Bordertown

Finlandization 3.0, apparently, involves joining NATO to keep the Russian imperialists at bay while simultaneously issuing as many Schengen visas as possible to Russian shopping tourists, who are totally clueless, of course, as they make their triumphant return to the hypermarkets of Lappeenranta, the setting of the hit Nordic noir series Bordertown. Its on-the-spectrum protagonist can barely keep his head above the bloodbath routinely unleashed in the town, which in real life is utterly peaceful and lovely. What is not lovely is the utter cynicism of Lappeenranta’s political and commercial elite, who are, strangely, much more like their fictional counterparts than the real town is like its lush but murderous onscreen double. ||| TRR


Russian shopping tourists are now coming by the busload to a border town in Finland, waiting weeks to make the trip: “It’s about time”

The effects of the border’s [re]opening are already visible in Lappeenranta. The number of Russians is nowhere near the record years, but they seem to have purchasing power.

Russian shopping tourists returned to Lappeenranta shops.

A Sovavto bus from Russia turns in front of the Lappeenranta bus station.

There’s a full load of people exiting the vehicle. One of them is Andrei Kolomytsev of Petersburg. For him, a trip to Finland is a dream come true after a long wait.

“Two and a half years of waiting. It’s about time, ” he sighs.

Last Friday, Russia lifted travel restrictions that it had imposed in response to the coronavirus outbreak last Friday.

Kolomytsev had been one of the first to arrive in Finland in his own car. However, his trip was halted at the Russian border in the morning, because Russia unexpectedly opened the border only at 1 p.m. Kolomytsev had already turned around and headed back home.

Now he’s happy to step off the bus.

“I’ll go to a cafe, and buy cheese and other high-quality food. I’ll have a look around after a long time,” Kolomytsev outlines his plans.

Andrei Kolomytsev is pleased to finally be in Finland. Photo: Kalle Purhonen/Yle

He also plans to visit a local car dealership specializing in Volvos to ask about maintenance prices. This is because it is now difficult to get car spare parts in Russia due to Western sanctions. As a result, car maintenance has also become more expensive.

Buses full
Buses to Finland from Petersburg are now fully booked. For example, the Ecolines booking portal has no tickets available from Petersburg to Lappeenranta until August 16.

Another bus company, Sovavto, has no seats available until July 26.

The return of Russian shopping tourists to the shops is already visible in Lappeenranta. There are clearly more Russian cars with long plates on the streets and in parking lots.

The number of Russian customers has also increased, for example, at Lappeenranta’s branches of [Finnish hypermarket chains] Citymarket and Prisma.

“The number of Russians has increased since Friday. While it used to be a matter of lone customers, now we are talking about numbers in the dozens,” says Antti Punkkinen, Prisma’s director in Lappeenranta.

According to Antti Punkkinen, Prisma’s Lappeenranta director, the number of Russian shopping tourists has increased. Photo: Kalle Purhonen/Yle

Ari Piiroinen, the storekeeper at Lappeenranta’s Citymarket, has a similar message.

“The number of Russians has increased steadily since the weekend, ” he says.

But there is still a long way to go to return to the state of affairs before the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is absolutely not possible to talk about numbers like they were in 2019 or earlier,” Punkkinen says.

He stresses that it has only been a few days since the border opened, so it is still too early to draw conclusions about the future number of Russians.

The arrival of Russians is limited by, among other things, the number of valid visas. Russian media have reported long waits for visas in Petersburg, for example.

They’re not visible everywhere
However, the increase in Russian shopping tourists is not visible everywhere in Lappeenranta.

For example, the opening of the border has not been felt in terms of shoppers at the IsoKristiina shopping center in the downtown.

“I haven’t noticed any significant change. The number of shoppers is about the same,” says Matti Sinkko, IsoKristiina’s manager.

They’re buying what they used to, and they seem to have money
According Antti Punkkinen at Prisma, the contents of the Russian shopping basket appear to have remained more or less unchanged.

“They’re mainly buying foods: cheese, coffee, and baby foods, as well as certain detergents. As far as home and speciality goods are concerned, Russians have been interested in clothes during these few days,” Punkkinen says.

The contents of the shopping bags of Vladimir Vapilov of Petersburg, strolling the aisles at Prisma, seem to bear out Punkkinen’s words.

“I bought jeans and sneakers and cheese and chocolate,” he says.

According to Punkkinen, the Russians also seem to have enough money.

“The Russians seem ready to buy,” he says.

Source: Kalle Schönberg, Yle, 21 July 2022. Thanks to Tiina Pasanen for the link. Translated, from the Finnish, by the Russian Reader, who wonders why the residents of Bordertown were not out in droves picketing Russian shoppers.

Tervetuloa Suomeen!

Petersburg residents grabbed up all the appointments in July to apply for a Schengen visa at the Finnish visa center in the city after it was reported that all restrictions on crossing the border would be lifted.

Finland lifted all anti-covid restrictions on entering the country on June 30, and visa restrictions were lifted on July 1. The scheduling of appointments for processing visa applications was opened a month in advance, and in four days Petersburgers booked all the slots for dates up to and including July 29, writes Petersburg Patrol, citing a source in the visa center.

The source at the visa center could not rule out that “the management [would] add additional slots.” Usually, appointments to apply for visas were scheduled a week in advance.

Before the hype, Petersburgers who previously held two-year Schengen visas were issued them again without any problems.

The Finnish Interior Ministry conjectured that the lifting of restrictions would increase traffic from non-EU countries, in particular, on its eastern border, while the desire of Russians to visit Finland and the number of valid visas issued to Russian nationals would affect the volume of traffic.

Tour operators believe otherwise: the flow of tourists from the Russian Federation will be affected by difficulties with obtaining visas and exchanging currency. Aleksan Mkrtchyan, vice-president of the Alliance of Travel Agencies, noted that the opening of the land border is “certainly a good thing,” from which Finland and residents of Petersburg and the Leningrad Region would benefit. However, it would be Russians who already hold a valid Schengen visa who would be the first to go to Finland, he said.

“It is almost impossible to get a Finnish visa in the near future—[appointments at the visa center] are booked out almost till the end of August,” Mkrtchyan told Interfax.

Petersburgers will be able to travel in large numbers to Finland from July 15—the day on which Russia removes all restrictions on crossing the border, which were introduced in March 2020 due to Covid-19. Upon returning to the country from abroad, Russians will still have to take a PCR test.

In Finland, citizens of non-EU countries have not been required to have a vaccination certificate or a coronavirus test since July 1. Coronavirus testing will also no longer be carried out at border crossings.

Source: Delovoi Peterburg, 5 July 2022. Still from Veep courtesy of US News. Translated by the Russian Reader


The city of Lappeenranta would be prepared, if necessary, to offer its airport as a NATO base: “It will certainly be available if the Defense Forces so wish”

Lappeenranta has not discussed with the Finnish Defense Forces what investments would be involved in possible NATO membership, but in theory the city would welcome them.

A Ryanair jet plane on the tarmac at Lappeenranta Airport, 2 August 2019. Photo by the Russian Reader

The city of Lappeenranta aims to get the maximum benefit if Finland joins NATO.

Political decision-makers and officials in Lappeenranta have expressed the hope that, with membership, even a NATO base could be established in Lappeenranta.

According to Lappeenranta’s city manager, Kimmo Jarva, the idea has come about at a time when the debate on joining NATO has been lively, and because South Karelia is located on the frontier between Europe and Russia.

There has been no discussion of the matter in defense policy circles, nor has there been any discussion with the Defense Forces. However, the city of Lappeenranta hopes that the Defense Forces will make investments in South Karelia due to NATO membership.

“I’ve heard conjectures about the airport, among other things. I’m sure it’s available if the military would like it. As for whether there will be any changes in the locations of the Army Academy and the Defense Forces, I cannot say as I’m a layman,” Jarva says.

According to Jarva, the progress of Finland’s NATO membership bid has given hope to the whole of South Karelia. It brings a sense of security and confidence to companies, for example.

“Companies, for example, believe this is a stable environment. This has been the case all along, but it brings a sense of security and can encourage investments in the region,” Jarva says.

He believes the war will eventually end and ordinary people will again travel across the eastern border.

“NATO membership does not preclude the movement of ordinary people, after things are sorted out first,” Jarva hopes.

Source: Tanja Hannus, Yle Uutiset, 30 June 2022. Translated, from the Finnish, by the Russian Reader

“We Have to Cut the Strings”

“They built a wall!” The shore of the Vuoksi River in Imatra in more peaceful times. Archive photo by the Russian Reader

I love Imatra and Lappeenranta and South Karelia (Finland) more than any place on earth. Stupidly, perhaps, I regret that I wasn’t born there. Less stupidly, I am sad that I haven’t been there for two and a half years. BBC Newsnight went there this past week to talk with the locals about what they think about suddenly finding themselves across the border from a warring country and whether they think their heretofore proudly neutral Suomi should join NATO. Thanks to Riittaa Mustonen for the link.

Ironically, the reporter who did this story is named Sima. ||| TRR

If Finland joins Nato, its 1,300km border with Russia will become Nato’s eastern front. There is a troubled history of war between the two countries, but how do people living on this potential new frontier feel, and what’s been the impact of Putin’s aggression on previously close relationships between Finns and Russians who live here? In South Karelia, officials say the absence of Russian tourists crossing to Finland is costing the region €1m a day. Newsnight’s Sima Kotecha reports from the border town of Imatra and the region’s biggest city Lappeenranta where there are more than 2,000 Russian speakers.

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Living Suitcase (Lenin in Finland)

lenin-1“In the manner of Arkady Rylov, Difficult Journey. Oil on Canvas. Pargas Local History Museum. [Vladimir Lenin] was one of the ‘living suitcases’ of Finnish smugglers. Lenin fled to Finland just before Christmas 1907 after an unsuccessful attempt to begin a revolution in Saint Petersburg. Before continuing to Sweden, he spent a couple of nights hiding in Parainen, in the Kirjala manor. He introduced himself as ‘Doktor Müller,’ a German geologist. The Pargas Local History Museum received this work for its Lenin memorial room in 1969 from the Finland-Soviet Peace and Friendship Society.” The painting is currently on view at the South Karelia Art Museum in Lappeenranta, Finland, as part of the exhibition Barefoot: 10 Lives in the Karelian Isthmus, which runs until January 2016. Photo by Comrade VZ. Quoted text, above, reproduced from the exhibition signage

lenin-3

lenin-4“V.I. Lenin spoke at a conference of Russian social democrats in this building in August 1907.” Kotka Concert Hall, August 2015. Photo by Comrade VZ

lenin-5“This building, designed by Eliel Saarinen, was completed in 1907. It was destroyed in a bombing raid on July 6, 1941, and rebuilt in 1954.” Kotka Concert Hall, August 2015. Photo by Comrade VZ

800px-Kotkan_konserttitalo_2Kotka Concert Hall. Image courtesy of Wikipedia