Project 3

Cross-border Co-operation Practices, 'Mediascapes' and relative (un)familiarity in the Finnish-Russian and the Finnish-Estonian contexts

The overall objective of this project is to understand how mental barriers to cross-border mobility are both constructed and deconstructed in the minds of EU inhabitants. Within this general perspective, we assume that political discourses, cultural interpretations and border 'stories' as related by the popular media are important to understanding the changing significance of the EU's internal and external borders. This individual project will thus focus on relations between mediated representations and institutional practices of cross-border interaction in both the Finnish-Russian and Finnish-Estonian contexts. This involves an understanding of how both historical memories of conflict and the mediated framing of common experiences are reflected within relative bandwidths of unfamiliarity.

In terms of the bandwidth of unfamiliarity we will be operating from the assumption that both unfamiliarity and familiarity can be interpreted in either positive and/or negative terms. For example, the phenomenon of 'dark tourism' (Foley & Lennon, 2007) has been characterised as an ambiguous politics of memory in which war memorials, lost territories, borders, battlegrounds, sites of conflict, abandoned homes, settlements, etc. serve to construct national identities. At the same time, such politics of memory construct the 'other' necessary for national identity. In the Finnish case this is, for example, Russia and the Soviet Union. Here, wartime experiences, expulsions and annexations (the loss of parts of Karelia to the Soviet Union) are mixed with more positive historical associations with Czarist Russia in which Finland enjoyed a 'pre-national' autonomy (Jukarainen, 2009). At the same time, Estonia represents a similar 'other' to Finland - a Finno-Ugric speaking nation with common experiences of Swedish and Russian domination but that as a fellow EU member state is undergoing a complex process of post-socialist transformation.

The Finnish media space (e.g. newpapers, journals as well as the internet) represents an important site where the construction of difference and cross-border cooperation in the Finnish-Russian and Finnish-Estonian cases takes place (see Davidova, 2008). Within this space, historical narratives of difference and commonality, as well as of post-Cold War 'Europeanness' are 'edited' and re-cast in promotional and in perceptual terms. Civil society and local government actors, understood as important elements of local cross-border cooperation and social modernisation, must also negotiate the bandwidth of familiarity in developing agendas and projects with their counterparts inRussia and Estonia4. Geographically speaking, we will be dealing with representations of two contexts of border region 'neighbourliness' - the Finnish-Russian (Karelia in particular) and the Finnish-Estonian (Helsinki-Tallinn connection in particular).

The principal objectives of this IP are related, among others, to the following questions:
  1. To understand how mediated uses of history in Finnish representations of the Russian and Estonian neighbours influence CBC (cross-border cooperation) practices of civil society actors and representatives of local governments.
  2. To understand the contribution of mediated histories and framings of current events in Russia and Estonia to differing degrees of (un)familiarity. These include:
    • Wars and territorial issues (borders)
    • Common histories as part of the Swedish and Russian Empires
    • National heritage and the national heritage 'abroad' (cities, monuments, cemeteries)
    • Post-Soviet transformation experiences and their reception in Finland (crises, conflicts, political and social changes, economic modernisation, emerging social issues)
  3. To characterise different notions of Europe as represented by borders and 'bordering' processes. This involves investigating and interpreting, using a variety of sources, contemporary discursive linkages between cultural representations, identity, Europe and CBC:
    • How are borders used in contemporary contexts to denote identity, historical memory, political community, cultural commonalities?
    • European context of familiarity ('degrees of Europeanness') as perceived locally, as perceived within CBC practices and identified in media representations
    • How does the (EU)European context influences perceptions of familiarity ('degrees of Europeanness') as perceived within CBC practices and identified in media representations
  4. Uncover categories of differentiation within the EU and between the EU and Russia and Estonia.
    • To what extent and through what characteristics is European identity expressed nationally (i.e. in the seven different countries involved here)?
    • What categories of distinction reveal themselves in representations of Finnish-Russian and Finnish-Estonian relations?
  5. Detect whether and in what way the politics and policies of the EU are referenced in different modes of representation in the sense of creating notions of political community across national and external borders.
  6. In synthesising the above, better understand what forms of cross-border cooperation and mediated representations of the Russian and Estonian 'neighbour' may promote a more positive sense of regional neighbourhood.

Prof. Dr. James W. Scott
University of Eastern Finland
Tel. +358 50 366 0653

Jussi Laine
University of Eastern Finland
Tel. +358 50 433 8252

Hendrik Nielsen
University of Eastern Finland

Ágnes Németh
University of Eastern Finland


Karelian Institute
Karelian Institute is a research unit of the University of Eastern Finland, conducting basic and applied research of the intellectual and material development of Eastern Finland, Karelia, and Northwestern Russia. In the framework of its research projects, the institute also supports post-graduate studies in the faculties of the university. The research themes in Karelian Institute are structured around three intertwined and multidisciplinary thematic priorities:
  1. regional and rural studies,
  2. ethnic and cultural studies
  3. border and Russian studies
Karelian Institute, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu Campus
Street address: Aurora, Yliopistokatu 2 B, Joensuu
Post address: P.O. Box 111, FI-80101 Joensuu, Finland