Lauri Railas has had a varied career that includes maritime law, academia, working for the European Commission in Brussels and chairing the Karelian heritage association, which straddles Finland and Russia.
As an ethnic Karelian Lauri works hard to keep the culture of his ancestors alive and maintains relations with the Karelian population in Russia.
Karelia is a territory that stretches from the White Sea coast to the Gulf of Finland. It is the source of the Finnish national saga Kalevala, and it has inspired Finnish artists and composers including Jean Sibelius. Part of this land was annexed by the then Soviet Union in 1940, conquered back by Finland in 1941 and lost again in 1944, after which Karelians living in this part were evacuated to the current territory of Finland – and this included Lauri’s father.
The Soviet Union feared ethnic separatim, so the Karelian people, many traditionally living in Russia, were once suppressed culturally. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union it became possible to cooperate again. “We maintain contact with them and encourage and support them to preserve their culture,” he smiles. “I don’t speak the language so well, but of course my father was fluent.”
It’s all a long way from Lauri’s day job as a trade and maritime lawyer in Helsinki. He runs a boutique firm as a sole operator and, at 63 years old, he says he has “fairly good knowledge” in his fields of interest. “I take assignments where I can be useful,” he smiles, modestly.
Indeed, Lauri exudes modesty but this belies hisexpertise as one of the few people in Europe who understands international trade and transport law from a legal, practical and academic perspective. Certainly in relatively rare field and there are few other country. As well as his day-today practice, Lauri also provides expert opinions for colleagues who are not maritime lawyers in court cases: “I have done academic studies and I passed a doctorate, which makes me a natural reference point.”