Historical anniversaries 2018 – Part Three: Remembering Mahatma Gandhi

January 30th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two recent posts I focused on historical anniversaries that coincided on the 27th of January – the very day to remember the victims of holocaust (liberated from Auschwitz) and the beginning of the Finnish civil war (1918). Having written these two posts I thought I would retreat to my usual themes on ‘working & learning’ – research and development in the field of vocational education and training. But when I woke up this morning, I understood that we had yet another historical anniversary that merits our attention – 70 years from the death of Mahatma Gandhi.

As I have heard very good contributions from the German radio channel Deutschlandfunk, I do not want to repeat their message but rather share them via my blog. Also, the German TV-Channel ARD has provided a good photo gallery of Gandhi’s life and life work. So, below I share the links and hope that the pictures and the texts speak for themselves.

The life and life work of Mahatma Gandhi as a gallery of photos (Bildergalerie)

This link takes you to a series of 14 photos from different phases of Mahatma Gandhi’s life.

Zum 70. Todestag von Mahatma Gandhi (Remembering Mahatma Gandhi’s death 70 years ago)

Radio commentaries on the life work and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi

This morning two special programs dealt with the life work and intellectual legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. The daily “Kalenderblatt” provided an overview on Gandhi’s life concluding the report with the tragic death.Mahatma Gandhi wird Opfer eines Attentats (Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated)

The religious program “Morgenandacht” early in the morning discussed a lesson that Gandhi gave on valuing the ‘least’ of us in the humankind.

Sei selbst die Veränderung, die du dir für die Welt wünschst (Be yourself an example of the change that you want your world to go through)

I think this is enough for the moment. I hope that the pictures and the texts (in original language or as translations) convey the message. To me these already presented a lot of the wisdom and courage in peaceful mind that was exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi.

More blogs to come …

Historical Anniversaries 2018 – Part Two: Remembering the Finnish Civil War in 1918

January 28th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous post I started blogging on historical anniversaries related to the date 27th of January. My first blog focused on remembering the victims of holocaust. In Germany the date of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau (27.1.1945) is the Day of Remembering of the Victims of the Nazi Regime (Gedenkstag der Opfer des NS-Regimes). With this post I discussed the importance of such remembering in the present times when antisemitism, xenophobia and racism tend to creep forward in the social media and in the everyday language. In this respect I brought forward contributions of German media with emphasis on learning lessons from the dark times. In a similar way I would like to deal with the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Finnish civil war (27.1.1918).

The Finnish civil war – what was it all about?

Last year and the year before I was pleased to blog on the special year in the Finnish history – the preparations for the 100th anniversary of the Finnish Independence Day – the day when the Finnish parliament approved the Independence Declaration. Shortly afterwards the independence was recognised by the revolutionary government of Russia, led by the Bolsheviks and V.I. Lenin. This was celebrated by all political groupings in Finland. BUT the political and social life was in turmoil and the conflicts escalated into a civil war.

Nowadays the studies in the Finnish history, complemented by investigative journalism, have provided much information on the developments that led to the national tragedy. Paradoxically, Finland had profited of the presence of Russian soldiers and navy during the World War I (whilst Finnish people were not recruited to the Russian army). The fortifying works and the supply of army had provided income and employment for Finnish people. When Russia collapsed in military and economic terms, this was a heavy blow to the Finnish economy – and suddenly the condition of working people became worse. At the same time the police forces (maintained by the Russian government) were abolished and this caused immense problems. As a consequence, both the bourgeois parties and the labour movement started to create their own guards – which then started to live a life of their own. Also, with the common goal – to gain independence – there were controversies between the political parties: Who is really promoting it and who is collaborating with the Russian elite?

In January 1918 the bourgeois-led Finnish government declared the ‘white guard’ as the government troops and ordered the disarmament of the remaining Russian troops and of the ‘red guard’. At the same time the government left Helsinki and reassembled in the city of Vaasa. The disarmament order  led to fighting and to the decision of the red guard of Helsinki to start an armed resistance. This was followed at different parts of the country – but soon it became clear that the red guards dominated mainly the southern (and more industrialised) parts of Finland whilst the white guards dominated the central and northern areas. In March and April the white guards with better military leadership and better resources got the upper hand. In the crucial battle of Tampere the military strength of the red guard collapsed. And the subsequent invasion of German troops to the Helsinki area strengthened the final offensives of the white guard.

As usual, transition from civil war to peace and to normality is not an easy process. And in Finland in the year 1918 this transition was far from peaceful. Already during the civil war there had been numerous atrocities in different parts of the country. Now, after the military victory, the revenge was merciless. Mass executions, catastrophic circumstances at prisoner camps and an atmosphere of mistrust and discrimination overshadowed the whole year. However, the fact that Germany lost the World War I, gave rise to changes in government and brought up more reconciliatory tendencies into government policies. Yet, the wounds were deep and it took long to heal them.

Coming into terms with the experiences of the civil war – how has that happened?

In the light of the above it is understandable that the political climate remained very polarised through decades. From 1939 to 1945 the involvement of Finland in the World War II put the defence of the independence and the survival struggle of the Finnish people on top of everything else. In the post-war reconstruction there were tendencies towards consensus and towards polarisation. However, the recovery of the damages and the resettlement of a large population evacuated from the areas that were lost to Soviet Union – all this had the priority.

Once the reconstruction got further, there was firstly a need to deal with the more recent experiences of the World War II. On the one hand this happened via ‘war stories’, in which the bravery of Finns was celebrated. But on the other hand another kind of reflective literature emerged – something similar to Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ or to Hemingway’s ‘To whom the bells toll‘. The leading author of this wave was Väinö Linna with his taboo-breaking novel “Tuntematon sotilas” (The unknown soldier), published in 1954. As Linna himself said, he wanted to value the Finnish soldiers and their survival struggle but not the war itself. And as a result, there was a highly controversial debate, whether he did justice to his country and the struggle. At the end, he gained huge popularity and the film, based on his novel, is nowadays part of the national identity of the post-war Finland.

After this experience the country was ready to deal with the older wounds. And again it was Väinö Linna, who opened the discussion with his novel trilogy “Täällä Pohjantähden alla” (Under the North Star) in the 1960s. In this trilogy he reconstructs the Finnish history before the independence, the critical years of the independence movement and of the civil war, the tensed period of the 1920s an 1930s, the years of World War II and of the post-war recovery. The venue is the rural village of Pentinkulma that serves as the focal point for presenting what happened and what the local people thought of it. Given the success of his previous novel, Linna  presented a new perspective to the civil war and to the years after. With the help of his trilogy – and the films based on it – the new generations learned to overcome the ‘white’ and the ‘red’ myths of the civil war. It became apparent that it was not a war between ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’ but both sides had blood in their hands. And it became apparent that the years after the civil war kept the suspicion and tension alive. In the long run, the nation learned to leave the hatred behind – although not much was done to find the truth and to ease the reconciliation.

What has happened later on – until the current anniversary?

In the decades after the 1960s the Finnish economy became prosperous, the Finnish society was adopting a variant of a welfare state -policy and the political life was overcoming polarisations. Thus, the antagonisms of the 1918 were now longer lived as a part of the actual political culture. Yet, it was only in the 1990s and after the year 2000 when professional historians took major efforts to clarify in depth, what all happened in the year 1918. More detailed studies were published on different aspects of the civil war and a comprehensive database was gathered on the victims – included the ones killed in action, by atrocities, by executions, by starvation or diseases in the prison camps.

Moreover, this also brought into picture new kinds of novels that researched the fates of particular personalities or – in a bigger picture – the role of women during the national tragedy. And this gave rise to theatre pieces that presented these aspects in different parts of Finland. Finally, with the help of the Finnish broadcasting corporation YLE, a new campaign for collecting memories of the tragic years – either those of eye witnesses or those of their children – has led to a richer picture of the dark period.

On top of this, the 100th anniversary (of the beginning of the civil war) coincided with the presidential election in Finland. It was remarkable to see that the candidates of different parties could discuss the tragedy of the past in an open way – and it appeared that the relatives of the candidates had been on different sides. Yet, in the present date Finland this didn’t trigger attempts to replay the old antagonisms. Instead, the discussion took the course towards learning the lessons from the difficult past. The conflicts of interest and different world views should never bring the people to such a situation again.

I guess this is enough of these historical anniversaries. I will now return to my usual themes.

More blogs to come …

 

Historical Anniversaries 2018 – Part One: Remembering the Victims of Holocaust

January 28th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Normally I am writing on this blog about my work as researcher in vocational education and training (VET) and on learning experiences while working with practitioners in VET. However, as we all know, researchers and educators are not working in a societal vacuum. Therefore, issues of social awareness and social responsibility are always there to be considered and discussed. And historical anniversaries trigger such discussions in the media and in public debate. Yesterday, two historical anniversaries were ‘celebrated’ with such discussions – one at the international level and another one in my home country Finland. I will start with the Day for Remembering the Victims of Holocaust and the Nazi Regimes.

What does the the Day for Remembering (Gedenktag) stand for?

As an expatriate Finn living in Germany I have got used to the German culture of remembering the atrocities of the Nazi regime and showing solidarity to the victims. Many TV-channels show documentary films that give insights into the dark history and into the role of different societal actors who were involved. One of the peak points has been the 27th of January – the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau – the very place where the industrialisation of genocide and mass murders was brought to perfection.

Indeed, years and decades have passed from those dark days. Therefore, some people may think that one could leave that sad past behind. Some people may think that one could take a different view on the German military past – as if it were something separate from the genocide and mass murders of civilians of that time. And furthermore, migrants are coming to Germany from such areas in which the remembering of holocaust is not present.

This all has now been brought into discussion – once again – by the news updates and commentaries on the Day of Remembering. Below I have selected some examples that emphasise, how and why we need to keep the culture of remembering alive and ready to respond to whatever challenges.

The Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau as an advocate for the cause of the victims (also in the Internet)

My first example is the report of the leading German TV-channel ARD on the different activities of the Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau. Whilst the museum emphasises the importance making your own impressions there, on site, they also keep an eye on the discussions in the media and Internet. And, when they see something inappropriate (from the perspective of the victims), the intervene. Read more from the report:

Auschwitz-Museum in sozialen MedienAnwalt der Opfer im Netz

Insights into historical facts as means to challenge the present-date antisemitism

The reason why I emphasise the active engagement of the museum in Auschwitz is the worrying tendency in Germany and elsewhere towards antisemitic violence and hatred vis-à-vis Jewish people. To some extent this is connected to the right-wing populist movement in Germany but to some extent also to migration from the Middle East or from Eastern Europe. Here it is not my intention to make false generalisations. Instead, I want to emphasise the importance of a culture of remembering and solidarity for the victims. To me the following contributions of the radio channel Deutschlandfunk bring this to the point:

Letzte Briefe von NS-Opfern vor dem Tod (Last letters from the victims of Nazis)

This report informs of an exhibition of the last letters of holocaust-victims to their relatives. It makes transparent the human beings and human lives that suddenly became victims of a brutal terror regime.

“Hass bekämpft man durch Bildung” (We have to fight against hatred with means of education)

This is an interview with the leading Jewish rabbi in Paris. He reflects on newer tendencies towards antisemitism, xenophobia and racism in Europe. But he also emphasises the achievements of intercultural education in promoting solidarity and understanding between people with different cultural backgrounds.

I think this is enough of this historical anniversary. To me it is important that the message of remembering and understanding is passed forward. As the Prime Minister of the German Federal State Thüringen, Bodo Ramelow has formulated it: “Never again means never again!” The lessons from the history have to be learned.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

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