President Halonen rejects compensation for Russian detainees at Finnish wartime concentration camps
Association of former detainees to appeal decision to European Court of Human Rights
By Jussi Konttinen
In the Russian Karelian city of Petrozavodsk, the association of children who were kept in Finnish concentration camps during the war plans to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights over a decision by President Tarja Halonen not to pay compensation to Russian civilians who were held in camps in East Karelia during the Finnish wartime occupation.
"We are currently preparing an appeal with the help of our lawyers, and we plan to send it to Strasbourg", says Klavdiya Njuppiyeva, the chairwoman of the association.
The association also plans to bring the matter before the Russian Duma. The group hopes that the Duma would pressure the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs to be in contact with Finland over the matter.
When Finland occupied East Karelia during the Continuation War of 1941 - 1944, Finland moved 25,000 Russian civilians to concentration camps. In October 1943 the camps were renamed "transfer camps".
The association of former prisoners began to actively pursue its demands for compensation last spring, after the publication of the book Menetetty lapsuus ("Lost Childhood"), by Marja-Leena Mikkola, which described the conditions prevailing at the concentration camps.
The association sent a letter to President Halonen, asking Finland to pay monetary compensation to living former prisoners.
In a response given in June, Halonen repeats the old Finnish view, according to which Finland will not pay compensation, because it already paid war reparations to the Soviet Union, and because the Peace Treaty of 1947 does not mention compensation to civilians.
"Damages cannot be paid out of Finnish state funds without Finnish legislation", wrote Halonen in her letter.
Several former detainees sent their demands to the Finnish State Treasury as private individuals, and got negative replies.
Njuppiyeva says that Halonen’s view has caused great disappointment and bitterness.
"We were in a concentration camp. Germany has paid compensation to the prisoners of their own concentration camps, so why should Finland not pay? The payment would be a great moral boost for those who have ben aggrieved. It would promote understanding and reconciliation", Njuppiyeva says.
"Many lost their health at the camps, and suffer from diseases of the bones, muscles, nervous system, and digestive tract. Children were left with permanent psychological traumas."
Njuppiyeva says that 8,000 former prisoners are still alive.
Germany has paid compensation to prisoners who were held in Finnish camps. In 1996 former detainees who had been held in the Finnish camps received humanitarian aid of 400 - 1,400 German marks each, and another 400 German marks in 1998.
At the moment, the foundation Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft (Memory, responsibility, and future), founded by the German state and German companies, distributes hundreds of millions of euros in compensation to 250,000 Russian citizens who had been held in German concentration camps.
The foundation channels the funds to the Foundation of Understanding and Reconciliation, set up by the Russian government, which pays out the money to the people involved. However, the Russian foundation has left the former detainees at the Finnish camps without compensation.
Njuppiyeva says that her association plans to complain about this decision as well.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 23.1.2005
More on this subject:
BACKGROUND: Many prisoners at Finnish camps starved to death
Former detainee laments lost childhood
JUSSI KONTTINEN / Helsingin Sanomat