Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Monument in Pyhäjärvi (in the late thirties) celebrating the abolition of serfdom 
Passing Pyhäjärvi, we saw a lone monument standing in a field. We stopped the car, jumped out and approached it on foot to satisfy our curiosity. The monument’s plaque indicated that it was erected in 1936 (design by Aarno Karimo) to celebrate the centennial of the abolition of serfdom in this formerly Russian – but then Finnish – part of Karelia. It looked rather forlorn. Having recently lost its ‘crown’, it had a slightly decapitated appearance and, over the years, grass had crept up its once impressive steps.
The monument before the war ...                    ... and nowadays
Why was there serfdom in Karelia when it did not exist in the Finnish-Swedish Realm? Russia introduced serfdom in Estonia, Livonia, Ingria and East Karelia (Kexholm/Käkisalmi county) when it took these Baltic provinces in 1721. But already as Swedish possessions they were not fully integrated into the Common Realm. They were not represented in the Realm’s Parliament, nor subject to all its laws. Farmers in the Common Realm owned land, were free citizens and were represented in a fourth estate of Parliament. In the ‘provinces’ society was more feudal and the German-Baltic nobility had large landholdings. To increase his control, the Czar awarded the serf-owning Russian nobility landholdings (so-called donation manors) in his new possessions. When Kexholm county reverted (with the rest of ‘Old Finland’) to the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812, serfdom continued there.

Why did it take until 1836 for the autonomous Finnish Government to abolish serfdom? The donation manors were dependent on cheap labour provided by serfs. The owners of the manors demanded, and received, compensation from the Grand Duchy for the ‘economic losses’ due to abolition. Sweden had a similar problem. It abolished trade in slaves on its Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy in 1813 but abolished slavery there only in 1847 after negotiations to determine compensation for slave owners. Not until 1861 did Alexander II abolish serfdom in Russia.

The memory of serfdom, as well as Karelia’s proximity to the cradle of the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg, made the civil war (leading to Finland’s independence) especially fierce in Karelia in 1918. About five hundred meters from the monument in Pyhäjärvi celebrating the abolition of serfdom lies a cemetery where the victorious white side raised a monument in 1919 to the unknown soldier of the civil war, a war characterized by summary executions of prisoners and by internment camps.
Unknown Soldier Monument at entrance to Pyhäjärvi Cemetery
Our curiosity aroused by these two related monuments in Pyhäjärvi, we set out to find donation manors on the Karelian Isthmus. While the institution of serfdom was long gone, manors could still exist. What shape would they be in now? Would anyone live there?

This search would eventually bring us back to Pyhäjärvi. But we headed first for the Stubb manor located outside Viborg (Viipuri), which, as rumor had it, was once the ancestral home of Finland’s current Minister for European Affairs, Alexander Stubb. The house was in relatively good shape since it had served as a camp for Young Pioneers until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Although currently empty, it had recently harboured a tenant. The large green-painted manor house was surrounded by an untended garden and numerous outhouses.
The presumed Stubb Family Manor
Statues of young pioneers, one with his broken arm raised in an incomplete salute, graced the park in front of the manor - a disheveled Sleeping Beauty awaiting an awakening kiss. No prince was in sight. Though its run-down condition was sad to observe, we were to discover that the Stubb manor was exceptional among the donation manors in that it was still standing. In failed empires the large manors and estates of the governing classes tend to stand empty until either the nouveaux riches move in or the buildings are destroyed. Karelia was no exception.

On our way to the next manor, Niemelänhovi, we approached a village that a road sign (in Cyrillic letters) identified as Mejeri. This was an unlikely place-name since “mejeri” is the Swedish word for dairy.
A village called Dairy (Mejeri) ... due to many dairy buildings
The explanation for this place name became apparent as soon as we arrived at the manor house Niemelänhovi. It had once included several barns and other outhouses. During the interwar period, the Finnish government had taken over the manor and converted it into a regional dairy school. As a large institution in a small community the dairy had given its name to the village.
In the nick of time Niemelänhovi manor house is being transformed - into a luxurious vacation resort?
Niemelänhovi was empty and in bad shape. However, it stood on a small height commanding a fine view of the adjacent lake, giving the manor commercial potential. The unknown owner aimed to realise this potential by renovating the manor and adding on a semi-circle of modern villas. Behind a tall fence to keep out trespassers, construction workers were starting to transform it into what we guessed would be an exclusive resort. We were kindly allowed to take a look around. Such a commercial venture requires considerable financial backing. Prospects for success struck us as uncertain given the distance to St Petersburg. Maybe the owner hoped to attract tourists also from across the nearby Finnish border. Was this creation of luxury in the midst of poverty an old Russian tradition?

We headed next for Herttuala Manor outside Viborg, a graceful building with a lakefront view, once the home of Captain E. von Hertzen. We imagined that in this pastoral and idyllic environment a von Hertzen, perhaps the one mentioned by Runeberg in his patriotic poems of the war of 1808/1809, had once enjoyed brandy and good conversation on the veranda overlooking the lake. The graceful manor deserved no less!
However, our search for the manor appeared to be in vain. We were about to turn back when, driving down a desolate country road, we saw a cluster of trees in the middle of an abandoned field. Having come this far, we decided to take a closer look. We found no manor behind the trees, but we discovered foundation stones and metal works concealed in the midst of them by the underbrush. With so little remaining of the manor, our dream of enjoying a brandy on the veranda came to naught!
This is what remains of Herttuala Manor today
Driving a few hundred meters further on we turned a corner on this lonely country road and were surprised to discover a row of dachas under construction. Each dacha, the one more ostentatious than the other, had a waterfront view and an impenetrable fence around it. Here was a gated community in an abandoned landscape. This incongruous collection of different types of houses, each competing to be larger than its neighbour, was hardly the commercial venture of a well-heeled oligarch. It was more likely to be the result of individual speculation in real estate by those rich, clever and lucky enough to have obtained title to a lot here. We saw no signs of life.

We fled this conspicuous investment in the former Socialist paradise and set off to Kuusaa on the Isthmus to find the manor of the parents of Alexandra Kollontay (1872-1952). As Soviet ambassador in Stockholm 1930-1945, Madame Kollontay helped bring about the peace negotiations between Finland and the USSR that ended the Winter War. She had a personal interest in the Karelian Isthmus, having spent her summer vacations as a child in Kuusaa, then part of Finland but very close to St Petersburg. When she retired she planned to return to Kuusaa, then part of the USSR. She spent the last years of a remarkable life writing her memoirs in 10 volumes. An individualist, a radical feminist, an advocate of free thinking and free love and a compassionate soul, Mme Kollontay was not exactly Stalin’s type of girl. She would hardly have survived his purges had she remained in the USSR. She could not publish her memoirs at the time and deposited the ten volumes in a vault. They are now said to be in the closed archives of the Communist Party in Moscow. They are likely to be a treasure-trove of information about the period.
Looting accelerating at Kollontay Manor in Kuusaa; year 2000 (top), 2001 (left) and 2002 (right)
Source: Markus Lehtipuu                                                                                                                         
After the war, the manor was converted into a Pioneer Camp and new Soviet-style buildings were constructed around it. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, twenty years after her death, the houses stood empty. The manor burned down in May 2005 for unknown reasons. Today only the foundation remains. The buildings built during the soviet era were looted for their roofs and windows.
Kollontay Manor in Kuusaa; year 2011
We returned to Pyhäjärvi to close the circle. Anyone whose palate has relished the sweets served in the Fazer konditori on Glogatan (Klokatu) in Helsingfors (Helsinki) - or elsewhere - cannot resist the temptation to visit Taubila manor at Pyhäjärvi, last owned by Kommerserådet (Kauppaneuvos) Berta Fazer. (The translation ‘Commercial Councilor’ is but a pale shadow of this ancient and honorific title.) This was perhaps the most elegant of the donation manors built during the Russian period.
Taubila was previously also an example of the evils of serfdom, notorious for its “whipping pines” where corporal punishment of serfs was meted out. It was perhaps not a coincidence that the monument celebrating the abolition of serfdom was raised here in Pyhäjärvi.
Taubila Manor; year 2011 – Sic transit gloria mundi!
The Finnish civil war occurred only two generations after the abolition of serfdom and its evils were still remembered. It is fitting that the last monument to show on this post was one raised during Soviet times to honour the dead on the red side in the civil war.
Soviet Monument outside Viborg honouring the red fighters in the Finnish Civil War
The Manor houses in Old Finland were architectural pearls and their destruction a cultural loss. But they represented a social system, which cast a long shadow in Finland, both as an autonomous and as a sovereign state. Serfdom aroused strong feelings. Serfdom and civil war was a bitter legacy that Russia left behind in Finland. Was it the only legacy? Destruction of these magnificent manors on the Isthmus continues to this day. Soon they will be no more. 


  1. Hallo Emil,

    Ihr schreibt in diesem Block auch über Kommerserådet (Kauppaneuvos) Berta Fazer.

    Dazu: in Österreich gibt es weiterhin diesen Titel „Kommerzialrat“, der auf Vorschlag vom Bundesminister für Wirtschaft vergeben wird. Angeblich ist dieser Titel so begehrt, dass manche Aspiranten dafür schon Einiges investieren.

    Liebe Grüße, Ludwig

    1. Lieber Ludwig,
      Ich erfreue mich dass du diesen alte Titel bemerkt hast! In Finnland kan man ihn kaufen; in Schweden muss man ihn verdienen. Ich denke immer an Geheimerat Goethe - ob möglich ein noch schönere Titel!