Here is a brief overview of three island-based intentional communities in ‘extended Scandinavia’: Karelia (Russian Federation), Sweden, and Finland.
Ostrov (in Russian it means ‘island’) project is at the beginning of its journey — now it is 4 years old. ‘Islanders’ settle down inside the Ladoga Skerries National Park, on the Kilpola Island in Lake Ladoga (the largest lake in Europe). This is the Lakhdenpokhsky District of the Republic of Karelia (the total travel time from St. Petersburg by car is about 2.5 hours).
Of the few recent “post-romantic” initiatives of this kind that I know of in Russia, Ostrov I consider to be notable and promising. In the social and ideological field, the founders’ team acts thoughtfully and carefully — they manage to avoid many basic back-to-the-land mistakes of the first two post-soviet settlers’ generations/waves (the more interesting it is to look at new possible hard experiences via their example). The search for settlers who would share their values and practices goes through events, a volunteer program, participation in the Russian’s branch of Global Ecovillage Network, and the project’s accounts in social networks. You can read about their basic values and the vision in the Ostrov’s manifesto.
The site and community now act as a center for development and creativity, hosting workshops and retreats during the summer. There is a distinct division of the seminar platform — this is the Ostrov.me website and the Non-profit organization ‘Ostrov’ as a center for the development of ecology, culture,craft and crafts — the Ostrov.center website.
Among the people who are at the Ostrov’s origins is Alexander Argelander who acts in the public field. He continues working in his construction business (including engineering and IT systems). In addition to Alexander, the founders can also be called Ilya and Natalia Baberkin, they support the material, technical and social infrastructure.
When asked how the “settling” began, Alexander replies:
We got used to camp in Karelia in the summer, and one day, already in the fall, we decided that we didn’t want to leave the camp and take everything to the city until the next season, and we decided to look for a place for wintering.
Here is to mention that there is no power grid in the eastern part of the island, just as there was no road (all the infrastructure is concentrated in the eastern part — closer to the “mainland”). Therefore, a diesel generator is still the norm there. Construction materials’ delivery by water was also such a norm until in 2020 the old Finnish road had been repaired (I got out of the island on foot a couple of years ago — there is a bridge, of course).
In the past quarantine winter, six people permanently lived on the project site. The summer events (in the pre-COVID year) at the seminar platform were attended by 640 people.
Currently ‘Ostrov’s’ team owns about 50 hectares, out of 32 square kilometers of the whole island.
Ordinary life goes in the western part of the island (campsites, dachas). In the center of the island, there is already a new (the late 90s, early 2000s), but already abandoned complex of a small farm without power grids (something went wrong with investors). Before the Winter War of 1939, there were several Finnish farmsteads, as well as the courtyard of the Konevsky Monastery.
The center will expand its activities to include environmental programs for children. The Green Camp, a well-known in Russia kids’ summer camp, is now crowdfunding its base on Kilpola in close collaboration with Ostrov.
Irina Sokolova, the head of the Green Camp and the director of the animation studio ‘Da’, joined the Ostrov’s center for ecology, culture, and crafts.
A smaller-scale, but already active initiative — bushcraft courses (survival, emergencies, and extreme tourism). Its head is known as Taiga-Sibir — a guy who is really advanced in such experience and knowledge.
I also believe in Ostrov’s future as an international eco-hub. It is already possible to enter Karelia (if not for quarantine measures) by applying for an electronic visa. And the team, meanwhile, is working on European relations on possible joint initiatives.
The project is open to new participants and beginnings. The place is open for:
- green building and organic farming practitioners,
- researchers and students for the field practice (observing the climate, exploring local flora and fauna),
- volunteers and future residents.
The internationality is also characteristic of the Suderbyn ecovillage on the island of Gotland in Sweden (founded in 2007). Swedes are probably in the minority among its inhabitants (while natives of the former Soviet republics are in abundance).
Ecovillage’s permanent community is about 10 inhabitants, and on project long-term visits (up to half a year) usually another 10–20 volunteers live there. There are more connections and projects with the European Union than with Swedish initiatives and organizations.
One of the founders is Robert Hall from California. He’s got his Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering and Sustainable Infrastructure from KTH (Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm), and his work focuses on GR between the environmental initiatives and the European Union. International projects are led by Alisa Sidorenko, a Russian, who joined the community after her master’s program in sustainable development at Uppsala University. Alisa says about the Suderbyn’s international nature:
It is a chosen community value to live in a multicultural space where cultures can learn from each other, and it is also related to the fact that we work with international projects, trying to help bring the eco-settlement movement to a systemic level. There are usually 12–17 nationalities per 25 people in Suderbyn.
Due to this specificity, detailed reports on the settlement experience can be googled in abundance in several languages, including English and Russian (both are from 2019, and I haven’t gotten to Suderbyn myself yet).
In the Finnish ecovillage on the island of Livonsaari (in the original language it is Livonsaaren yhteisökylä) not far from the city of Turku, the Finns prevail, although there is also a Spaniard and people from Eastern Europe. And the Finns themselves are not all very Finnish — both in appearance and behavior. Such a substantial juxtaposition from true organic farmers and creative entrepreneurs to scientists has been gathered here since 2002.
The European Solidarity Corps (ESC) program for foreign young volunteers, headed by Elvira Dudkova (originally from Latvia), has led to the fact that there are now seven former ESC participants living in the ecovillage’s community. Two of them run a cooperative shop/cafe for ecovillagers and locals who pass through (a restaurant with a chef also from the ESC program alumni is scheduled to launch soon). And, of course, there’s the collective farm and energy-efficient buildings made of natural materials, e.g. Outi Tuomela’s house).
I know a detailed overview of the community only in the local Finnish media (from 2016). The total area under the ecovillage project is about 60 hectares, about 30 adults and 20 children live permanently.
I spent a few days in Livonsaaren yhteisökylä (it’s better to write a separate text about it) just before the COVID lockdown. I didn’t get to know the founders at that time, so there is a reason to come again (as well as other reasons such as the community and its experience). Land-scape and social-scape reminded me of free families settlement Chistoe Nebo (‘Clear Sky’) in Russia’s Pskov region , where I lived for a year and where I periodically come to visit.
This insular location of the mentioned ecological communities probably affects what kind of people are attracted to them, and how these unusual collective identities and activities develop. If you know any other island stories all over the world, in the present or in the past, please send me a message.
My other texts based on life in the countryside: