The island monastery of Valaam in Finnish homeland tourism: Constructing a “Thirdspace” in the Russian borderlands
Keywords:Homeland tourism, Valaam, Karelia, Finland, Russia, borderlands, “third space”
The Orthodox island monastery of Valaam in Russian Karelia is today a popular destination for Finnish tourists visiting Russia’s western borderlands. Many of these tourists are descendants of the Karelians who had evacuated the area following World War II. The monastery’s institutionally sanctioned genealogies construct it as the civilizing force, which had brought Christian enlightenment to the local heathen population. This discursive template is played out in the way the place is presented to visitors, with each highlight telling a carefully constructed story that promotes the monastery’s significance for the Russian religious and national identity. Yet, drawing on lived experience, as well as on popular culture, family lore and meanings from collective memory, the Finnish visitors break the monolithic official discourse and produce a complex “thirdspace” in their own measure. This paper is based on participant observation and semi-structured interviews conducted during a homeland visit to Ladogan Karelia in June 2010.