Three Generations: A Long-Term Study in the Human Geography of Finland

By Mead, W. R. | Geography, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

Three Generations: A Long-Term Study in the Human Geography of Finland


Mead, W. R., Geography


ABSTRACT:

This study began with an intensive field investigation in 1949-50 of a sample of the displaced farming families who were evacuated from Finnish Karelia when it was ceded to the USSR in 1944. The samples studied were settled in a virgin forest area in east central Finland. There was continuing contact after 1950, with an intensive repeat investigation in 1975 and a more descriptive appraisal after the turn of the millennium. The first generation created a new place in which to live and work, receiving direct financial support from the state for forest clearance, drainage, construction work and for every piece of reclaimed cultivated land. The concern was essentially with the local. The second generation, born with attachment to the new homestead, continued to receive state assistance but, as a result of changing agricultural legislation, were aware of national horizons. Members of the third generation, inheriting a keen sense of the place where they were born and benefiting from the labours of their immediate ancestors in the creation of viable farms, are acutely aware of the way in which the world economic situation at large and the regulations of the European Union in particular directly affect their working lives.

The context

One of the consequences of the second World War was that millions of Europe's farming families became displaced refugees. The resettlement problems were of such a magnitude that they defied academic investigations. There was, however, one independent European country which, although belligerent, had not been occupied during hostilities, where an enquiry into the resettlement operation was a possibility In 1944, Finland had lost a tenth of its territory principally the province of Karelia in the southeast of the country - to the USSR. The entire population of some 400,000 left the ceded territory and had to be resettled in the remainder of the country.

A visit to Finland in 1947 suggested that the resettlement programme presented opportunities for projects in human geography Curiously, only one Finnish research group displayed any interest in the resettlement process. It consisted of sociologists working under Heikki Waris, Helsinki's newly appointed professor of sociology The team was given a substantial grant by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1948. The following year, entirely independently, the Foundation provided the author with a personal grant to undertake an enquiry into the resettlement of a community of displaced Karelian farmers' families. The 1949 empirical study adopted the model of the nineteenth-century pioneering French sociologist Frederick Ie Play (1855) whose remarkable statistical surveys against the background of Place, Folk and Work yielded some of the first European data on rural working families. The 1949 investigation also introduced the element of time - the use of time in the working day, variations resulting from seasonally and changes following the length of occupancy of the pioneering holdings.

The first enquiry

The 400,000 evacuees included some 35,000 farming families. In order to accommodate them on new holdings a programme of compulsory land acquisition had to be enforced. The most favoured displaced farmers were settled on compulsorily acquired farmland with associated forest lots. The least favoured had to wait up to several years, sometimes in a succession of temporary camps with their handful of possessions, before they were allocated holdings on forest land hitherto owned by timber companies, the state, the church and local authorities. Eventually, some 28,900 new farms were created, 9000 of which had to be pioneered from virgin forests. The latter holdings were called 'cold farms' (kylma tilat). It was the experiences of a representative group of some 50 farming families that during 1949-50 became the object of investigation in varying degrees of detail - the reactions at a local and personal level to the solutions sought to a national problem (Figure 1). …

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