Coffee Break Conversations with Jussi Laine:

“Cross-border cooperation is motivated by personal interests. - Who would do this, if not us?”

By Tiina Soininen

In your dissertation you studied the cross-border cooperation in Finnish Russian case. Your main argument is that civic neighborhood cross-border cooperation is a bottom-up alternative to the official policy of European neighborhood. What do you mean by this?

”With the term ‘civic’ I don’t refer only to associations but also, and maybe even more importantly, to all kind of civic activities that individuals take in relation to the border and Russia. In the Finnish context this action most often is turned into organized civic action because we tend to found third sector organizations for every event. It is the traditional way in Finland. But anyhow, the cooperation on civic level was established even before Finland joined the European Union.” Laine explains the cross-border co-operation. He walks through his thought and continues to explaining the EU framework for cross-border cooperation. “Then EU, it has very forcefully, and also elegantly, promoted its actions in the border region, but these argument cumulate from the geopolitical targets that seem quite distant to everyday problems of the people who live in border area. The empty phrases of EU don’t link up to individual needs.” Then Laine carries on to final conclusion. “So, the cross-border action in practice is based on local needs. It is people to people action. This creates a situation that is in line with EU politics, but motivated by personal interests. It is very pragmatic and rather distant from the power politics.”

But it might be argued that these individuals are just a part of power politics because EU funds these cooperative actions. If there hadn’t been EU funding available, would the neighborhood cooperation be differently constructed?

“Actually, I don’t think it would have made much difference. Many civil society organizations in this area have had only little funding from the EU. Many have taken part in EU funded contact forums etc., but a trip to St. Petersburg to see a theater play or a ballet can hardly be called cross-border cooperation.” Laine defends his argument and motions further. “For people this cooperation is a question of real neighborhood. It is not a project! Neighborhood is constant, indifferent to power politics. It needs to be maintained and nurtured. It is created by people living next to each other and these people are tied together. They feel companionship.”

What do you mean with companionship?

“In the interviews, that I made, I approached the question of individual motivation from many different angles. There weren’t one all encompassing motive for cross-border cooperation. But what stood out between the lines was that cooperation across the border, especially with Karelia, was seen as ‘our duty’ or the respondents would refer to the idea of neighborhood in terms of proximity. Often informants also challenged me and asked back: “Who would do this, if not us?”

Is it about charity, then?

“Well, maybe in the beginning it was about charity, but it has changed into more balanced co-operation where information, knowledge and other resources are exchanged both ways. On both sides of the border the individuals gain some new resources from the co-operation. Each actor has their own targets and receive something that they aspire for. It enriches peoples’ lives in many ways. They might start to understand different cultures, they meet new people, they even meet their future spouses, etc.” Laine smiles and sips the last of his coffee. “This then, of course, corresponds to many social theoretical ideas, for example familiarity. People get socially closer. Furthermore, it is then in line with power politics which stresses for importance to diminish contradictions between people.”

Jussi Laine is a researcher in the University of Eastern Finland, Karelian Institute. He defends his doctoral thesis entitled New Civic Neighborhood. Cross-border Cooperation and Civil Society Engagement at the Finnish-Russian Border  in 26.6., at 12 o’clock, AU100, Aurora, Joensuu campus. Opponent is professor Vladimir Kolossov (Russian Academy of Sciences) and custodian is professor Heikki Eskelinen, University of Eastern Finland.

Coffee break conversations’ is a series introduces research done in the Karelian Institute.

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