Finno-Ugric Pan-Nationalism: Concepts History And Its Ideological Practice


The article considers the modern concept of the “Finno-Ugric world” as a pan-nationalistic idea. It points out the historical origins of the concept, the idea of "Great Finland" is given as an example of it. Nevertheless, it is not the first pan-nationalist idea became the cultural basis of the modern Finno-Ugric pan-nationalism. Its foundations should be sought in the Bolsheviks’ ethnic nationalism doctrine and in the post-Soviet evolution of this doctrine. The idea of "indigenous peoples" being the "main" peoples in "their" ethnic territories and being the symbolic owners of these territories impedes civic integration and the formation of strong regional identities due to the Soviet national policy. It also makes it possible to perceive titular ethnic communities as groups that are not integrated into the common cultural space of the country, and therefore these groups can independently form certain symbolic transboundary worlds. This position is reflected in the ideological constructions created by the ethnonational movements of the Russian Finno-Ugrians. The concept of the “Finno-Ugric World” presupposes the establishment of cultural links between regions and countries: folklore festivals, conferences, exhibitions and student exchanges. The idea may have an obvious political essence. The “world” was created only for internal Russian discourse, for Hungary, Finland and Estonia see themselves today as part of “united Europe”. The construction of the “Finno-Ugric World” is a cultural myth, the birth of which was promoted by scholars and politicians, which leads to a political interpretation of the ethnocultural heritage and the politicization of ethnicity.

Keywords: Finno-Ugric worldpan-nationalismethnicity“Great Finland”national ideology


In contemporary Russian ethnopolitical discourse, issues related to manifestations of ethnic nationalism are very actively discussed. However, the problems of pan-nationalism, that actively declared itself in the first half of the nineteenth century, do not attract much attention of researchers. This is connected with the conviction that pan-nationalism as a form of ideology itself has already become obsolete and as a concept is preserved only in the history of humanitarian knowledge. But in fact, pannationalism still exerts influence on political processes, which can be traced in the activities of the ethno-national movements of the Finno-Ugrians.

Problem Statement

The modern concept of the “Finno-Ugric world” is considered as a pan-nationalist idea. It is shown that the historical origins of the concept go back to the doctrine of "Great Finland". Not only the first pan-nationalist idea but also the political logic of modern Finno-Ugric pan-nationalism can be sought in the Soviet doctrine of ethnic nationalism.

Research Questions

The subject of the research is the modern concept of the “Finno-Ugric world” as a pan-nationalist idea in a historical and cultural retrospective.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study is an attempt to show the evolution of the “Finno-Ugric world” concept, starting from the idea of “Great Finland” and the doctrine of Soviet ethnic nationalism to the birth of post-Soviet images of ethnic nationalism created by the ideologists of the Finno-Ugric movements.

Research Methods

The research methods are based on complementary principles and approaches of historical cognition. The work is based on the principle of historicism, expressed in the fact that the object of study is considered in the time dynamics, i.e. from the standpoint of its occurrence time and the time of the study, taking into account the factors causing its development; the complexity principle, that allows us to consider the object of study as a system of interdependent elements and to reveal its multidimensionality.


The Ural peoples of Russia were an organic part of the Russian cultural and political landscape. According to the chronicles, then the Rurik’s rule and the formation of an early state union with the capital in Staraya Ladoga occurred as a result of a joint appeal of five tribes, of which three were Finnish. From historical sources it is known that one of the five Pyatnas of Veliky Novgorod was called Vodskaya, and among the lands that were part of the principality were the lands of Izhora, Vod, Karelians, and all of them, and later of Lopi. A significant number of representatives of the Finnish tribes lived in the cities: the Murom - in Murom, the Merya - in Suzdal. Numerous historical facts speak about the integration of the Finno-Ugric population into the common cultural and political space: the Finno-Ugric peoples were part of Dmitry Donskoy’s raid on the Kulikovo field, they participated in the Minin and Pozharsky militia, and they were also part of the 1812 Patriotic War militia. The very formation of the modern territory and cultural landscape of Russia took place with the direct participation of the Uralic peoples. In this regard, the accession of Siberia and the Far East is of particular importance. From the 16th century Komi-Zyrians traditionally took part in the Siberian expeditions, and therefore many villages in Western and Eastern Siberia are still called Zyryanovka, Zyryanka, etc. The centuries-old intercultural interaction with the peoples of Russia, which was cemented by a common history and common interests, led to the formation of a strong layer of cultural traditions among the Urals people, in which the obvious influence of their ethnic neighbors was observed. The folklore plots and holidays, the types of dwellings, clothing and food of the Baltic and Permian Finns were close to the northern Russian traditions, and in the culture of the Volga Finns, in addition to Russian influence, the influence of Tatar traditions is also evident. The least Russian influence was noticeable in the culture of Estonians and Finns. German culture had a significant impact on Estonians, and Swedish culture had an impact on Finns. In order to weaken this influence and strengthen the local self-consciousness, and thus loyalty to the imperial power, the Russian government encouraged the process of national awakening in Estonia and Finland. In the Grand Duchy of Finland, national awakening processes begin shortly after its accession in 1809 to the Russian Empire. Since the 1860s the national awakening stage in Finland is replaced by the nationalistic construction stage. By the end of the XIX century through the efforts of scholars and artists, the cultural identity of a considerable part of the Finnish elite was transformed into a national idea, the basis of which was “Karelianism”. The founder of the Karelian movement A.V. Ervasti after his trip to Olonets province wrote that beyond the eastern border of the Grand Duchy of Finland is not foreign land, but Karelia that should be considered the common ancestral home for the Finns and the Karelians (as cited in Hautala, 1968). The idea of Karelia as an integral part of the coming “Ideal Fatherland” organically entered the fundamental Finnish national myth” (Shabayev, Sadokhin, & Sharapov, 2015). The development of this myth was based in Helsingfors in 1883 of the Finno-Ugric society, which aimed to study the kindred Finno-Ugric peoples and languages (Ravila, 1933; Lehtinen, 1992), as well as the efforts of the cultural elite aimed at finding a place for Finns in the cultural space of Europe. As a result of these searches, the first pan-nationalist idea of the Finno-Ugrians was born - the concept of “Great Finland”. This concept was introduced to the public sphere by the Finnish public figure K.E. Leplund. In the original version, it was a cultural idea, suggesting the unification of the kindred Finno-Ugric peoples under the patronage of Finland. In its content, the obscure idea was close to the concept of Slavic reciprocity and Slavic unity, which was finalized at the first All-Slavic Congress, held in 1848 in Prague. The idea of “Great Finland” turned into a political doctrine between the two world wars, when the President of Finland, P.E. Svinhufvud, Russia was declared the only and permanent enemy of the country, and official propaganda led a campaign of hatred towards the Russians. The Soviet model of national politics played a major role in shaping the pan-nationalist concept of the “Finno-Ugric World”. After the Bolsheviks’ victory, they adopted the doctrine of ethnic nationalism, the essence of which is illustrated by its two main provisions: 1) each ethnic group must have its own national-state formation, 2) within its own state formation, this group receives the status of "indigenous", and the rest of the population belonged to "non-indigenous" residents" (Tishkov, 1993). The territory of the state was divided into union and autonomous republics, districts, etc. The need for such a step was dictated by the desire to get political support from numerous ethnic minorities. Therefore, the Bolshevism ideologists spoke of the need for special attention to these cultural groups’ interests (Lenin, 1986). Despite the fact that the Bolsheviks recognized the independence of Finland on January 4, 1918, the Finns believed that their relatives in the north were also trying to follow the path of creating independent states and saw their mission in supporting them on their way to self-identification. In 1918-1920 they fought for Eastern Karelia. Its result was the conclusion of the Tartu Treaty in 1920, according to which not only the border between Russia and Finland was established, but the Karelians were guaranteed autonomy in Russia (Vahtola, 2003). In the early 1920s the Soviet state began to implement large-scale plans related to the solution of the nation-building issue. According to the terms of the Tartu Treaty, the Karelians should have received autonomy and for the authorities it was not important whether the autonomy was necessary for the Karelians themselves, but only who would create this autonomy and what geopolitical issues it would have to solve. As for geopolitical issues, they were clearly defined - Karelian autonomy should become a springboard for the alleged Bolshevik expansion into Scandinavia. Therefore, the leaders of the Karelian labor commune, created in 1920, were quite logically not Karelians or Vepsians, but Finns, or rather the so-called “Red Finns”, who were defeated during the Finnish civil war. Attempts to create Karelian and Veppsian writing "red" Finns thought to be chauvinistic, politically incorrect and considered it as "fooling the dark masses" (Survo & Survo, 2009). The political ambitions of the “red Finns” were far from the cultural development of autonomy, they sought to strengthen their leadership by expanding their subordinate territories and turning autonomy into a vast and significant subject of Soviet Russia. The ideological credo of the new Karelia authorities was nationalism in its version, which was supported by the “red Finns” and assumed a course towards the “Finnization” of Karelia and the hard division of Karelian society into “indigenous” and “non-indigenous” inhabitants. There were no serious aspirations in favor of autonomy either among the other Finnish and Samoyed peoples of the European north. Even the “embryos” of ethnonational movements did not arise in the territories where these peoples lived. The ideas of autonomy were borrowed by individual representatives of local elites during the process of their bolshevization. They were ideological or spontaneous nationalists and did not understand the need to form integrated civil societies in the republics and districts (they did not accept the republican ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity also). A Finnish historian Kauppala (2004), who positively assesses the idea of state-building in Karelia and Komi, notes: “Neither in Karelia nor in Komi a typical Finnish ideology stating that Finns and Swedes are a united bilingual nation” (p. 252). The same can be said about the formation of Soviet autonomy among the Volga Finns. It also formed divided communities based not on civil solidarity, but on cultural hierarchies, which became the basis for the post-Soviet “ethnic renaissance”, politicization of ethnicity and the construction of some extraterritorial symbolic communities not related to the common cultural space of the country. Then in the 1920-1930s the foundations of regional elite political groups and their ethno-centrist worldview had been formed. Despite the fact that the borders, statuses, official languages of the national-state entities of the Urals have changed several times, the cultural hierarchies and the idea of “indigenous people” as the main people in a given territory remained unchanged. In 1994, this idea was enshrined in the Constitution of the Komi Republic: “The Komi people are the source of the statehood of the Komi Republic”. Instead of fundamental legal norms (only the right to self-determination, which is not possessed by a separate ethnic group, but a territorial community as a whole, can be a source of statehood), ideas of ethnic nationalism were constituted. The Constitution of Karelia, adopted in 2001, states: “The historical and national peculiarities of the Republic of Karelia are determined by the Karelians living on its territory” (RF Government, 2001, para. 3). And it turns out that the Vepsians, Finns and Russian starozhily population do not determine the national characteristics of this republic. Fundamental changes in the worldview and positions of regional elites, despite the officially approved project of forming a Russian civil nation, did not happen. This can be judged by the republican concepts of ethno-cultural education and ethnopolitical practices, in which the idea of civic integration is not emphasized. The ideas of “indigenous peoples” as “main” peoples in “their” ethnic territories that are rooted in Soviet national policies hinder civic integration and the formation of strong regional identities and make it possible to perceive titular ethnic communities as groups with “special rights”. Therefore, these groups can independently, without regard for the interests of the territorial community as a whole, form certain “worlds” that allegedly meet the interests of selected cultural groups.


The modern pan-nationalist concept of the “Finn-Ugric world” was born on the rise of ethnonational movements in the early 1990s, as a form of symbolic development of some common historical and cultural heritage of the Finno-Ugric peoples (Nanovfszky, 2004). In terms of content, the concept of the “Finno-Ugric world” is based on the natural-philosophical (primordial) understanding of the ethnicity’s nature (Hutchinston, 1992) and is an attempt to fill the historical archaic, that is, the ancient language, ancestral homeland and pra-Finno-Ugric community, that supposedly were formed before the end of the 3rd millennium BC in the Urals or the Trans-Urals (Khaidu, 1985; Abondolo, 1998). In this respect, the ideology of ethnonationalism and pan-nationalism of Finno-Ugric peoples is not different from the ideology of Russian nationalism, for which The Slavophile myth was important (Ianov, 1999). The construction of the “Finno-Ugric World” is a cultural myth (Saarinen, 2003), promoted by scholars and politicians (Barth, 1963), which led to the political interpretation of the ethnocultural heritage and the design of ethnic ideals. The concept of “Finno-Ugric world” presupposes, first of all, the establishment of cultural links between regions and countries: folklore festivals, conferences, exhibitions and student exchanges. With all this, the idea may have an obvious political essence. The “world” was created only for internal Russian discourse, because Hungary, Finland and Estonia see themselves today, first of all, as a part of the united Europe and a common “European home”. Even the struggle for Finnishness in Finland and Hungarianism in Hungary that has intensified in recent years does not fundamentally change the situation. At the same time, the construction of the “world” is a convenient tool of both cultural and political influence on Russia, which has already taken place in practice (Tishkov & Shabayev, 2007). And since many state and public institutions are involved in the propaganda and design of the concept of the “Finno-Ugric world”, the concept of the “Finno-Ugric world” will be in demand in the future.


The article was prepared with the support of the Integrated Program of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences for 2018-2020, project 18-9-6-10 Vectors of changes in lifestyle, cultural orientations and business systems in local communities of the Arctic and Subarctic (on the example of the northern territories of the Komi Republic, the Arkhangelsk region and Nenets Autonomous Okrug).


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Mironova, N., & Shabaev*, Y. (2019). Finno-Ugric Pan-Nationalism: Concepts History And Its Ideological Practice. In D. Karim-Sultanovich Bataev, S. Aidievich Gapurov, A. Dogievich Osmaev, V. Khumaidovich Akaev, L. Musaevna Idigova, M. Rukmanovich Ovhadov, A. Ruslanovich Salgiriev, & M. Muslamovna Betilmerzaeva (Eds.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, vol 76. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 2824-2829). Future Academy.