Monday 11 May 2015

Russia: Karelian language survives – in Comics!

The workshop participants at the Periodika Publishing house in Petrozavodsk

Finnish comics artist and tutor Sanna Hukkanen travelled to Petrozavodsk in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, last summer. There she visited Karjalan Rahvahan Liitto ('Karelian People's Union') – an NGO revitalising and preserving the endangered Karelian language, and realised for the first time how close it was to her own Eastern Finnish dialect. She took language courses and headed back to Petrozavodsk in April 2015 to run a grassroots comics workshop together with Karjalan Rahvahan Liitto.

The workshop took place at Periodika Publishers on the 23rd of April. The participants were journalists working in Karelian and Veps languages, Karelian-speaking day care staff and Finnish language students from Petrozavodsk State University. Most of the students had a minority language background. The theme of the comics, ‘Own Language’ was chosen by the participants. The subjects for their comics were: passing the language to the next generation, personal experience as a minority language speaker, and losing and rediscovering one’s own language. The participants’ deeply emotional relationship to the subject is clearly visible in the comics made during the workshop. Some of the comics make really good advertisements for language courses!

Drawing exercise - from stick figure to body
The participants had very little experience about comics and their expectations for the workshop were not clear. Many worried about their drawing skills. However, during the day they realised how simple it is to make comics, and how efficient tools comics can be. All participants were positively surprised about the new skills and ideas they gained. They were also motivated to continue with comics in the future. Plans were set to organise an advanced workshop next October.

At the end of the workshop the participants got a chance to brainstorm ideas for how the comics could be used. The target groups were defined to be both Russian and minority language speakers. An exhibition including all the comics was immediately put up at Periodika Publishers. Karjalan Rahvahan Liitto will distribute the exhibition to different places and events. In addition, the comics will be published as a booklet that will be distributed to schools and different Karelian language and culture events. 

Also the local media showed interest in the workshop. The comics got into TV news on the local Petrozavodsk channel SampoTV and the Karelian national TV. Also the Karelian language weekly, Oma Mua, and the Finnish language weekly Karjalan Sanomat wrote articles about the workshop, and published some of the comics too. Comics are not very popular in Russia. Basically only the well known superhero characters are familiar to the public.

The workshop was based on the grassroots comics format developed by World Comics Finland. The idea was to show how comics could be used a a tool for preserving and revitalising an endangered language. In this case the method met its goals perfectly! 

Without contemporary channels for endangered languages, they might easily die with the last people who still speak them -  the old generation. There are still about 40 000 people, who speak Karelian, and less than 2000 who speak Veps in the Karelian Republic. Most of them are old people.

The Petrozavodsk comics workshop received funding from Karjalan sivistysseura (Karelian Culture Societyand Taiteen edistämiskeskus (Art Promotion Centre Finland).

See also: (in Finnish and Karelian)

Posted by Sanna Hukkanen

Translation of one of the workshop's comics: 
Living Language
Baju baju my little girl/ I speak Karelian/ I always remember my own language/ Own language – Living language/ Mama

The training material was available both in Finnish and in Russian.

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