Meri Laura Vanhanen
Member of Uralican Tribal Council
| Assumed office|
18 March 2008
Secretary of the Uralicist Movement
| In office|
1 October 2007 – 1 January 2008
|Succeeded by||Yevgeny Kolpakov|
|Born|| 5 August 1975|
Svetogorsk, Soviet Union
|Alma mater||University of Helsinki|
|Religion||Uralican Evangelical Baptist Christian|
Meri Laura Vanhanen (b. 5 August 1975 in Svetogorsk (now Enso), Soviet Union) is a Uralican pastor, politician, relief worker, counsellor, author, and visual artist who is one of the most influential women in the formation and history of Uralica.
Born in what is now Enso, Meri and her family were able to flee Karelia when she was just a baby, and they settled in northern Finland, more specifically Rovaniemi, where she grew up. Both of her parents, Risto and Liiza Vanhanen, were deeply spiritual people, and this rubbed off on Meri and her two brothers, Juhani and Miša, all of whom wanted to (and eventually all did) follow their parents into the ministry. After finishing school, one by one, they enrolled in the University of Helsinki's Philosophy program with the intent of going into seminary afterwards. Meri, being the middle child, was expected to lag behind Juhani by a couple years, but she surprised much of her family by pulling herself on par timewise, as they both graduated from the MDiv program in 1999. She wanted to further her education in the United States, but she would later be told in a dream to go to Petrozavodsk and preach the Gospel to her people. As she told her mother, "There is no arguing with the Almighty." So in 2000, she went to settle down in Petrozavodsk, Karelia's largest city. She lived there for seven years, going underground during the Cataclysm, but during her time there, she did what the Lord had told her to, and her church thrived.
Always a skilled visual artist, she would spend her free time painting. One day, one of her church members had come to her apartment for tea, and was awestruck at the beauty of this art. She told Meri that she could easily sell her art for handsome prices, but Meri responded, "Only if the Lord tells me to."
But it turned out that apparently He did, or at least Meri thought so. In 2006, she literally sold every last one of her art works, and gave all the money to help rebuilding poorer neighbourhoods of Petrozavodsk devastated by the Cataclysm. Sadly, it seemed that her contributions to the poorest of that city's citizens was lost on everyone else, because in 2007 around the time of Great War II, she began facing some hecklers due to her being Karelian. She was saddened by this turn of events, but continued her ministry, preaching, evangelising, counselling those who had lost loved ones in Cataclysm and/or the first two Great Wars, and helping the poor and homeless in whatever way she could. Although she was not Catholic or Orthodox, she got the attention of higher-ranking leaders within those two faiths. The Pope of Rome once compared her to Mother Theresa.
Then, as Great War III was beginning, she began receiving death threats from Russian extremists. After a week of prayer and fasting, she got the answer she sought in the form of a phone call from Dr. Matti Koppinen, a Finnish pastor and theologian who had been a classmate of hers in Helsinki. He said he was driving from Turku all the way to a lesser-known city in Old Russian territory known as Syktyvkar, to put his support behind one Dr. Vaido Kuik, who was in the city, using the independent television networks and demanding an end to the racism. Because of his reputation in the academic community, word had gotten to Helsinki about his move quite quickly, and had already received backing from Christian groups from within the CCC. Meri was interested. Immediately after hanging up the phone, she literally packed everything she had for a long trip.
Matti's jaw dropped when he saw that Meri had literally put everything she had into two suitcases. But they travelled together, evading both persecution and war by "the Grace of God and the weight of Matti's leadfoot." Driving what were then rugged backroads, they eventually came to Murashi and headed north towards Syktyvkar. Both of them met Vaido at a screening of his latest public protest, and they hit it off right away. Their desire to "do something about" the anti-Uralic sentiments struck a chord with him, plus he and Matti had a long heart-to-heart afterwards that was the start of Vaido's conversion to Christianity.
Two days later, another Helsinki alum, Lasse Mäkelä, and Yevgeny Kolpakov, an old friend of Vaido's, arrived in Syktyvkar, and met Meri in the basement of the building where she and Vaido were both living. Matti and Vaido arrived later, and they began drafting the charter of the Uralicist Movement, which the five of them would sign on 18 March 2007, three days after the drafting began. She became the first Secretary of the Movement.
When word of the Movement spread, people began flocking to Syktyvkar. Eventually, other cells sprang up, first in Ukhta, then in Kirov, and before the end of the summer, Pechora, Kotlas, and Glazov all had cells. The Syktyvkar cell had taken on two of its now-historical heavyweights in Jarkko Salomäki and Ovdey Shlomov.
It was during said summer that she met Vlasi Malenkov, a hardened widower who had been referred to her for counselling concerning the death of his wife during the Purges. She helped him work through his demons, which included the fact that he left his wife behind to get shot - something that, even though she told him to do it, haunted him intensely. Her compassion and and willingness to help got his attention... and he began to be attracted to her. She usually kept her white-blonde hair short, but she had let it grow out of late, and it was one of the first things he noticed about her.
They began working together at Movement Council meetings, although she recommended that he go visit Metropolitan Nikolay Kosov in Cherepovets to talk about questions of faith. (He would be baptised there by Kosov.) He returned changed, and she noticed it about him immediately. "It was as if he had had a crushing weight lifted off his shoulders. He looked like he felt light as a feather." Now it was her becoming attracted to him. She began praying, asking if he was the man God intended for her. They began dating in January of 2008, just after she half-heartedly ran for the Secretary position again even though she didn't really want to, and was defeated by Yevgeny Kolpakov. She was weary of administrative work, which she had been doing for nine and a half months.
But the real answer to her question to God came on 2 March, when extremists rushed Syktyvkar in an attempt to bring the Movement to an end. Vlasi saw an extremist with a gun pointed right at her, so he threw himself at her, jarring her inside an open door and ultimately saving her life. When she looked up to see what had happened, she saw him behind her, wincing from the bullet that had grazed his thigh, then she saw the extremist looking at her for a second, then look around asking for more ammo. Then she saw a foot appear out of nowhere in a fraction of a second and smash the extremist's face in rather gruesomely. (The extremist would die an hour and a half later in a Syktyvkar hospital from a severe brain hemorrhage.) Looking up again with tears in her eyes, she saw that Vlasi had knelt down to see if she was alright. She responded by giving him a bear hug, then said that they should go deeper into the building to avoid any weapon's fire.
So shaken was she by her brush with death that she went to the then-leader of the Movement, Jarkko Salomäki, and talked to him about having a time of prayer and fasting to atone for the violence. After two days of prayer and fasting of his own, Salomäki agreed, and called all people in Uralicist areas to join in peaceful vigils and fasting, which transpired in the form of the Three-Day Revolution, which to this day he attributes to Meri and Matti Koppinen.
When Uralica was officially signed into existence, Meri was one of only three people without doctoral status (Salomäki received his doctorate in July and Yuvan Shestopalov only has a Bachelor's) to sign, of which she was first. She is the only Karelian to have been elected every term since the fact, plus she is credited with designing Uralica's flag.
In spite of her being Karelian, she has not moved to Karelia County. Instead, she has stayed in the Syktyvkar area, living in Yazel'. She and Vlasi got engaged in mid-2010 and are scheduled to marry in March 2011. In the meantime, she is a regular preacher at Yazel' Baptist Church.
- Meri is perfectly ambidextrous.
- Like most Uralicans, Meri has a favourite sport - ice hockey. She's a staunch HK Jokerit supporter.
- She loves cats.
- Her favourite movies involve major figures of Christian history. She's particularly fond of the Karelian-language version of the story of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.
- She speaks seven languages - Karelian, Finnish, Russian, Inari Saami, English, Livvi, and Ludian. She is learning Hungarian and Estonian at the moment.
- Her favourite band is Pelastus. She likes Christian rock and metal in general, and also classical music.
- She is a founding member of the ERHDC.