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Karelian Language Day celebrated in Karelia

karjala keele päev

On this day in 2009, the President of the Republic of Finland, Tarja Halonen, adopted a decision to grant Karelian the status of a minority language in Finland, thus making Karelian one of the minority languages of the European Union.

In recent years, this day has been increasingly celebrated not only in Finland, but also in Russian Karelia, mainly on the initiative of Karelian social organisations, but also by the social network ‘Official status for the Karelian language in the Republic of Karelia’. Karelia is the only republic in the Russian Federation where the language of the people whose name it bears does not have the status of a state or official language. The main reason given is that Karelian is written in the Latin alphabet, but according to a decision of the Russian State Duma in 2004, only a language using the Cyrillic alphabet can be the state language.

In Petrozavodsk, however, the Karelian Language Day has been celebrated since 2018, so it has become a tradition. A traditional feature is that it is celebrated in a different place and in a different way every year. This time, the day was celebrated at the Faculty of Finno-Ugric Folk Music of the Petrozavodsk State Conservatoire, which turned 30 this year. This place is symbolic because it is one of the few places in the capital of the Republic of Karelia where the Karelian language and tunes can be heard. At the beginning of the meeting, the guests heard from the lecturers, Svetlana Nikolayeva and Igor Solovyov, an overview of the students’ research and instrumental work. A concert was held, during which Igor Solovyov and the students demonstrated their playing on the classical and the Hiiu kantele, as well as on various flutes. It was also possible to listen to Karelian poetry songs and jigs. At the end of the concert, Karelian folk dances were performed. During the party, a TV bridge with Helsinki was organised, and Mikul Pakhomov and Viola Pekkanen read Karelian poems and congratulated everyone on the Karelian Language Day.

As customary, there was traditional Karelian tea drinking, and Karelian pies and berry pies were brought to the table. The Karelian conversation focused on the Karelian language, folklore, as well as future cooperation between researchers and language activists. The gathering was congratulated on the occasion of the Karelian Language Day by Raisa Samodayeva, the Karelian leader elected at the 9th Karelian Congress. Representatives of the local ethnic communities – Estonians, Poles, Greeks, Azerbaijanis, Vepsians, Ludes – also came to congratulate. The greetings were in their mother tongues and in all Karelian languages.

Karelian (Ludic, Olonets and White Sea Karelian) is one of the fastest declining Finno-Ugric languages in the Russian Federation. The number of speakers decreased from 25 605 in 2010 to 13 872 in 2021, a decrease of 45.8%. In 2021, 26.1% of Karelians considered Karelian as their mother tongue. The majority of Karelians have switched to Russian.