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 …

 

 

 

Hyvää Kalevalan päivää 28.2. – Happy Kalevala Day February 28th

February 28th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

Normally I have not made great noises about my Finnish nationality. And it has never crossed my mind to to start blogging in my own language – after all, I have been working several years as a European researcher (using English as the working language). However, this year – the year 2017 – is something different. Finland is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence (I have already blogged on this after the 99th Independence Day 2016).  And today, on the 28th of February we celebrate Kalevala – our national saga. So, this calls for a little explanation on the importance of Kalevala for our nation-building and on the circumstances in which it was created.

Finland in the 19th century – the search for Finnish national identity and Finnish national saga

During the Napoleon wars in the 19th century Sweden lost Finland to Russia. Since the wars were going on elsewhere in Europe, Russia was inclined to integrate the new province in a smooth way. So Finland was granted the status of an autonomous Grand-Duchy and the Russian Czar adopted the title Grand-Duke of Finland as well. Finland could keep the old Swedish legislation and govern itself as before – now showing loyality to the new rulers. This could be settled rather easily.

Yet, for the language, culture and national identity this transition was a challenge. So far the educated classes had spoken Swedish and tried to integrate with the elites of the Swedish motherland, whilst Finnish had remained as a language of uneducated. Now, Russian language came into picture as the language of the new rulers. The educated classes faced the question – how to position themselves in the new situation. A new movement emerged with the motto: “We are no longer Swedes, we don’t want to become Russians – let us be Finns!”

And as a part of this movement several hobby-folklorists started to roam around the rural areas to collect old folklore runes and songs to compile the new nation in making its national saga. The leading person in this movement was Elias Lönnroth who collected a huge amount of folklore and edited the national saga “Kalevala”. This saga tells of the arcaic ‘motherland region’ of Finland – Kalevala and of the ancient heroes of the past. Strangely enough, most of these heroes were tragic or tragicomic characters and this was explicit in the stories. (Perhaps the ancient Finns were kinsmen of Kaurismäki.)

The Kalevala runes

As usual with ancient folklore, the stories were told as runes or sung as songs, With Kalevala, the metrics were similar as Ilias and Odyssey: the Kalevala-trokee. Therefore, the obligatory Kalevala-reading at schools has been a challenge for the younger generations. So, it has been easier to pick the tradition via shortcut-versions of particular versions, modern-styled movies with ancient characters or cartoon-versions with dog-shaped humans portraying the Kalevala characters.

But enough with the explanations – let us give sample of Kalevala poetry! Below I start with an original quote (the first verses of Kalevala). Then I continue with a self-styled Kalevala Day greeting (bringing the main Kalevala characters and their contributions together). And to be sure – this all will be in Finnish. And to pick metric, I have hyphenated the first verses. Enjoy it!

Mie-le-ni mi-nun te-ke-vi, ai-vo-ni ajat-te-levi,
lähte-ä-ni lau-la-ma-han, saa’ani sa-ne-le-mahan,
suku-virttä suolta-ma-han, laji-virttä lau-la-mahan …

Väinämöisen kanteleista, Ilmarisen ahjoista,
joukahaisen jousesta, Lemminkäisen miekasta,
Kullervon kirouksesta, Aino-neidon kohtalosta …

Mutta toki muistanemme, mielessämme kantanemme
Ilmattaren aikojen alusta – Väinämöisen kantajan,
Pohjan Akan mahtavan – Kalevalaisten pelkäämän,
Pohjan Tytin kaunokaisen – Ilmarisen emännän,
Lemminkäisen äidin huolen – poikansa pelastajan,
Sekä meidän Marjatan, jolle poika puolukasta.

Näistä kertoo Kalavala, Suomen kansan tarina,
juhlapäivä tänään on, juhlavuosi verraton!

– – –

This was my contribution to the Kalevala Day celebration on this special jubilation year of Finland. I think I will get back to topics like this later on this year.

More blogs to come …

Independence Day – Finland 99 years as an independent state! – Part Three: The first decades of independence

December 6th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I started a series of blogs to celebrate the 99th Independence Day of Finland. The first post gave a brief overview of the time before independence and the second post discussed the process of nation-building and of making Finnish language a national language. In the third post I will try to give an overview on the struggle for independence and on the first decades of independence with the multitude of experiences made by the young nation.

The periods of oppression and resistance (1900 – 1916)

As I have mentioned in my previous posts, Finland had got a special status as an autonomous Grand Duchy under the Russian rule. This was topped up with the reforms that gave Finland its own currency (the Finnish Mark) and its own language rule (recognition of Finnish and Swedish as equal domestic languages). In the beginning the of the 20th century the new Czar Nikolai II was pushed by the pan-slavist movement of Russia to try to to abolish this autonomous status and the specific legislation inherited from Swedish era. These attempts are known in the Finnish history as the first and the second period of oppression (led by the General governors Bobrikoff and Seyn). The interventions of the Czar and the General governors met massive protests – petitions, demonstrations and campaigns for solidarity in Europe. Finally, the bigger events worked in favour of the small nation. In 1905 Russia lost the war against Japan and this led to a turmoil. As a concession, Czar Nikolai had to give up. Russia got its parliament – the Duma – and Finland got its own one-chambered parliament with equal voting rights for men and women (irrespective of social status).

Finland – with its newly elected parliament – was being consolidated as a nation state but the panslavists pushing the Czar did not give up. New attempts were made to withdraw the concessions and to stop the parliament working by dissolving it time and again. However, the times had changes. Already during the years of turmoil (1905-1906) bourgeois parties and the labour movement had started to set up their own armed forces to protect themselves from Russian police forces. And when the World War I broke out, many things changed. Firstly, Russia brought into Finland its own soldiers and refrained from calling Finns to military service. Secondly, part of the protest movement took steps towards armed resistance and sought cooperation with Germany. Thus, nearly 2000 young Finns travelled illegally to Germany to get military training there – and subsequently fought against Russia during the war.

The declaration of independence in 1917 and the civil war in 1918

The collapse of the czarist regime in 1917 led to a new situation. The Finnish (socialist-led) parliament took the course towards independence. The provisional government in Russia (led by Kerenski) blocked this and dissolved the parliament – once again (and this was supported by some bourgeois parties in Finland). When the new parliament was elected and constituted, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia changed the situation once more. Now, all parties were ready to take the step to full independence. The declaration of independence was approved in the Finnish parliament on the 6th of December 1917.

However, the newly declared independence did not remove the tensions. In January 1918 a civil war broke out between the armed forces of the bourgeois parties (the White guard) and of the radical labour movement (the Red guard).  The young nation was divided – socially and geographically. A bitter civil war with atrocities on both sides was fought and finally, the White guard was winning. At that time the returners from military training in Germany came back with contingents of German troops and gave their ‘helping hand’ in conquering Helsinki from the Reds.

So, in the beginning of the period of independence the country was split – part of the elected parliament was either jailed or exiled. The bourgeois majority took initiative to set up a kingdom with a German royal house. But then Germany lost the war and the German troops left Finland. So, the time was ripe to start as a republic with a democratic constitution (originally drafted by the first president Ståhlberg) and to to try to bring the nation together again.

The years of reconstruction, unrest and recovery (the 1920s and 1930s)

The first years of the young republic were characterised by post-war reconstruction and by rebuilding the nation with its own institutions and modes of governance. Education, healthcare and public transport were reorganised. The economy started to recover and foreign trade started to boom – the forestry sector was in the lead. A major factor in good and bad was the struggle with the prohibition law – smuggle and distribution of illegal alcohol created powerful commercial networks. But – the end of the prohibition law led them to legal business rather than criminal networks.

In politics the country remained divided. When the economic development turned towards depression, the political life was polarised. The country was shaken by a fascist-like mass movement that terrorised left-wing politicians and bourgeois liberals and was about to start a military coup d’état. The bold measures of the conservative president Svinhufvud (one of the leaders of the earlier independence movement) stopped these attempts and paved the way for years of appeasement. Thus, the latter half of the 1930s was characterised by economic recovery, political cooperation between the social democrats and the agrarian party (the centre party). And these years are also remembered because of long and hot summers.

The three wars during the World War II (1939 – 1945)

Once again, bigger events intervened into the destiny of the small country. By the end of the 1930s the expansive and aggressive policies of Nazi-Germany gave clear signs of the coming war. But the crucial strike for Finland was the Hitler-Stalin agreement and their secret agreements on zones of interest (regarding countries between Germany and Soviet Union. Accordingly, Soviet Union made a proposal that Finland should give away an area at the Karelian isthmus and get as compensation another area from the Soviet Karelia (further north). Finland did not accept the proposal and a war broke out. In this “Winter war” 1939-1940 Finland was fighting alone against Soviet army. However, the Finns had a powerful ally – the coldest winter of the century. The Finnish troops were better used to the climate whilst the Soviet troops were badly equipped and were not prepared for hard resistance. After 100 days of fighting and major losses on both sides a ceasefire was agreed and the peace treaty of Moscow was negotiated. Although Finland had been able to defend its territory, the defense had reached its limits and therefore the terms were hard – the Karelian isthmus and the municipalities around the Ladoga lake, the Petsamo (Petshenga) mining area in Lapland and some smaller areas were given away. In addition, the Soviet Union got the the right to have a military base in Hanko (near Helsinki, opposite Tallinn) as a ‘tenant’.

The following period (1940-1941) was already at that time called the ‘interim peace’ and the the bigger picture moved to that direction. When Nazi-Germany with its allies attached the Soviet Union, it declared Finland as one of the allies. Although there was no written agreement between the governments, preparations had already been made for a second war – counting on being on the same side as the Germans. I would like to emphasise that Finland was not ruled by Nazi-minded puppet government (like Quisling in Norway) but by coalitions that would have preferred to side with Western allies. But that was not on the cards. So, when the Germans attacked, war broke out between Finland and Soviet Union as well. This time the Soviet army was retreating and the Finnish army was conquering back old Finnish territory – and continued to those parts of Karealia that was never part of Finland. Then, for quite a while the fronts were stable. But in 1944 there was a massive offensive of the Soviet forces – and the Finns had to retreat. The final defense battles were fought on the ‘old’ and ‘newer’ borderlines – and the defense held. At that time the Soviets were more keen to get rid of this minor battlefield and move their troops further – to reach Germany and Berlin before their Western allies. So, in summer a separate interim peace was reached between Finland and Soviet Union and the new borders were drawn (on the basis of the 1940 peace treaty). And now, instead of Hanko, the Soviets wanted a military base from Porkkala (closer to Helsinki and Tallinn), again as a ‘tenant’. This was the end of the ‘Continuation war’ (1941 – 1944) as the Finns call it.

Once again, the lost areas from Karelia were to be emptied from Finnish inhabitants (if they had not already been evacuated) and other terms of the interim peace had to be respected (see more in the next post). But the most important obligation led to the third war in which the Finns fought during the World War II – the War of Lapland (1944 – 1945).

The background of this war dates back to the years 1940-1941. At that time Germany had occupied Norway and had agreed transit rights for German troops (going on holidays and returning) via Finnish territory to the Northern part of Norway. In 1941 when Germany attacked Soviet Union, it sent several contingents of such ‘transiters’ to Northern Finland. And in a short while a mutual agreement was reached that these contingents will be based in Lapland and they will be in charge of the Northern fronts (next to the Petsamo/Petshenga mining area). Now, when Finland got its separate peace agreement, the Finnish government got a strict deadline to chase the German troops out of its territory – peacefully or with arms. The Germans had no intent to go quickly nor quietly, so another period of war was fought – and the retreating Germans burned down all towns and villages before they left. By April 1945 the last German contingents had left Finland. The mission was completed – and the Soviet troops had entered the Finnish territory – ‘to give a helping hand’. Finland had fulfilled its obligations and was trying to return to the new normality.

– – –

I think this is enough of the first decades of the Finnish independence and the hard ride of the young nation alongside the European turmoils. As the musical theme I add “Evakon laulu” – the song of a family evacuated from Karelia. The pictures of that period give a clear impression on, what kind of story the lyrics tell.

 

In my final post I will continue the story of Finnish independence with the post-war decades.

More blogs to come ...

Independence Day – Finland 99 years as an independent state! – Part Two: Building the Finnish nation

December 6th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I started a series of blogs to celebrate the 99th Independence Day of Finland. The first post gave a brief overview of the time before independence – the long centuries under the Swedish rule and the one century under Russian rule. In this second post I will take a look at the process of nation-building and of making Finnish language a national language. Here again, we have two different periods – the slow development under Swedish rule and the ‘hatching period’ under Russian rule.

The ‘invisible’ Finland and Finnish people under Swedish rule

In my previous post I mentioned that when the Swedes conquered Finland, there was no geographic nor national entity that now is called ‘Finland’ (or – to precise: others call it that we, for us, the nake of our country is ‘Suomi’). And even that name refers only to ‘land’s end’ – the final outposts before the dark wilderness. Neither had the Finns of that time a perception of national identity – they were scattered ‘tribes’ speaking local dialects that were understandable to each other. But that was it. The Swedish rule brought stability and defence against Russians (with whom there was a constant struggle, who gets the uninhabited areas that were in no-man’s-land beyond the vaguely defined borderlines.

This all changed due to the Lutheran Reformation. Young priests travelled from all parts of Scandinavia to Wittenberg study theology in the new spirit. And already in Wittenberg these young pioneers started to translate the New Testament to their national languages. And please note that the young Finnish priests of that time – Mikael Agricola in the lead – translated the New Testament into Finnish (the first major book to appear after the Finnish ABC-book and the Psalmbook). So, that was the start of the Finnish language to make ist way to a written language and to a national language.

This was the start and with the help of the basic books for religious teaching the whole Finnish population was shepherded to the Lutheran state church. The priests took care of bringing the elementary reading skills to the people – who were to demonstrate on regular basis in public events that they can read from the books and that they know by heart their prayers. That was the level of literacy  needed in Finnish language. The ones to get school-based education and higher education had it in Swedish. At the end of the 18th century there was an initiative to start a Finnish newspaper but it was very short-lived (yet, the effort to go ahead was already there).

The emergent Finnish nation and the emancipation of Finnish language under Russian rule

When Finland got under Russian rule, the educated people had an identity crisis, which led them to look for a new perspective: “We are no longer Swedes, we don’t want to become Russians, let us be Finns!” 

In this spirit the young intellectuals started a movement to revitalise the Finnish language and the Finnish culture. Some of them (like J.L. Runeberg and Z. Topelius) wrote poems and novels of the glorious past of the Finnish people – in Swedish, but with Finnish spirit. Elias Lönnrothcollected old folklore and sagas from rural areas and composed the national epos ‘Kalevala’. The philosopher J.V.Snellman had a great influence – not so much with his highly respectable academic work as a Hegelian intellectual – but more with his work to start the Finnish press (in both Finnish and in Swedish) and then as a politician. During czar Alexander II he was a senator (read: prime minister) and managed to push through the new language rule, the currency reform, the start of the Finnish railways etc.

The above mentioned language rule was an important cultural concession of the liberal young czar to the autonomous Grand-Duchy of Finland. Instead of imposing Russian as the official language, it recognised Finnish and Swedish as two equal ‘domestic’ languages. And it obliged all public civil servants to obtain and demonstrate their command of both languages. Please note that this language rule is still in force in independent Finland. The Russian rulers expected that such a concession would help to distance Finland from the old ‘motherland’ Sweden and to become loyal vis-à-vis the czar and his Empire. For the Finnish national movement this was a great boost forward – the Finnish public education (in Finnish language) started to spread all over the country, the Finnish press got an upswing and the Finnish literature started to take off. The first novel in Finnish – the “Seven brothers”  of A. Kivi – appeared to the contemporaries far too rustical but afterwards it became beloved by the whole nation. Also, many artists in music and in fine arts with inspiration from the national movement made career – not only in Finland, but in the wide Europe in which they travelled and got engaged with different influences. Jean Sibelius – the most famous of this generation – became world famous already before Finnish independence and even more after that had been achieved.

Obviously, not all Russian rulers were pleased with these developments taking off. By the end of the 19th century pan-slavistic movements gained more power and put (among other things) the special status of Finland under question. In the beginning of the 20th century czar Nikolai II started twice a campaign to get rid of the autonomous rule of Finland. But these were stopped by bigger events of world history – firstly Russia lost the war against Japan and got into turmoil in 1905. Secondly, the World War I broke out and the Russian Empire needed to keep the border province Finland (next to the capital St. Petersburg) in peace and quiet.

– – –

I think this is enough of the story of the nation-building and of the emancipation of our language and culture.  As a musical  theme, let us listen to Sibelius’ Karelia Intermezzo and view the landscapes of Finnish Karelia and the Karelia lost in the World War II (see my next blog).

In my next blog I will give insights into the struggles for independence and developments in independent Finland.

More blogs to come …

Independence Day – Finland 99 years as an independent state! – Part One: Time before independence

December 6th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

Quite some time I have started all my blogs with reference to the ongoing project. Now that I have said goodbye to the project work (after my contract came to an end) I have felt puzzled – what will I be blogging about after the active engagement in a long-term project. Today I have a clear answer, what to start with – the Finnish Independence Day.

Countries with long history as independent nation states do not necessarily have a concept of ‘independence day’. Their histories are not characterised by being under the rule of a bigger nation. Instead, they have constituted their nation states by processes of unification or dissolution of major empires. But there is no clear point of becoming independent from a ruling power. And the constitution of the nation has been a long process – national language having become written language, ruling language and cultural language. For most countries that is old history.

Therefore, my non-Finnish friends may ask: “What is so great about national independence and of Independence Day?” I will tray to answer it with three blog posts. With the first one I try to sketch the time before independence . With the second one I discuss the emergence of the Finnish nation. With the third one I sketch a picture of 99 years of independence.

The long centuries under Swedish rule

The history of Finland is different from the ones of bigger nations – characterised by long periods under foreign rule. When the Swedish vikings conquered Finland centuries ago, there was no concept of ‘Finland’ (Suomi – as we say it) as a national entity. The name ‘Finland’ comes from Latin and refers to ‘land’s end’ before uninhabited tundra. Then, Finland became the border country between the expansive Swedish kingdom and emerging Russian empire. At a certain point the Swedes promoted Finland into Grand Duchy (one of the Swedish princes being the Duke). But the legislation was that of Sweden and the centre of administration was in Stockholm (and a province governor in Turku on the other side of the Botnic bay).

During those centuries Finland was considered as a periphery, as a border province to be expanded to keep the Russians out. Also, when Sweden was expanding during central European wars, Finland sent soldiers to Swedish armies. Finnish forests provided wood and tar for ship-building. But not much more was thought on the province. The ruling Lutheran church was keeping the ordinary people in discipline with religious teaching and preaching in Finnish. But the language of education and culture was Swedish. And if things would have continued this way, it would have been more likely that the Finnish language would have disappeared rather than emancipated as a national language.

The one century under Russian rule

Things changed due to the bigger picture of European politics. Napoleon Bonaparte had become Emperor of France and was isolating Great Britain with his continental blockade. He had got the Russian czar Alexander I to join the blockade (after a war) and wanted to get Sweden (ally of Great Britain) to join in as well. Therefore, he pushed Russia to start a war against Sweden – and promised Finland to Russia after the war. The war was fought in 1808-1809. Sweden lost, the Swedish king was sent to exile and the new royal house – the Bernadottes – were imported from France. And, indeed, Russia got Finland as its new border province in the north.

The Russian czar was not so greatly interested of the new province – although it was in the immediate vicinity of the Russian capital – St. Petersburg. So, the the representatives of the Finnish upper class saw their opportunity. Already during the war (when major part of the Finnish territory was conquered by Russians) they negotiated a deal with czar that as a reward of their loyalty vis-à-vis the new ruler they could keep the status of Grand Duchy and old Swedish legislation -adjusted to the new circumstances. The czar would be recognised as the Grand Duke of Finland and he would have his General Governor and regional governors in Finland. But mainly the administration would rely on the Finnish senate and civil servants (using Swedish as their ordinary working language but Russian with their new rulers).

This special status of Finland was topped up during the rule of czar Alexander II when Finland got its own currency – the Finnish Mark. For many reasons Finland – in the vicinity of the Russian capital – had become an interesting economic zone with rapid industrialisation and good infrastructure due to good railway connections and many channels that connected inland lakes to routes towards St. Petersburg. So, quite a lot of foreign capital was invested into this special economic zone (before that concept was invented) and foreign industrialists themselves came to start the new industries. Thus, Finland was becoming more and more self-governing and self-reliant – with many export articles traded with its own currency. But – not to forget – this economic growth was not a steady progress to prosperity. Finland still mostly agrarian country in a rough Nordic climate zone and these periods were also characterised by several years of crops lost and people in the countryside suffering of famine. Yet, with the economic development things appeared to be getting better. However, once again the big picture of European politics changed to a new direction.

– – –

I guess this is enough for the starters – the time before independence.Let us add the musical theme of the awakening of the national history with the old instrumental piece with modern interpretation and landscape photos and ‘historical video – The band Piirpauke and the melody ‘Church bells of Konevitsa monastery’ (at lake Ladoga):

In my next post I will discuss the nation-building and issues on Finnish language and culture.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

 

1st of May – Part Three: The End of World War II

May 6th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

After the First of May we in Europe are experiencing the 70th anniversary of the end of World War. In different countries this anniversary has a different meaning and it is being celebrated on different dates. The countries that were under the occupation of NS-regimes are celebrating their dates of liberation by the allied forces. The major west allies are celebrating the 8th of May as the great day during which the NS-regime in Germany signed the unconditional capitulation. The Soviet Union and afterwards the Russian Federation has celebrated the 9th of May – on which the capitulation came into force – as the Day of Victory. Having said all this it is interesting to observe – as an expatriate living in Germany – how the Germans take these anniversaries.

 1. The difficult issue “liberation”

Firstly, it is obvious that the these dates are characterised by mixed feelings – Germany had been on the wrong side, the NS-regime had made itself guilty of atrocities, war crimes and unnecessary mass destruction. This cannot be celebrated with joy. Yet, already a decade a ago the late Federal President von Weiszäcker declared that also Germans should consider the end of the war as liberation – the end of a terror regime and the beginning of the new era. This message was radical at the time he spoke these words, but now it seems to be generally accepted.

The current Federal president Gauck has taken one step further in emphasising that all allies – both Western and the Soviets – were involved in the liberation of Germans. When saying this, he takes into account that many Germans have bad experiences of the Soviets as occupational power and are reluctant to use the word ‘liberation’ when speaking of the Soviets. Gauck himself knows this very well – his father was a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union and it took long years before these POWs (or the remaining ones) were released. Yet, Gauck has drawn attention to the fact that the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war in Germany was far worse – in this context he uses the word ‘war crime’. Acknowledging this is to him the starting point of true reconciliation and getting over to new era.

This message it is being multiplied in the way in which the German leading politicians participate in events that commemorate the liberation of the former concentration camps. It is a matter of honour for the present date political leaders to pay their respect to the victims and to declare their solidarity to the survivors.

 2. The memory of war crimes and of the blind faith on the NS-regime

In this spirit the German TV and radio programs are overwhelmed with historical documents and commentaries that reflect on the dark chapter of the German history. These report very thoroughly of the sad history of the war years and in particular of the last months of the war. In particular they make use of the film material produced by British and American camera teams. Thus, we get a picture of meaningless fanaticism as well as of the slow collapse of militarism. We get insights into the work of exiled German and Austrian Jews who now returned as American specialists (psychologists and social researchers) examining, how and why ordinary Germans felt so tied with the old regime. In the same way we see the old documents that showed how ordinary Germans were confronted with the terrible scenes that they experienced in the liberated concentration camps. All this is analysed by present date German historians and other specialists who want to give reflected insights into events, circumstances and the mindsets of people.

 3. The post-war reconciliation and the present date

The documents have not only covered the final events of the war but the also the shocking experience of the end of the war – die Stunde Null, the moment when time ceased to pass on. They give a picture on the loss of orientation and the struggle of mere survival when the society had collapsed. And they give a picture on the difficult relations between the civilians and the new occupation powers – in different respects.

But the documents also give insights into the newly emerging societal structures and to the tensions between the allied powers. And in this constellation the support for the reconstruction in West Germany becomes a strategic approach in the Cold War between the opposed military blocks. And in this spirit the recently filmed documents on the atrocities are filed into archives. Also, some specialists from secret services, military and police forces (in spite of their dark past) become useful for the new regimes (and not only in West Germany). This all is being reflected and remembered.

In the present-date circumstances – when the era of Cold War has been left behind – this all serves the purpose of presenting Germans as ones who have learned their lessons and who want to speak for reconciliation. Yet, they do not want to push themselves or to instrumentalise the anniversaries in any way. In this respect the German Chancellor Merkel and the Foreign Minister Steinmeier have chosen their dates to visit Russia – not during military parades but during days of mourning and peaceful rethinking.

I think this is enough of the historical anniversaries. It is time to get back to the working issues of our ongoing project.

More blogs to come …

1st of May 2015 – Part Two: Historical anniversaries

May 4th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

As I had indicated in my previous post, I am writing a series of posts with focus on the First of May. In the first post I discussed the tradition of First of May demonstrations and described the event in Bremen. In this post I will discuss some historical anniversaries that have to some extent overshadowed the First of May in 2015.

1. The massacres/genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915

Shortly before the First of May there was a lot of discussion on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the World War I. It is known to all that a major part of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire was destroyed due to organized deportations and massacres. Up to this date the Turkish government refuses to accept that thus mass destruction was intentional. Instead, their version is that the Armenians were involved in rebellions and got killed in armed conflicts. Most European countries and the European parliament have considered that this mass destruction had been a well-organised operation that altogether aimed to destroy the Armenian minority. Therefore, they have used the expression ‘genocide’.

For the German government this has been a sensitive issue – partly because Germans were allies of the Ottoman Empire, partly because of their own dark history during the NS-regime and partly because they want to serve as mediators in present-date conflicts. However, in the ecumenic service to commemorate the 100th anniversary the Federal President Gauck (former civil right activist from DDR) used the word genocide. And the next day in the special session the president of the Federal Parliament Lammert used the same words. And finally the resolution of the parliament used this wording as well.

 2. The Carnation Revolution in Portugal 1974

During the same days we experienced the 41st anniversary of the Carnation Revolution of Portugal. This event has not been so strongly present in the German media (neither last year nor this year). However, in my memory it was one of the strong experiences for the students of the 1970s. At that time young army officers who had served a right-wing dictatorship started a revolution to stop a colonial war and got a massive support. The symbols of this support were the carnations on the weapons of the soldiers. This uprising and the following revolutionary transformation served as an example of a possibility to put an end to a dictatorship and colonial wars and to start a new course to democracy. Since then Portugal has gone a long way and experienced both successes and disappointments when looking back at the ideals of the carnation revolution. Yet, the great changes have been irreversible.

3. The end of Vietnam War 1975

And immediately after the previous one came the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. This event was at its time the symbol of a struggle of a small nation against former colonisers, occupation powers, neo-colonial partition and new invasion. This struggle became known via media and the documents gave rise to worldwide international solidarity. The end of the war was greeted as a great achievement of the Vietnamese people and as a lesson to those who wanted to push a post-colonial regime upon them. Shortly after the news from Portugal this was a greater sign of the winds of change that were blowing at that time.

It was paradoxical that the wave of international solidarity – that was so strong during the years of war – so easily faded away. The economic and social problems of Vietnam during the reconstruction period, unsettled issues with the US government, problems with the neighbouring terror regime of Cambodia (and its supporter China), internal problems within the civil society … All this became complicated and could not fit into a simplistic that only saw heroes and villains. Yet, the history of the reconstruction and recovery of Vietnam has shown us that this people has worked its way forward and deserves all the respect of the international community. And many of the historical document films shown by the German TV channels have conveyed this message.

I think this is enough of these historical anniversaries. In my next posts I will discuss yet another historical anniversary – the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II.

 

More blogs to come …

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