Alla toisen maailmansodan paikkaa suomalaisessa historiakulttuurissa käsittelevä esitelmä, jonka pidin tämän viikon tiistaina Hampurissa Helmut Schmidt Universitätin "Menschen im Krieg" -seminaarissa.
Tuore kommentti Alpo Rusin kirjan julkistamisen jälkeisen suomettumiskeskustelun näkymiin Turun yliopiston www-sivuilla.
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Helmut Schmidt Universität
"Menschen im Krieg" –Workshop
6. November 2007
FINNISH HISTORY CULTURE AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR
War and Finnish National Identity
In Finland the histories of war play a much bigger role in the construction and maintenance of collective memory than in many other countries. The events of the Second World War continue to form an integral part of Finnish national identity. This is evident for example in the annual celebrations for the Independence Day on the 6th of December, where military parades, paying tribute to war veterans and commemorating the Winter War 1939-40 and the Continuation War 1941-44 occupy a central place.
The Finnish way of reminiscing the war interestingly resembles a lot more the commemoration cultures of the victorious allied countries than its one-time partners in the defeated German coalition. The British ideas of the Second World War as “the good war” or the American way of thinking about those who fought in the war as “the greatest generation” actually come pretty close to Finnish collective understanding of the events 1939-1945. Despite all the sorrow, tragedy and destruction involved, in Finland the collective experience of the war is seen as something that is essentially positive and valuable, something without which the nation today wouldn’t be quite the same.
In the international comparison Finnish culture of commemorating the war stands out as a peculiar one. The militarized patriotism of the Independence Day and National Veterans’ Day celebrations, persistent demand for cultural products addressing the war like films, novels, plays and historical research, the frequent use of the war past in political rhetorics and the general overall visibility of war as the key national experience makes Finland a rather exceptional case at least in Western European context. The centrality of war in the construction of Finnish national identity could even be compared to that of the commemoration of the Great Patriotic War in today’s Russia.
The Winter War, where Finland had to fight alone against the communist great power Soviet Union, occupies a place of pride in national consciousness as the existential holy war. The sacrifices made and hardships endured by the war generation are frequently used as a sort of moral yardstick, against which the actions of the younger generations are measured. Even today many see the fulfillment of military duties, nowadays in the form of completing the compulsory military service, as a standard and prerequisite for the genuine Finnish manliness. The wide-spread support given by the general public and almost all political parties to the compulsory conscription itself manifests the historically-based importance attached to armed patriotism and military virtues. The patriotic pride of the Second World War history has persistent relevance in Finnish society.
The Lowest Ebb
The appreciation of the collective war experience hit its all-time lowest point understandably immediately after the war. Although Finland managed to avoid being occupied either by the Germans or the Soviets, the Continuation War ended in an undeniable defeat. The so-called years of danger from 1944 to 1948, when the allied control commission headed by the notorious Andrei Ždanov kept house in Helsinki, were marked by the fear of communist revolution on the one hand and the continued Soviet aggression and thereby losing national sovereignty on the other.
From the point of view of politics of memory the most important individual event during this time was the so-called war guilt trial in 1945-46, where eight central war-time leaders were sentenced to prison for misusing their authority to the detriment of the country and for committing crimes against peace. During the course of trial, the accused politicians got to present their version of the events in their defenses, and for many years these interpretations formed the core of the patriotic version of war history.
Defiant silence in the face of foreign political necessities and the overwhelming power of the communist neighbor became the dominant strategy for coping with the past and mourning for losses suffered during the war. The immediate tasks of recovery and reconstruction demanded the greater part of physical as well as mental energies, and there was general unwillingess to enter any deeper discussion about what had happened during the war. The avoidance of such discussions was psychologically understandable. People didn’t want to think about the possibility that the 90.000 lives lost during the war had been in vain.
The 1950s: The Return to Memory of War
The silence didn’t last too long. As the Allied Control commission left the country, war reparations became paid to the full and the individual sorrows caused by the war gradually started to move to the background, the interest towards the war was revived with more mental, political and social room available for looking back. The 1950s witnessed a surge of patriotic literature in the form of dozens of published novels, memoirs and research studies dealing with the war. The conservative historians were particularly active during this phase, assuming the role of intellectual custodians and repositories of the true Finnish versions of the past.
A further sign of change came with the unionization of war veterans, first on national bases and then also locally. These organizations became important social forums for dealing with the painful memories of war and for strengthening the idea that individual experiences of veterans were valuable and deserved to be recognized.
The official interpretations of history were at the time closely linked to the new dominant foreign political school of thought, namely the Paasikivi-Kekkonen Doctrine. The doctrine was based on the realization that if Finland wanted to live peacefully and harmoniously with Soviet Union, it had to take into account Moscow’s security interests and, whenever necessary, accommodate to the. It wasn’t uncommon to the new foreign political establishment to use war years as an example of what happened when the foreign policy had been erroneous. Eventually this led to the emergence of a history culture of ritualistic public self-accusations and politically motivated historical self-flagellation.
However the second truth, as some people called the nationalistic versions of the past, not only survived the new political realities but gradually gained strength and attracted new followers, although self-restraint and on occasions also self-censorship restricted the volume with which these interpretations were publicly expressed. Privately, they were widely accepted and supported.
THE War Novel by Väinö Linna
It is next to impossible to talk about Finnish national identity and especially the impact of war on it without mentioning novelist Väinö Linnas book “Tuntematon Sotilas” (The Unknown Soldier) published in 1954. With his novel, that is the best-selling and most widely-read book in the Finnish literature history, the working class writer set the standard for all later works. The influence of this one book on Finnish historical conceptions of war far exceeds that of all academic research added together.
Linna was critical of war, political and military leadership and official nationalism, but empathetic towards rank and file soldiers and their values. His book offered collective therapy and comfort to the battered people of a defeated nation. “It was not your fault but the leaders’”, was his main message to the audience. The book was praised for its realism and its ability to capture the world-view and mentality of ordinary soldiers.
The novel was filmed only a year after its publication. The influence of the movie, directed by Edvin Laine and still aired on national television every Independence Day, has probably been even greater. From the point of view of history culture the most interesting trait of the film was that it effectively watered down the pacifism and anti-nationalism of the novel by highlighting the elements of comedy on the one hand and adding images of nationalism and patriotism on the other. Taken together the novel and film version very likely form the most influential cultural artifact in the construction of postwar Finnish national identity.
The Driftwood Debate
Tuntematon Sotilas dealt with the problematic Continuation War fought as an ally or Waffenbruder of Germany, and so did the next round of discussion that took place as an international exchange between professional historians. Fighting on the same side with Hitler had by this time amounted to a national trauma and formed a constant source for the conceived misunderstandings of Finnish motives for the participation in the war. The debate was started from the outside, by American professor Charles Leonard Lundin, who in 1957 published his book “Finland in the Second World War”. Lundin was critical of Finnish leadership and strove to prove that Finnish-German alliance was something that at least parts of the Finnish society had hoped to achieve already from the early 1930s.
The debate that ensued, the so-called driftwood debate, could in its intensiveness and volume even be compared to German Historikerstreit in 1986-87. Finnish professor Arvi Korhonen responded to Lundin with his 1961 book “Barbarossa-suunnitelma ja Suomi” (the Barbarsossa plan and Finland) and cited the former German ambassador to Finland Wipert von Blücher to claim that Finland had had no other choice than to go with the flow of events that were beyond its control. According to von Blücher’s eloquent description Finland had been “thrown into the swirl of great power politics like a piece of driftwood carried by a surging Finnish stream”.
The second line of foreign criticism was offered by Englishman Anthony Upton and American-Norwegian Hans Peter Krosby in their books “Finland in Crisis 1940-41: A Study In Small-Power Politics” (1965) and “Finland, Germany, and the Soviet Union, 1940-1941: The Petsamo Dispute” (1968). They said that Finland had sought cooperation with Germany willingly because this offered a chance to pursue Finns’ own political, strategic and military goals. Finnish researchers responded by updating the driftwood to the so-called “river rapids boat” –theory.
The new interpretation admitted certain room for Finnish initiatives, which were all pictured as wise and best possible, but simultaneously stressed that the general directions of events had been dictated by the actions and decisions of the great power, most importantly of course Soviet Union and Germany. All these historians’ discussions had close links to present politics, as President Urho Kekkonen was an outspoken critic of the driftwood theory.
Finlandization and War
During the Cold war, the interpretations of history were actively used to support the neutral line of Finnish foreign policy. President Kekkonen used the war as a cautionary example of bad Soviet-hostile foreign policy on several occasions in his public speeches. The spread of left-wing activism in the last years of the 1960s and through the 1970s among the young intellectuals further contributed to the politicization of war memories. Especially the Continuation War with its Waffenbruderschaft with Germany and occupation of Soviet Karelia became a target for continuous radical left criticism.
The political radicalism coupled with and was intensified by the youth rebellion against the values of the war generation, including the interpretations of national history. Further fuel for historical antiwar attitudes was provided by the increasing support for the international peace movement. Partly this criticism was so blatant and disrespectful that it poisoned the relationship between the veterans of war and the Finnish “generation of 1968” for decades to come.
The 1990s: The Neopatriotic Turn
The velvet revolutions of 1989 and the fall of communism produced an extensive revision and re-evaluation of history in Finland, especially concerning country’s role in the Second World War. Collapse of Soviet Union removed the real and imagined foreign political restraints from historical discussions. This led to a rupture-like bursting out of nationalistic and patriotic emotions that had been pent up for decades, visible in historical research, practices of commemoration, political rhetorics, literature as well as movies and theater plays.
War-time leaders like President Risto Ryti, who had been sentenced in the war guilt trial, were rehabilitated by cultural as well as official measures. The memoirs and public comments were filled with nostalgia towards the Finnish life of the 1930s, including nationalism of that era.
Once again the war discussions were tightly linked to the present-day political realities. War memories were for example exploited to call for national consensus and mental endurance in the face of deep economic depression that hit the country in the first years of the 1990s. Similarly the necessity of political and economic Western integration was motivated with the historical experiences of Soviet aggression. Transformation of the war interpretations was also connected with the increasingly critical discussions about the political, mental and intellectual legacies of the long presidency of Urho Kekkonen.
One of the most visible signs of the emergent new interpretation were the overwhelming shows of respect directed at the veterans of war. Eventually these attitudes became so powerful that it often happens that any effort to critically evaluate Finnish actions in the war is denounced as something that tarnishes the reputation of the veterans and casts an unjustified shadow on their sacrifices. Another central tenet in the new constructions was the increasing appeal of the so-called separate war thesis, i.e. the idea that Finnish Continuation War was not linked to the German-Soviet war and that Finland fought an independent defensive war.
The Current Situation: Mixed Trends
So how does the collective Finnish relationship with the memories of war look like today? At least that much is clear that there is more willingness to critically scrutinize the war without any specific political motivations. Partly this is a result of the alleviation of the international position of Finland after the collapse of Soviet Union, partly of the passing of time and the fact that most participants of the discussion today belong to the postwar generations with no personal experiences of war. This has led to a growing readiness to accept also darker sides of the national past as parts of the story about war, like handing over of Soviet prisoners of war to Germans and the executions of deserters.
The image of war has become more fragmented and individualized. Historical research is more and more interested in the fates of the groups of people previously neglected like women, children and various minorities. Like the anthology “Ihminen sodassa” (2006) edited by Tiina Kinnunen and Ville Kivimäki illustrates, there is a growing interest towards the multitude of different individual experiences and memories of war.
The patriotic and nationalistic culture of commemoration of war, however, is still as strong as ever. Political links of war discussions have not disappeared either. Today they have to do with relations to Russia, retaining the compulsory military service, the possible Finnish membership in NATO and the general direction of country’s foreign and security police. There will be a military parade on the Independence Day also ten years from now on.
However in historical research we might have arrived at an important watershed from the point of view of Finnish relationship with the history of the Second World War. I believe that we are witnessing the beginning of normalization of the Finnish war past. The importance attached and meanings given to the war by the second and third generations born after it differ significantly from those of the war generation. With less political and emotional burdens involved, the appeal of patriotic and nationalistic versions of history is weakening and consequently the readiness to see the war as an universal human tragedy is becoming increasingly common.