Republic of Karelia

The Republic of Karelia is a large region in northwestern Russia, not far from both St. Petersburg and Moscow. It shares a long boarder with Finland, abuts the White Sea, and borders the Russian regions of Arkhengelsk to the east and Vologda in the south.
The capital, Petrozavodsk, was originally founded by Peter the Great in the eighteenth century as a place to manufacture cannons and other armaments for his wars against the Swedes, but settlers have been in the area since the Mesolithic era.
Karelia has since then been claimed by both Finland and Russia, and it wasn't until the reorganization of Russia after the Russian Revolution of 1918 that Karelia was created as an official Republic. From 1918 until 1991, Karelia was the Socialist Republic of Karelia, but after the dissolution of the Soviet Union it became the Republic of Karelia in the Russian Federation. Despite its large size - over 172,000 square kilometers - Karelia is sparsely populated, with approximately 800,000 people, comprised of more than 90 nationalities and ethnic groups. Most live in towns and cities, with over 270,000 living in the capital, Petrozavodsk. Because much of Karelia is still thickly forested, and because it contains the two largest lakes in Europe (Ladoga and Onego) within its borders, two of the major industries of the Republic are tourism and lumber. To Americans, Karelia resembles the northern portions of New England, both in terms of population and in topography.

The two major universities - the Petrozavodsk State University and the Karelian Pedagogical University - are located in the capital, as are the major centers of trade and government. The region boast an impressive number of historical monuments and cultural attractions, such as the "Kizhi," the world-famous museum park preserving old Russian wooden architecture of churches and other buildings, located on an island on Lake Onego. Other attractions include pre-historic carvings around Onego Lake and the White Sea. It is an area of great natural beauty, of pristine swaths of untouched wilderness, with over 60 thousand lakes and more than 25 thousand rivers, and offers tourists exceptional bird and whale watching, fishing and hiking.

Despite its natural resources, over the past century Karelia's economic prowess has declined sharply. Its basic economy has been lumbering and the paper industry, but also includes ore processing, stone work, fishing, metallurgy and other industries. During the twentieth century many wars, government upheaval and faulty tax and investment policies have devastated the economy and it remains one of Russia's poorer republics, with widespread unemployment and an extremely low per capita income, which is especially hard on the young and older populations.

The Karelian government is in the process of economic and social rebuilding by trying to retool its industries to the modern economy, build up its tourism industry, and by trying to create a stronger infrastructure of social and educational services.

Copyright © 2009 Karelian Scholarship Fund
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