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Parikkala goes for maids, whitefish and an unusual sculpture park

Parikkala goes for maids, whitefish and an unusual sculpture park

| Text: Bengt Östling, photo: Cata Portin

There is an old saying that "the maids from Parikkala and the whitefish from Simpeljärvi are better than anywhere else". The maid is now a sculpture in the city centre while the whitefish is swimming in the lake. But a sculpture park with 255 concrete statues doing yoga is by far the biggest draw.

The sculpture park has been named one of "the 20 most terrifying places on Earth" by Condé Nast Traveller.

Over 500 concrete sculptures fill half a hectare around the self-taught artist Veijo Rönkkönen's home. 

He began creating his artworks in the 1960s. Many are said to be self-portraits that describe a difficult childhood. 250 of the statues are depicting the artist himself in various yoga positions.

Yoga sculptures

The sculpture park is open year round, but in the winter the sculptures are partially hidden by snow. These are some of the 250 sculptures that are in yoga positions. Photo: Wikipedia

The artist was known to be a shy and eccentric recluse. Little by little, the garden began to fill up with thousands of admiring guests who appreciated the playfulness and the idea of an open-air sculpture park.

Rönkkönen in return appreciated the visitors and the fame. A report from Swedish Yle put it this way:

"The most bewitching part of the park is made up of 255 sculptures doing yoga. Walking among them, taking in their perfect positions, their calm expressions and mossy bodies make time stand still. How can concrete express such resilience?"  

Veijo Rönkkönen died suddenly in 2010. But an art-loving businessman bought the park which is now being run by an art society. Some of the statutes have deteriorated but might now be saved through private investments.

Yoga sculpture

A café at the entrance to the park has also become one of the municipality’s most profitable businesses, jokes Vesa Huuskonen, the Parikkala Mayor. 

In Parikkala the sculpture park is considered to be of international importance and one of the largest collections of this type of art. In Finland this type of outsider art is known as ITE art, short for self-made life. The genre is often found in the Finnish countryside. (Read more here).

If you go to the Parikkala main square, you also find a sculpture – "The little maid from Parikkala".


In the Parikkala main square stands a sculpture called Parikkala Pikkupiika (The little maid from Parikkala). 

The sculpture was made by Marjaana Tykkyläinen, an artist from neighbouring Rautjärvi. It was acquired by the Association for Kalevala Women in Parikkala. Parikkala has chosen a "Pikkupiika"(little maid) as the municipal symbol every year since 1987. 

If you travel further along national highway 6 you will be travelling in close parallel with the Russian border. This is where you will find "The gateway to Ladoga", where Spaho Bogucanin offers up high-quality fish and overnight stays in an old border station on the shores of Simpele Lake.


"The gateway to Ladoga"

Spaho Bogucanin – also known as Caki – is originally from Bosnia but has worked in the Finnish tourism industry for a long time.

He rents the restored border station to run a hotel and restaurant, and next door he has a shop where he sells fish products. The hotel can house some 20 guests, the restaurant can seat 30.

Two half-finished hotel buildings have been standing nearby for ten years. The original owner passed away, the estate has not finished the project and the whole area has been for sale for a long time.

Spaho Bogucanin has no plans to take ownership of it. It would cost too much to own, maintain and hire staff. His children have helped him with his business but want to carry on with their education and will probably move south. That is the case for many businesses in Parikkala.

The price is rarely an issue for Russian tourists

The tourism industry hoped to see a full return after Corona this year, but then Russia invaded Ukraine. And the summer season is crucial to the profitability of tourist attractions. 

There are not many Russian tourists in Spaho Bogucanin's fish shop. The ones who do come appreciate the fact that he speaks Russian to them, and enjoy the home-smoked, marinated and canned fish. It comes from the lake nearby and also from Norwegian salmon farms. Bogucanin complains about the ever-increasing price of fish.

Ladoga empty

No Russian tourists because of the war in Ukraine.

The price is not always a problem for Russian tourists, many of whom have their own cabins on the Finnish side or along Ladoga's shores. This was the original tourism strategy – tempting discerning Russian tourists who were looking for wall-to-wall service and who had money to pay for it. Those tourists are now no longer coming.

On the other hand, many Finns have taken to holidaying at home during the Corona pandemic. Now, car tourists from the other Nordic countries are arriving too.

The border with Russia is closed for most people now. Fishers, however, can cross freely between the Russian and the Finnish sides of Simpele Lake

Hope to go back to "normal"

After 30 years in Finland, Spaho Bogucanin today feels Finnish. He praises the natural beauty of Finland and South Karelia.

"My heart used to belong to Yugoslavia, but that country no longer exists of course. We had a civil war, the worst type of war there is."

By that time, Caki had already arrived in Finland, but he remembers how Nato failed to help. There was the genocide in Srebrenica where 8,000 boys and men were killed. That is why he really wishes for the war in Ukraine to end.

Spaho Bogucanin

Spaho Bogucanin in front of the old border station.

"We now see how the war in Ukraine is knocking at the door. Just like in Bosnia, civilians are the first to suffer, through horrible murders. Every death is one too many."

Spaho Bogucanin hopes normal times will return to the border between Finland and Russia.

"Many in Russia still depend on media that provide a distorted view of reality. But many visiting Russians seem to be ashamed, or at least not hoping for war. But nobody has asked them."

The world is after all full of good people – and they live in Russia too. They are more than welcome to Spaho Bogucanin's fish shop and tourist hotel, which could become the Russians' gateway to Finland.

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