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Northern Encounters: the Russo-Finnish Border at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century in a Cross-Regional Comparative Perspective (2020-2021)


Publication: 10.58367/NECY.PM.H.2022.2
Field of study: History

This paper explores the connection between border making and order making projects and informal transborder practices and experiences in the geopolitically important sectors along contested Russian imperial/Soviet borders in the early twentieth century. In particular, the study examines how borders and controls were locally co-constructed at two different border strips of the Russo-Finnish border in the 1920s, while also conceptualizing the border as a site of informality and resistance. Findings, based on an array of previously unused historical sources, reveal that the cooperation patterns and rivalry between economic and military-political border control agencies in the early Soviet context differed in various regional frameworks, depending on the multiplicity of local factors. Civil, economic measures of border protection finally failed due to its inherent incompatibility with the increasing state pressures in a new, highly politicized context and a lack of financial and human resources. The paper demonstrates that the disintegration of the Russian empire was accompanied by enlivening of not only economic, but also generating new unique social and cultural exchanges at formerly ‘transparent’ borders. Novel cross-border networks and practices emerged around Soviet borders after 1917 in a radically transformed postimperial space, were all geared toward illicit transborder trade, but had their own unique specificity.

Keywords: Russo-Finnish border, economic and political border controls, postimperial space, imperial traditions, Soviet border controls, smuggling, illicit transborder networks

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