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Historically, present Karelia was a region in the northwest of Russia, east of present-day Finland, controlled in the middle ages by the Novgorod Republic. From the 13th century onwards, various parts were conquered by Sweden, and incorporated into Swedish Karelia by the Treaty of Stolbova in 1617 until they were lost to Russia by the Treaty of Nystad in 1721.

Two governorates were set up in the region: Olonets Government and Viborg Government

The idea of annexing Olonets and Viborg as East Karelia to Finland ("Greater Finland") was widely supported in newly independent Finland in 1917.

After East Karelia was divided between Finland and Russia in 1918, a finnish province of Karelia was set up in the finnsh part. In 1920, the Russian governorates became the Karelian Labour Сommune and in 1923, the province became the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Karelian ASSR).  The Finnic peoples that made up most of the population of East Karelia were promised far-reaching cultural rights. However, these rights were never realised and under Stalin ethnic Finns were persecuted and an intensive russification program began.

Parts of Finnish Karelia were occupied by the Soviet Union during the Winter War (1939-’40). There the Finnish Democratic Republic was set up, its puppet government in Viborg headed by Finnish politician Otto Ville Kuusinen, recognised only by the Soviet Union, through which Joseph Stalin planned to rule Finland.

In 1940 East Karelia was made into the Karelo-Finnish SSR, incorporating the Finnish Democratic Republic.

During the Continuation War (1941-’44) Finland occupied large parts of the area but was forced to withdraw in 1944. Afterwards the the Karelian Isthmus was incorporated into the Leningrad Oblast. Its status was changed back to an ASSR in 1956.

Though Finland is not currently pursuing any measures to reclaim Karelian lands ceded to Russia, the "Karelian Question" is still a topic present in Finnish politics, but it has never been discussed officially. After the fall of the Soviet Union, there has been a revival in Finnish culture in East Karelia.

The autonomous Republic of Karelia in its present form was formed on 13 November 1991. It is a member of the Russian Federation.




The territory of presen Karelia is probably mentioned in the Book of Knowledge of a franciscan monk, written in the 14th century. He writes:

“Ascending the river Tir (an affluent of the Wolga) towards the north there are two very large provinces called Yrcania and Gotia, whence the Goths came forth who entered Spain. It is called the land of Nogulaus (Northern Russia?). The people are strong and warlike, but their country is very cold.

This Gothia and Yrcania march with the lofty mountains of Trasmontana (Norway Mountains). In these mountains the north star is in the middle of the heavens, and throughout the year there is daylight for six months, and night for six months. It is uninhabited, yet they say that men are met with whose heads come out of their shoulders, having no necks whatever. Their beards are on their breasts, and their ears reach to the shoulders. There are also found in this land very great bears and wild beasts, as I have already related. ....”

.....and gives for arms of Yrcania:

Arms:  Vert, a bordure, a cross and a chevron in base, Gules. [1]


The charge looks like a housemark, probably derived from the runic sign for Yr (?). As such this may be the emblem of a chief from Novgorod.


Arms of Karelia

Arms of Karelia on the monument of Gustav I Wasa  in Uppsala Cathedral, made by Willem Boy, 1583


The arms of Karelia are mentioned for the first time in a manuscript from1550-’61. They are:


Arms: Gules, two armed arms opposing, the dexter in armoury swinging a sword with a hilt Or, the sinister in coat of mail wit a naked hand swinging a sabre with a hilt Or; and in chief a crown also Or.

Crown: Of three leaves and 2´3 pearls.


The arms symbolizes the struggle between Novgorod and Sweden.



Olonets Governorate, adopted 05.06.1878


Arms: Or, a naked arms issuing from a cloud on the sinister proper, keeping an oval shield Azure, in base four cannon balls linked by two chains in saltire Sable.


The arms of the city of Olonets after which the governorate was named in 1773 was the same, the arm issuant from a cloud on the dexter. It is known from 1730 and was granted 16.08.1781.[2]


Æ Герб Олонца




Finland became independent on 6 December 1917. Of the new state the part of Russia where a finnish majority lived but that never had been Swedish nor had been a part of the Grand Duchy of Finland was made a part. With the name of Itä Karjala (East Karelia) this territory became a province of Finland.

A coat of arms for the province was adopted on the 1st Vienakarelian Diet in Uhtua of 21 March until 1 April 1920. It was designed by the painter Akseli Gallén-Kallela and it shows a bear standing on its fetters and keeping a finnish knife in his claws. Above him is a representation of the northern lights. On the upper rim of the arms is a winter cap. [3] 

The bear is inspired by the bears from the arms of Novgorod.


Arms of Karjala, 1920


Arms: Per fess Gules and Vert, a bear rampant Sable langued and unguled Or, a finnish knife (vesuri) in his claws, the blade Argent the hilt proper, standing on a chain Argent. In chief a representation of the Northern Lights Argent.

Crest: A Karelian winter-cap proper (Argent).


After a rebellion in 1921-’22 the Karelian Autonomous Socialist Republic (Karjalan Autonominen Sosialistinen Neuvostotasaval-ta) was proclaimed in 1923 as a part of the Russian Federation. [4]

On 17 July 1937 the republic adopted an achievement of its own. It consisted of the arms of the Russian Federation  to which the name of the republic in Karelian, Russian and Finnish was added. Also the motto was written in these languages.

As a politics of karelinisation was started in the same year, the inscriptions in finnish were removed from the arms and motto by decree of 28 December 1937.


In 1940, the Finnish Democratic Republic, the territory annexed from Finland (Wiborg), was incorporated with the previous Karelian Autonomous Republic to form the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic, which had the status of a union republic in the federal structure of the Soviet Union.


By Constitution of 9 June 1940 art. 117 an achievement was adopted for the  the republic.

The section reads::


The arms of state of the Karelo-Finnish Socialist Soviet Republic consists of a sickle and hammer, the handles downwards in saltire, on a  background of rays of the sun, surrounded by branches of fir on the right and ears of rye on the left. In the lower part is a representation of a fir-wood, a river and a rock. On a red ribbon is the inscription Proletarians of all nations unite! in russian and finnish. In the upper part of the arms is a five-pointed star.


That is:


Arms: A landscape of rocks, a river and a fir-wood proper and a rising sun radiant in chief charged with a hammer and sickle in saltire Or.

Crest: A five-pointed star Gules, edged Or

Garland: Branches of fir and ears of rye proper tied with a ribbon Gules, decorated with karelian national patterns and inscriptions Argent.



From 1941 until 1944  the occupying finnish government of Itä Karjala was using the arms of 1920.


Arms and postage stamp of Itä Karjala, 1941-1944


In 1947 the Finno-Karelian Republic was permanently reunited with the Soviet Union and its achievement restored.

On 16 July 1956, the SSR was downgraded from a Union Republic to an ASSR, and retroceded to the Russian SFSR. Accordingly the achievement was changed into the achievement of the RSFSR to which the name of the republic and the motto in russian and finnish were added.



On 30 May 1978 the name of the republic in finnish were added:



After the collapse of the Soviet Union a new flag was adopted on 16 Februari 1993. It is of three breadths red, light blue and green and is in the proportions of 2´3. A new achievement, designed by Yuri Serafimovic Nivin (†2007), followed by Constitution of the Karelian Republic, section 13 of  5 October 2000. It is:


Arms: Per fess Gules, Azure and Vert, a bear rampant Sable, langued and unguled Gules

Crest: An eight-pointed star Or, pierced.

Garland: A branch of fir and a branch of pine Or


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay.


The shield is in the colors of the national flag:

The red symbolizing the stregth, courage and bravery of the Karelian people and also the color of much Karelian embroidery

The blue symbolizing greatness and beauty

The green symbolizing the nature and vegetation of Karelia

To which is added

Gold symbolizing leadership, greatness, statehood and wealth


The bear was venerated through the ages by the Finno-Ugric peoples of the north. He appears in many traditional Karelian songs, legends and fairy tales. He also was in the arms of Novgorod to which Karelia belonged in the middle ages.

The eight-pointed star is a symbol of the Russian population of the north and is also often represented in Karelian embroidery. It is also considered to be a symbol of eternity, a lodestar, a source of life and prosperity, happiness and abundance, wealth, a symbol of high aspirations and ideals of people. The eight-pointed star is also the symbol of protection, a kind of "protecting amulet".

The garland consists of stylized branches of fir and pine. They refer to the pine woods making up 60% of the woods of the republic and the fir woods making up 30%. Both are frequently represented in Karelian embroidery and originate in the respect for the national vegetation.


The decree reads:



Республики Карелия о Государственном гербе Республики Карелия

 Принят Палатой Республики от 5 октября 2000 года


Статья 1. Государственный герб Республики Карелия является государственным символом Республики Карел


Статья 2. Государственный герб Республики Карелия должен соответствовать описанию, установленному Конституцией Республики Карелия. Воспроизведение Государственного герба Республики Карелия должно осуществляться в соответствии с эталоном, утверждаемым Законодательным Собранием Республики Карелия.

       Допускается воспроизведение Государственного герба Республики Карелия различного размера в виде многоцветного изображения или как монохромное (одноцветное) изображение, выполненное из различных материалов.

      При многоцветном воспроизведении Государственного герба Республики Карелия не допускается искажения установленных описанием цветовых сочетаний.

    При одноцветном воспроизведении Государственного герба Республики Карелия разрешается использование любого цвета насыщенного тона. В этом случае на гербовом щите цветные полосы Государственного флага Республики Карелия изображаются в виде линий, ограничивающих их.

   Эталон Государственного герба Республики Карелия хранится органом, уполномоченным Председателем Правительства Республики Карелия.


Статья 3. Государственный герб Республики Карелия помещается:

     на зданиях и в залах заседаний Законодательного Собрания Республики Карелия, палат Законодательного Собрания Республики Карелия, Правительства Республики Карелия, Конституционного суда Республики Карелия, официальных представительств Респу-блики Карелия;

    в рабочих кабинетах и на государственных транспортных средствах Председателя Правительства Республики Карелия, председателей палат Законодательного Собрания Республики Карелия, председателя и судей Конституционного суда Республики Карелия, руководителей органов исполнительной власти Республики Карелия;

   на бланках законов Республики Карелия, постановлений и распоряжений Законодательного Собрания Республики Карелия и его палат, Председателя Прави-тельства Республики Карелия, Правительства Республики Карелия, постановлений Конституционного суда Республики Карелия;

     на официальных бланках Законодательного Собрания Республики Карелия, его палат и Аппарата, депутатов Законодательного Собрания Республики Карелия, Председателя Правительства Республики Карелия, органов исполнительной власти Республики Карелия, Конституционного суда Республики Карелия;

      на официальных изданиях органов государственной власти Республики Карелия;

     на бланках наградных листов, почетных грамот, удостоверений, свидетельств и иных документов, выдаваемых органами государственной власти Республики Карелия;

    на печатях, штампах, вывесках органов государственной власти Республики Карелия.


Статья 4. Иные органы, объединения, предприятия, учреждения, организации и лица вправе использовать Государственный герб Республики Карелия с соблюдением требований настоящего Закона.

    Запрещается использование Государственного герба Республики Карелия на бланках документов, печатях, штампах, вывесках указанными в части первой настоящей статьи органами (за исключением государственных органов, органов местного самоуправления), объединениями, предприятиями, учреждениями, организациями и лицами.


Статья 5. Порядок изготовления, использования, хранения и уничтожения бланков, печатей и штампов с воспроизведением Государственного герба Республики Карелия устанавливается Правительством Республики Карелия.


Статья 6. Надругательство над Государственным гербом Республики Карелия, в том числе нанесение оскорбительных, циничных надписей, срывание, уничтожение Государственного герба Республики Карелия или его использование таким способом, который по существу означает глумление и издевательство над этим государственным символом Республики Карелия, а также несоблюдение требований настоящего Закона влечет административную ответственность, установленную Законом Республики Карелия "Об административных правонарушениях".


Статья 7. Признать утратившим силу Постановление Президиума Верховного Совета Рес-публики Карелия "О положении о Государственном гербе Республики Карелия" от 25 октября 1993 года N78/2 (Ведомости Верховного Совета Республики Карелия, 1994, N 1-2, ст. 40).


Статья 8. Настоящий Закон вступает в силу со дня его официального опубликования.


Республики Карелия


г. Петрозаводск

16 октября 2000 года

N 437-ЗРК [5]



MVD emblem of the Republic Karjala


Arms:  Per fess Gules, Azure and Vert, a bear rampant Sable, langued and unguled Gules

Crest: The achievement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Motto:  СЛУЖА ЗАКОНУСЛУЖИМ НАРОДУ  (To Serve the Law - To Serve the People) in golden lettering on a blue ribbon.



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© Hubert de Vries 2014-11-05. Updated 2014-11-25; 2016-03-09



[1] Book of the Knowledge of all the kingdoms, lands, and lordships that are in the world. (ca 1350) Works issued by the Hakluyt Society. 2nd series N° XXIX. 1912. P. 61 fig. 94.

[2] Speransov, N.N.: Zemelnije Gerbi Rossii XII-XIX vv. Coats of Arms of Russian Principa­lities, XII-XIX cent. Izdatelsvo Sovjetskaja Rossija. Moskva, 1974. pp.52-53, Ströhl, Hugo Gerard: Russisch-Europäische Wappenrolle. Die Wappen der Gouvernements in Russland, Polen und Finnland, das Wappen des Gebietes der Donischen Kasaken und die Wappen der Hauptstädte dieser Territorien. In: Jahr­buch des K.u.K. Heraldischen und Genealogische Vereins "Adler". 1902, pp. 163-186. VI Tafeln. P. 170, Winkler, P.P. von: Gerby Gorodov Gubernii, Oblastei o Posadov Rossiiskoi Imperii s 1649 po 1900 God. St. Petersburg, 1900. (Repr. Planeta, Moskva, 1990) p. 185

[3] Der Herold 1943, p. A11.  The flag was green with a black cross edged red.. The flag for war as used by the insurgents was the same but had three points. The middle of the cross was red and in the mast end was the representation of the arms with the cross over all. Æ

[4]  Capital of the province: Sortavala; of the republic: Petrozavodsk.

[5] © Редакция газеты "Карелия", 1998-2000