December 6, 2017 is the 100th Anniversary of Finnish independence.
A century is not necessarily a long time for a nation state, and even less so for a people. But 100 is a nice, round number people can wrap their heads around. Much has happened since the tumultuous days of the Russian Revolution. Much of it specifically because of Russia. Indeed, a key element in Finnish independence and identity is our relationship with the rest of the world and especially Russia and Sweden.
Prior to our run as an independent republic, Finland spent 600 or so years as the Eastern Province of Sweden and a century as an autonomous Grand Duchy of the vast and mighty Romanov Empire. Towards the later days of that declining behemoth, a number of things coincided, roughly speaking. Firstly, a rudimentary industrialization took place, largely thanks to British and Swedish industrialists coming in to take advantage of the cheap labor and plentiful energy provided by our numerous rivers, which made Finland one of the more advanced parts of the Russian Empire relative to population. The names of those European entrepreneurs are now big brand names, such as Finlayson and Fazer.
Secondly the national romantic wave that swept Europe riled the Fenno-Swede upper class into coming up with a uniquely Finnish high culture. We ended up with a lineup of painters, poets, composers, and novelists that stands shoulder to shoulder with other Nordic countries, so I dare claim they did a fine job of “inventing” Finland. This included the first edition of the national Epic Kalevala, a distant thematic cousin of the Poetic Edda and Beowulf. It’s a collection of the oral tradition, poetry, stories and songs from the old folk. (Of course with heavy handed Christian editing which left out most of the visceral bits with sex and violence.) All this worked to create national sentiment, especially among the idealistic upper class.
Russification and centralization of power was an attempt by the later Romanovs to hold on to the reins of power in a sprawling multicultural and multi-ethnic Empire. Finns, who had enjoyed a special position and ruled themselves autonomously, were desperate. In response to increasing Russian control, in 1905 a young Fenno-Swede nobleman, Eugen Schauman shot the Russian general-governor Bobrikov.
The tentacles of Bolshevism inevitably reached our shores, and so when Tsarist power evaporated, the Soviet government of Lenin held court in St. Petersburg, and the Finnish regional government sent out a delegation to ask permission to declare independence, Lenin could comfortably agree, knowing that a communist revolution in Finland was already in the works. The form of government Finland adopted was originally supposed to be a constitutional monarchy in the vein of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The new King was already chosen; an eager German nobleman was preparing for the job. In the words of then senator, later president P. E. Svinhufvud, the idea was to become an independent nation, recognized by its peers and take our place in the world.
The internal conflict that ravaged Finland in 1917–1918 is commonly known as the Civil War, the War of 1918, or the National War. Other names, which are less common include such descriptive and enlightening terms as “The Red Rebellion.” Communists, along with the reluctant Social Democrats, fought the official government forces that consisted of the Nationalists, bourgeois capitalists, monarchists, and everyone else. Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim, another Fenno-Swede nobleman who had served in the Tsar’s military and reached the rank of General there, commanded the government forces. In a poetic premonition of what was to come in the second round of the Great European Civil War a few decades later, the fighting that took place in the First World War in Finland was G. E. Mannerheim aided by Germans fighting off the Red Dragon of Bolshevism.
German defeat in WW I meant the bottom fell out of any plans for a monarchy. A representative republic would have to do. In hindsight this may have been a lucky break. The interwar period wasn’t without its hiccups, and Finns, not just the Swedish-speaking upper class, were getting involved in national politics. Following developments of public discourse in Central Europe and enriched by the living memory of a Communist uprising, far Right movements began to pop up. In addition, over 9000 Finns served as volunteers in the fight against Communism in nearby conflicts, especially in Estonia. Nationalist fervor boiled over in 1932 when the Lapua Movement, which by that point was an Anti-Communist militia, almost attempted a military takeover of the country. Some stern words and scolding by a senior statesman and a widely respected opponent of Communism, the aforementioned P. E. Svinhufvud, ended the conflict before it really began. What also ended was the practice of “muilutus” which means kidnapping and beating up a known or suspected Communist and giving them a lift over the Soviet border. Some eager and probably well-intentioned but dim young men had after all mistakenly done this to the first President of Finland.
As a pivotal point in Finnish history and the formation of a uniquely Finnish identity, nothing compares to the Winter War. The Soviet Union attacked, claiming Finnish artillery had shelled Soviet positions. It was all bogus of course, but false flag operations are awfully convenient for starting a war. The Soviet Union wanted the islands in the Baltic as well as convenient land access to the rich iron ore deposits in Sweden. Crushing some upstart republic would surely be just a bureaucratic exercise to the mighty Red Army. In a way it was a bureaucratic exercise, but not in the way Comrade Stalin had planned.
The defense Finland put up with its woefully underequipped military is the stuff of legends. Granted, another thing that was legendary was Soviet incompetence. Despite calls for aid the international response was at best a strongly worded letter to Kremlin. Volunteers did come, primarily from Sweden and other Nordic countries but also as far as the United States. Outnumbered at least 2:1 in raw manpower, roughly 100:1 in tanks and 34:1 in combat aircraft, the Finns managed to hold off the invasion for 105 days. After that there was nothing left to throw at the enemy. Finland did not stop fighting until the artillery had literally run out of shells. The conflict hardened Finns and drained a lot of the bad blood between socialists and nationalists; everyone save a handful of ideological operatives had fought tooth and nail to the bitter end. Women pulled more than their weight too, the Lotta Svärd institution was absolutely crucial to the war effort. To be Finnish meant to fight for Finnish independence.
Finland later fought alongside Germany to regain what was lost and undoubtedly for revenge. American Lend-Lease and the Capitalist-Communist alliance ultimately overwhelmed the brothers in arms, and the war ended. Finland however avoided the fate of eastern Europe and was not occupied by the Soviet Union. Instead surveillance committees were appointed, and Finland was forced into co-operation and paying reparations for the war. Despite nominal defeat the government prepared for armed resistance: tens of thousands of rifles were ordered to be hidden all over the country, in building foundations, attics, or just buried in the ground, just waiting for the guerrilla war in case of occupation. Stashes are still found.
The Cold War years were spent in a bizarre limbo outside both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, eventually with a de facto centrist dictator walking the razor’s edge and keeping either side gaining overt political influence in Finland. At this time intelligence services from all over the world used Finland as their bridgehead into the USSR and vice versa. Much like in prior centuries when the Latin west and the Orthodox east met and mingled, Finland was a bizarre country where you could go see the latest American cinema (with slight delay) and follow it up with a concert by leading soviet musicians organized by the Soviet Bureau of Cultural Exchange. You could buy a Lada or a Datsun. American subcultures like Greasers, Hippies, or Punk existed alongside dyed-in-the-wool Stalinist youth groups, who by the way today populate our mainstream media.
Soviet influence did, however, make veneration of the war veterans a taboo. A taboo which was promptly and swiftly overturned in 1991. The collapse of the USSR scrambled up the Finnish economy which had been going strong in the 1980s, but more importantly it scrambled up the social order. Communists who still believed in total proletarian victory had their worldview smashed before their eyes. Many others were fooled by Slick Willy into thinking History had ended. The newly liberated and very liberal state of Finland rushed to join the European Union and did so in 1995. It was the way of the future and what everyone else had done. So why not us?
It may be that having just one overwhelmingly powerful enemy for so long made Finns forget there are other, perhaps more insidious enemies in this world. Maybe Stalin was right when he called us “a little slow.” But it also has to be said the EU in 1995 did not appear the same Tower of Babel it is today.
Speaking of today, the festivities planned are on the surface quite grand. Those with some sense have however been somewhat skeptical of the planning commission. It includes but is not limited to 1) an explicitly far-Left rap artist and a son of a wealthy banker, who live-action-roleplays as the voice of the proletariat and the self-appointed conscience of Finnish military history; 2) shrieking feminists; 3) pro-immigrant protestant clergy; 4) assorted state-funded artists. Also articles and columns in major newspapers have tried to sell the idea that Finland should be more like Canada and uninvite herself from her own anniversary. Luckily though, the people don’t swallow this sort of nonsense that easily. In a poll conducted by a major publication where over 22,000 people answered, 64% said exhibit 1 should be nowhere near planning this event.
A lower court did manage to ban a nationalist organization, the self-described national socialist Nordic Resistance Movement just in time for Independence Day. They got under someone’s skin by marching through a major city, chanting “traitor to the people” and naming various politicians. The popular 6.12 torchlit march was contested by a leftist group trying to organize an event with alpacas and bunnies at the starting location of the march. Laws on “hate speech” are drafted, and the government public broadcasting corporation YLE, known as the Ministry of Truth to some, published explicit rules on what constitutes “hate speech” and who is allowed to say what. Non-Finns and minorities are in this case more equal than native Finns.
Finland lives in the same clownworld as everyone else in Northwestern Europe. A nominally capitalistic society where public discourse and institutions of education and media are totally dominated by ideas from the soft Marxian Left. We are in luck though. As most of the lines fed to the Left come from the United States with a 1 to 5 year delay depending on the issue and are invariably run through Twitter’s automatic translate function a new phenomenon has risen: Google Translate Leftism. The so-called conservatives aren’t any better, and the best hope in parliamentary politics are a young-Earth creationist woman who swears by “Judeo-Christian values” and a thoroughly uncharismatic man with mild Aspergers.
While politics is always disappointing, the people themselves don’t on closer observation paint such a miserable picture. The Finnish reaction to the so called “migrant crisis” was multiple demonstrations demanding closing the borders, formation of a street patrol group, and enough angry posts on Facebook to keep the Zuckerberg automated suspension system active for months. The smug progressive-liberal bubble that exists in the capital does like to pull off stunts like an event planned for today called “I’m ashamed.” The idea is that people would go stand in front of the central railway station in Helsinki and “be ashamed” of everything from cutting social security to giving 9 Jews to Germany over 70 years ago. The response was utter mockery.
I’ll briefly list some Finnish folk heroes, real and fictional. The reason will become apparent shortly.
- Knut Posse (Swede), defended Finland against invading Muscovites in the 1400’s
- Sven Tuuva (fictional), fought agaisnt invading Russians in the war of 1809
- G. E. Mannerheim, fought against communists and Russians in multiple wars
- Simo Häyhä, fought against invading Russians in 1939
- Lauri Törni (Later Larry Thorn in the Green Berets), fought against invading Russians and communsits in three armies and two wars.
- The 1995 and 2011 Finnish national ice hockey teams beat Sweden
As the astute among you may have noticed there is a pattern here.
A significant unique thing about Finland is that it is the only Axis country that is able to time after time make cinematic productions that depict the Allies as the enemy and the Axis as the protagonists. The most iconic of these is The Unknown Soldier, based on a book by Väinö Linna. The oldest one from 1955 plays every Independence Day on television and is considered to be one of the greatest Finnish films ever made. A second version was filmed in the 1980s with a much more realistic look. It never achieved the revered status of the older film has but served as a more approachable version to a new generation.
This year saw the release of the third version. It has already made history as the best preforming Finnish film ever. A big part of this might just be the fact that it’s bloody good cinema, but I dare suggest the historical significance of the subject matter and the very central position the war holds in the collective Finnish psyche and identity have boosted its popularity significantly. Of course, the original work as well as it derivatives are not works that glorify war or violence. Instead they are a realistic and emotionally engaging link to the past and the struggles of our grandparents and great grandparents, their sacrifice, their sense of duty and dedication. Their Sisu.