holiday in Finland. In Ingria, it was also celebrated on a grand scale: it was the Ingrian composer Mooses Putro who proposed to organize an annual song and dance festival. Then, during the years of repression and Soviet times, the holiday was not celebrated officially. The Inkerin Liitto Society was partly created so that Yuhannus would finally be officially organized. Inkerin Liitto was registered in 1988 and in the summer of 1989 the first Yuhannus was held in Koltushi. During the early years at least 2 thousand people attended this holiday each year. It was impossible to simply invite them to a certain location without giving a notice to the state (which at that time was still the USSR).

Ingrian people celebrate two Christmases at once — Big and Little. Big, like the Catholic one, takes place on the night of December 24-25. Traditionally Finns celebrate Big Christmas with their family. Little Christmas doesn’t have an exact date, it is celebrated shortly before the Big one with friends.

Another important Ingrian holiday is Laskiainen, or “Finnish Maslenitsa”. It is held for one day 40 days before Easter. According to Konkova, the main difference from the Russian Maslenitsa is that the Finns celebrate it not during a week, but only for one day. They would go sledding, singing carnival songs believing it would contribute to the future harvest. However, having been influenced by the Russian traditions, pancakes, burning a scarecrow and jumping over a fire are popular in Laskiainen as well.

The Inkerin Liitto Society operates in
St. Petersburg and supports the Ingrian Finns

Inkerin Liitto Society began its work in 1988. To be admitted to the organization it is necessary to prove your Finnish roots and pay an annual membership fee.

There are around 9, 000 members in the Inkerin Liitto Society but in 2016 only 300 members paid their fees. A lot of Ingrians moved to Finland under the repatriation program or simply lost contact with the community.

Inkerin Liitto Society representatives told Paperpaper.ru that its main sources of income are membership fees, grants and Finnish language courses. Organization also cooperates with Leningrad region administration which helps to organize Yuhannus festivals. It also has links with the House of Finland in St. Petersburg and the House of Nationalities.

Inkerin Liitto Society is not only engaged in educational activities but also performs social work. The organization took part in construction of several nursing homes and the Employment Center, which had been helping to acquire new professional qualifications since the 1990s.

Inkerin Liitto Society representatives also participate in the work of the Parliament of Foreign Finns, which represents the Ingrian Finns in the movement of the Finno-Ugric peoples and in the Organization of unrepresented countries and peoples. Moreover, “Inkerin Liitto” took part in resolving the issue of the rehabilitation of the Ingrians and helped them to leave for Finland under the repatriation program.

The Church of Ingria and “Inkerin Liitto” work separately from each other. One of the reasons was the repatriation of Russian Finns in the 90s

Many respondents confirmed that The Church of Ingria and “Inkerin Liitto” operated independently. The leaders of both organizations also pay attention to the low level of interaction. According to one of the founders of “Inkerin Liitto” Vladimir Kokko, for the society it is important to promote Finnish culture among Ingrians, and yet for the church the first priority is Lutheran traditions.

During our research Ingrain Finns told Paperpaper.ru that one of the reasons for the separation of the Church and “Inkerin Liitto” was the repatriation program that Finland organized in the 1990s. “Inkerin Liitto” was arranging this process in St. Petersburg. Ingrian Finns, who opposed the repatriation, believed that “Inkerin Liitto” had contributed to the drain of Ingrians from Russia.

Susanna Parkkinen, Ingrian Finn:

— Generally “Inkerin Liitto” had a relatively neutral point of view on repatriation: it didn’t attempt to convince people to leave, but it didn’t prevent them from submitting their applications, helped to search for archive information, and processed requests.

That’s why some people have a stereotype that society helped all these people to leave. Or even that “Inkerin Liitto” is to blame for people leaving. A lot of church employees also left. But the church itself did not play any part in the repatriation programme. That’s why they do not mention the church in such a context. <…> My father was completely against repatriation. There was some division among the Ingrias: there were those who did not welcome the move at all, even considered it a betrayal of other Ingrians, and those who considered these processes to be correct and well-timed.

However, the Ingrian people do not believe that there is a serious conflict between “Inkerin Liitto” and the church. Today both structures are ready to cooperate, their members communicate, some Ingrians attend the Lutheran church and are members of Inkerin Liitto at the same time.

The Ingrian flag is also used by the regionalists of St. Petersburg. The Ingrian Finns community confirms that it is not linked to the movement

Paperpaper.ru spoke to many Ingrian Finns who criticized the “Free Ingria” regionalist movement, which advocates for “the transformation of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region into an autonomous republic with the possibility of further self-determination”.

Representatives of the Ingrian community, who were interviewed by Paperpaper.ru during the research, believe that the supporters of “Free Ingria” are not related to the indigenous Ingrian people. Many members of the community do not support the position of Free Ingria.

Susanna Parkkinen, Ingrian Finn:

— Under our flag and under our name, these people, [members of Free Ingria], participate in various rallies, hold actions, discuss independent Ingria in social media, vote on the future of Ingria <…> The way all this is presented — not a single Ingrian Finn would go for such a thing. Cultural autonomy is one thing, it could be beneficial for local Finns. But independence? From whom? Only 0.05 % of the population are Ingrian Finns In St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region. Even if we separate the Leningrad region from Russia, what will change? Will everyone become native speakers of the Ingrian language and keepers of the culture?

Interviewed Ingrians think that “Free Ingria” creates problems for them by speaking on political issues on their behalf. As a result Ingrians occasionally have misunderstandings with the authorities, community member Toivo Pumalainen told Paperpaper.ru.

Toivo Pumalainen, Ingrian Finn:

— Someone has prejudice about the Finns in general, someone expresses such prejudice because of these new movements like “Free Ingria”. People take our flag, go to various events, [voice] some dubious slogans. Supposedly basing their research in history, they pull facts out of context and use them for their own purpose. <…> For example there is a question about the flag. We are trying to hold all events in coordination with the administrations, but there have already been several cases when local authorities forbade the use of the Ingrian flag. <…> A lot of people are not ready to get involved and learn about each other, hence the difficulties take place.

Parkkinen told Paperpaper.ru that she and other Ingria Finns tried to get in touch with coordinators of “Free Ingria” in “Vkontakte”. There is a group that has 4 000 members. But they were blacklisted.

As Dmitry Vitushkin, coordinator of the St. Petersburg regionalist movement, told Paperpaper.ru, people of any nationality can be among the activists. According to him, this movement is civil, not ethnic, and advocates for “the return of the historical name Ingria to the region”. At the same time, Vitushkin insists that the flag has more to do with the territory of Ingria than with the Finns.

In 2010, 441 people in Russia identified themselves as Ingrian

During the 2010 census, 441 Russian Finns, that is to say, ethnic Finns living in Russia, out of 20 thousand, indicated their nationality as “Ingrian”.

Representatives of the Ingrian community, told Paperpaper.ru that in everyday life they do not have any items which attribute them to their nationality — only a few have a national costume. Costumes and attributes of the traditional Ingrian way of life are represented in the Russian Ethnographic Museum.

Paperpaper.ru asked the respondents what qualities, in their opinion, described the Ingrian Finns. They said it was honesty, responsibility, restraint and respect for work.

According to Bumaga research there are fewer and fewer young people in the Ingrian community

Almost all the Ingrians interviewed by Paperpaper.ru think that the main problem of the community is that almost no young people are joining it.

The lack of active participants from 20 to 35 years old is connected with the fact that Ingrian Finns who went through exile during the Soviet era were afraid to communicate in Finnish and did not pass it on to their children and grandchildren. Community representative Dmitry Polyakov, told Paperpaper.ru that previous generations are partly to blame for the absence of a young Ingrian generation.

Dmitry Polyakov, Ingrian Finn:

— There are no young people. I think this is the fault of the older generation, too, because of its narrow-mindedness. <…> Also there is a problem that the older generation is afraid to let the younger one to rule. <…> The people who lead the society today are those who over past years were used to confirm their significance. A person feels good when he is needed and understands that he is in demand. When you are managing something for a long time, no matter what, you become afraid to give everything away and it seems that only you know what is right.

The Ingrians themselves confirm that their community is not developing: too much attention is paid to the preservation of traditions and little new is offered. Polyakov believes that today the Ingrians have a definite need for a generational change, otherwise “society will be lost.”

Literature used in the text: Vadim Musaev, “Political History of Ingermanland”.

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