Seminar: “Crossing Borders in Russian Minority Literatures”

Seminar “Crossing Borders in Russian Minority Literatures”. 4 December 2020, 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm (EET, GMT+2). Zoom, University of Helsinki

The numerous minorities living in Russia form a marginal and fragmentary, yet exciting part of the literary environment of Russia and its neighbouring regions. Although these minority literatures can be thought to have mainly only local significance in creating, recreating and reflecting histories and identities, the writers often cross several borders in their works, from ethnic or national borders to linguistic, poetic and narrative ones. It is characteristic of minority writing to navigate between dominant and local cultural models in pondering their readership, their horizon of expectation, and the potential censorship. However, the strategies of arranging local or vernacular forms and contents together with translocal ones are multiple and variable.

The seminar “Crossing Borders in Russian Minority Literatures” dives into the issues of rich and changing modes of narration in three different ethnic contexts related to diverse periods of history and locations in and beyond Russia. The papers discuss biographical modes of narration and the use of oral tradition as a source of Soviet folklore, focusing on the transcending of not only local and translocal, but also oral and written, fact and fiction and altering ideologies in the literary forms of Russian minorities.

The seminar will be held in English and it will take place via Zoom. In order to get the Zoom invitation, please register here: <>,


PROGRAMME (times are Finnish time = EET = GMT+2)

12:00 Tintti Klapuri: Opening of the seminar

12:15 Eva Toulouze (Inalco (Paris) / University of Tarto):
Autobiography and fiction in Yuri Vella’s writings

13:15-13:30 Break

13:30 Joonas Ahola (Kalevala Society / University of Helsinki):
 The “Dialectics” of content and form: the new Kalevala-metre poetry in the 1940s­-50s Soviet Karelia

14:30-14:45 Break

14:45 Ulla Savolainen (University of Helsinki):
 Shifting memory ideologies: testimonies of Ingrian Finns

15:45 Closing discussion

The seminar is organized by the project Northern Neighbours. Environment and Modernization in the Literatures of the Russian Arctic (Kone Foundation 2019–2022), Russian Language and Literature, Department of Languages


Eva Toulouze works as professor in Finno-Ugric studies in Paris, at INALCO, teaching Finnish and Estonian as well as an introduction to Finno-Ugric studies. She is also a researcher in the department of Ethnology in Tartu University. As a researcher Toulouze has concentrated on field research: she has been working since 1998 until Yuri Vella's death in 2013 in Western Siberia, spending as a whole 6 months on the field, most on a campsite in the Western Siberian Taiga. Since she has worked intensively among Udmurts, mostly the Bashkortostan Udmurt, investigating their religious practice, an animistic practice, which they have kept alive since the time this community's ancestors migrated from the core territory in order to avoid evangelisation. 

Joonas Ahola is a post doctoral researcher working currently on a project focusing on poetry in kalevala-metre composed by singers of traditional poetry between the late 1930's and late 1950's in Soviet Karelia; the project is funded by the Kalevala Society. Ahola's other research interests include traditional kalevala-metre poetry, folk belief among the Swedish-speaking in Finland as well as medieval Scandinavian literature and mythology.

Ulla Savolainen (PhD, title of docent) works as a researcher at the University of Helsinki, Department of Cultures. She is a folklorist specializing in cultural memory studies, oral history, and narrative research , and currently leads the research project "Transnational Memory Cultures of Ingrian Finns: A Comparative Perspective on the Dynamics of Personal and Cultural Remembrance" (2020–2022). She has published widely on memory, oral history, narrative, literature, material culture, and migration. Savolainen is the chair of the Finnish Oral History Network (FOHN).