It's already ten years now since Vepsian language was officially acknowledged and a Vepsian Faculty at the Carelian University was founded. As its first graduate I was asked to put down some my recollections here as...
Actually, the Vepsian was neglected as a minority language and to some extent even prohibited during the socialist period of Russia. In early seventies parents were explained by Russian teachers all around the Vepsia they are not supposed to address their children in Vepsian "not to prevent their mastering proper Russian", which was regarded as an official tongue in the Soviet Union. It was still quite a moderate measure if we bear in mind confiscations of teach-books of Vepsian and repressing national movement in the late thirties.
So Vepsian has survived in family oral use up to now. It was Gorbatchov's perestroika period when the said Vepsian Department was founded. At that time I was a student at St.Petersburg University spending all my holiday time in Vepsia, which language I've inherited from my Vepsian relatives.
At term time while traveling around environments of St.Petersburg I've met a lot of native people of Finnish, Ingrian and Votic origin, whose language was so close to Vepsian that I could understand it rather well. Comparative linguistics was my great hobby at that time. I made very many friends among indigenous Finnic people and when took ardently part at the movement for revival of Ingermanland.
We had a circle of close friends in the cozy village of Tikhvinka situated near the pictorial "Old man's mountain" in Duderhof. We gathered twice a week in the Albert Kirjanen's hospitable house to study Finnish and to celebrate Finnish holidays, when we visited our host's self-made wonderful sauna and danced traditional dances of Finnish peasants. Another circle was held by the Finnish pastor Arvo Survo in the town of Saari, where the only allowed Lutheran church existed. We were mostly students from many Ugrian nationalities there: a Vepsian girl from the village next to ours and a Komi artist, a group of young Estonians and a Mordvian scientist.
All of us were welcomed there and if our plans of founding of a united All-Fenno-Ugrian Church with worship on Finnish languages may sound utopian and childish now, it's the first year of liberalization and freedom in Soviet Union that can excuse us. But at that time we really believed it to be possible to overcome the decaying influence of Russian mentality over Finnish nations living by their side. I've never overestimated the role of a religion but as a pure linguist I hoped it could able to consolidate small Finnish nations spread over that enormous Slavic ocean. So we started to translate some prayers and chapters from the Bible into Vepsian - this work is now being continued by Nina Zaitseva in Carelia.
(to be continued)