Interview with the Mayor of Savonlinna Janne Laine, 2017
What does the visit of Presidents Putin and Niinisto mean for Savonlinna?
First of all, the official visit of the heads of the two states to Savonlinna is a great honor for the city. This fact speaks about the level of trust in the city and its high status. We expect that the mention in the international authoritative media of facts about Savonlinna, the history of the city and its unique tourist sites will have a positive impact on the tourist image.
Why do you think Savonlinna was chosen as the meeting place?
Vladimir Putin's visit to Savonlinna is associated with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Finland's independence. The historical location of the Savonlinna district, which for a long time was on the border of the Russian and Swedish Empires, undoubtedly indirectly influenced the choice of the meeting place. In addition, the International Opera Festival in Savonlinna is definitely a landmark event in the world of music and art, a visit to which can be worthy of celebrating such a significant anniversary. Troupes of the Bolshoi, Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky theaters have already performed on the stage of old Olavinlinna more than once, which speaks of strong cultural and friendly ties between Russia and Finland. Presidential and royal visits to the opera in Savonlinna have long become commonplace for the townspeople, although the Opera Festival received such distinguished guests from Russia for the first time ...
How important is the proximity of Russia to Savonlinna?
Savonlinna's ties with the Russian side have always been very close. Historically, the Savonlinna region was part of the Russian Empire since the 1700s, for a long time the Olavinlinna fortress had the status of a border outpost between Russia and Sweden. Thus, the history of trade relations with Russia goes back several centuries.
In recent history, tourists and businessmen from Russia have managed to rediscover Savonlinna. Our city and region attracts tourists with the purity of its nature, rich cultural and historical heritage, unique location on the islands of Lake Saimaa. Relative remoteness from border checkpoints with Russia does not make our city a center of mass tourism. People come here purposefully, to look at the ancient fortress, to enjoy their rest in comfort.
During the meeting with the presidents, they mentioned the importance for the development of the entire region of opening a new border crossing at Parikkala, through which it would be much more convenient to get to us from Russia. We have always been interested in trade relations with Russia and have a priority in comparison with other directions of export.
What attracts Russians to Savonlinna?
Every year half a million tourists visit Savonlinna, of whom about 100,000 are Russians. According to surveys of Russian tourists, Russians are most interested in the medieval fortress of Olavinlinna and the unique nature of our region. Savonlinna can be reached relatively easily and quickly from the border regions, to which we include St. Petersburg, which is less than 400 km away. Fishing, hunting, spa and agritourism, as well as the unique possibilities of medical tourism attract guests from Russia to our city. Many also come for shopping: the high quality of Finnish products has long ceased to be advertised.
As I mentioned earlier, the cultural ties between Savonlinna and Russia are at the highest level. The situation is also worthy in the field of sports. Many Russian athletes undergo training and camps at the Tanhuvaara Sports School. Russian teams such as SKA have been participating in veteran ice hockey, football and volleyball tournaments for many years.
Russian students are attracted by the study opportunities in Savonlinna, and schoolchildren come to our language and sports camps during the holidays. Russians in Savonlinna are loved and Russians answer us the same, annually visiting our city, and some businessmen move to us, setting up their own businesses.
What steps does the Savonlinna region intend to take to maintain and further develop relations with Russia?
In the development strategy of the city of Savonlinna, relations with Russia are given priority. Currently, we are conducting joint projects in the field of tourism, in the cultural and educational spheres. Local research universities collaborate with Russian universities in joint groups and projects. The importance of this interaction can hardly be overestimated. The city expressed its desire to open a representative office of the Skolkovo Innovation Center on its territory.
Joint work is also carried out with representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and authorities at different levels. Every year Savonlinna and Imatra hold an official reception in St. Petersburg for representatives of business, tourism and officials from both sides of the border. In summer, the Saimaa Summit is held in Savonlinna, the main theme of which has been cooperation between Finland and Russia for many years.
Savonlinna strives to continuously improve the services provided to Russian tourists locally, and also plans to increase marketing activity to attract new guests from Russia to our city. The city is making every effort to create a favorable environment for the development of Finnish and Russian cooperation in business, science, education, and also willingly supports Russian companies wishing to invest in our region.
A significant number of Russian-speaking townspeople permanently reside in Savonlinna, many Russian citizens own suburban real estate in the vicinity of Savonlinna and come here regularly on vacation. What is the significance of Russian speakers for Savonlinna?
The total share of the Russian-speaking population of Savonlinna is about 3%. Among the local residents there are people who came here to work for hire, entrepreneurs, as well as repatriates and their descendants. Many work in industry, medicine, tourism and services. Thus, guests of the city have the opportunity to receive the necessary services in Russian.
Another important group of residents in the city is students. The potential of this part of the population is very high: after completing their studies, recent students can stay to work in local firms or open their own business, which directly affects the viability of the entire region.
Many houses in the vicinity of Savonlinna belong to Russians. Savonlinna attracts summer residents with its clean nature, safety, and well-established infrastructure. The proximity to the border is of course also important. From the multimillion-dollar St. Petersburg you can reach us in 5 hours. Russians visit their country houses regularly, use local services, buy local goods and are welcome guests of the city. Russian homeowners feel comfortable in the Savonlinna region.
What steps do you think the Finnish state could take to improve mutual cooperation between the Savonlinna region and Russia?
The role of the state is to create conditions for the development of the region in a rapidly changing world. The opening of the nearest border point of Parikkala and the facilitation of the visa regime are areas where state intervention is indispensable. We need serious massive marketing support in order to learn about Finland and its unique tourism opportunities in different regions of Russia.