Tag: Finnish history

Monikulttuurisen maamme kirja. Suomen kielen ja kulttuurin lukukirja [The book of our multicultural land. A reader of Finnish language and culture]

23 October 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

monikulttuurisen-maamme-kirjaMonikulttuurisen maamme kirja. Suomen kielen ja kulttuurin lukukirja
[The book of our multicultural land. A reader of Finnish language and culture]
Toim. [Ed. By] Marjukka Kenttälä, Lasse Koskela, Saija Pyhäniemi, Tuomas Seppä
Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 2013. 252 pp.
ISBN 978-952-495-253-8
€ 34, hardback

This book opens a fascinating, often entertaining and eminently readable perspective on Finnishness and Finnish culture. It contains short Finnish texts supplied with introductions, from the Kalevala and the writings of Finland’s national author Aleksis Kivi to the present day. There are also Finnish translations of the work of Finnish-Swedish authors. The older texts are drawn from the literary ‘canon’, in works by J.L. Runeberg, Z. Topelius, Juhani Aho, Maria Jotuni, Eino Leino, F.E. Sillanpää, Väinö Linna and Tove Jansson. Among the excerpts that date from more recent times there are even pop and rock lyrics. The writing often throws light on some aspect of Finnishness, sometimes with a critical or ironic note. There is also writing by immigrants. Interspersed with the literary examples are short essays giving the views of experts on subjects like Finnish history, language or sport. Some of the texts conclude with a glossary of unfamiliar words and terms. The explanations are arranged in order of their appearance in the text: for the casual reader seeking the meaning of a word, alphabetical order would have been more practical, though even then some phrases might have remained unnoticed.

Translated by David McDuff

Ove Enqvist & Heikki Tiilikainen: Linnakesaaret. Rannikkolinnakkeiden elämää sodassa ja rauhassa [The fortress islands. The life of the coastal bastions in war and peace]

2 October 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

linnakesaaretLinnakesaaret. Rannikkolinnakkeiden elämää sodassa ja rauhassa
[Fortress islands. The life of coastal bastions in war and peace]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2014. 301 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-31-8005-8
€53.90, hardback

Finland’s coastal artillery was created after independence in 1918 to protect the country’s long coastline. Part of the system was, however, built in the early 20th century during the period of Russian rule for artillery batteries that were formed to provide security for St Petersburg. This carefully constructed and handsomely illustrated ‘coffee table book’, by two former bastion officers and non-fiction authors, charts the history of the coastal artillery until the decommissioning of the service: in 1998 its functions were transferred to other branches of the military. The main emphasis is on the early history, and nearly half of the book is devoted to a portrayal of the Second World War period. During the Winter and Continuation Wars the coastal artillery played a major role in Finland’s defence. Fierce artillery battles took place on the fortress islands, and there was also hand-to-hand fighting on them. The book presents a comprehensive account the development and operation of the bastions and the artillery in both wartime and peacetime. Light is shed on the diverse aspects of the working lives and recreations of soldiers and civilians in the harsh and demanding conditions of the outer islands.

Translated by David McDuff

Luvattu maa. Suur-Suomen unelma ja unohdus [The promised land. The dream of Greater Finland, and how it was forgotten]

26 September 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

luvattumaaLuvattu maa. Suur-Suomen unelma ja unohdus
[The promised land. The dream of Greater Finland, and how it was forgotten]
Toim. [Ed. by] Sari Näre & Jenni Kirves
Helsinki: Johnny Kniga, 2014. 407 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-40295-5
€36.90, hardback

In the 1920s and 1930s Finland was powerfully influenced by the idea of a ​​Greater Finland which was also to include the Finno-Ugric peoples living on the Soviet side of the border – at least East Karelia, if not more. Right-wing nationalists in particular nourished a vision that had its roots in the idealistic ‘Karelianism’ of the nineteenth century. When during the Second World War in 1941 Finland ended up fighting the Soviet Union as an ally of Nazi Germany, and the Finnish army advanced far beyond the eastern border, for a short time many Finns even viewed a Greater Finland as a possibility. After Finland suffered defeat in the war there was a desire to forget both the embarrassing alliance with Nazi Germany and the frenzied nationalistic dreams of Greater Finland with their population resettlements and other plans. Not until the 1970s did anyone begin to study the subject in more depth. Five historians from a younger generation present a fascinating study of the Greater Finland idea and the attempts at its realisation, discussing, for example, the attitude to the war taken by women and the clergy, life at the front line, and propaganda, including its expression in literature.

Translated by David McDuff

Juho Kotakallio: Hänen majesteettinsa agentit. Brittitiedustelu Suomessa 1918–1941 [His Majesty’s agents. British Intelligence in Finland 1918–1941]

14 August 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Prittiagentti.2.inddHänen majesteettinsa agentit. Brittitiedustelu Suomessa 1918–1941
[His Majesty’s agents. British Intelligence in Finland 1918–1941]
Jyväskylä: Atena, 2014. 297 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-300-025-4
€34, hardback

Historian Juho Kotakallio’s book deals with the work of the British Intelligence Service (SIS) in Finland from the Declaration of Independence (1917) to the early phase of the Continuation War (1941–1944). The Bolshevik Soviet state was also seen as a threat to Europe in its western neighbour Finland, which offered a key observation post for the gathering of secret intelligence about the Soviet Union. Undercover British agents took up residence in the country, and were moved to and fro across the eastern border. Russian émigrés and some Finns also worked for the British. One victim of the spy world was Sidney Reilly (considered to be a prototype of James Bond), who was lured through Finland to the Soviet Union, where he met his death by execution. In the 1930s the agents’ interest also increasingly focused on economics and on the growing power of Germany. During Finland’s Winter War with the Soviet Union in 1939–40 British intelligence was based more on openness and trust. After the outbreak of the so-called Continuation War, in December 1941, Britain declared war on Finland, and the possibilities for intelligence gathering there became fewer. The book, which gives a fascinating and objective view of the intelligence world, unfortunately lacks an index of names.

Translated by David McDuff

Liisa Suvikumpu: Suomalaiset kylpylät. Kotimaisen kylpyläkulttuurin historiaa [Finnish spas. The history of Finnish spa culture]

28 May 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

kylpylatSuomalaiset kylpylät. Kotimaisen kylpyläkulttuurin historiaa
[Finnish spas. The history of Finnish spa culture]
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2013. 240 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-239-8
€45, hardback

The Finnish sauna fulfils some of the same functions as the spa, but the latter is more public. In Finland there have been various kinds of spas that employ the health-giving effects of water, and they have mostly been based on European models. The historian Liisa Suvikumpu presents the story of some twenty Finnish spas from a cultural-historical perspective. Their heyday lasted from the nineteenth century to World War II. At these establishments it was possible to enjoy the benefits of bathing and mineral water: they were accompanied by relaxation therapy, rest, exercise and a healthy diet , but also entertainment and socialising. The spas in various parts of Finland were keenly patronised by Russian visitors before the Russian Revolution of 1917. Some of Finland’s most renowned architects designed the buildings, and the premises often included pavilions, kiosks, a restaurant and a park. With its lively text and versatile illustrations this book would make also an excellent present.

Translated by David McDuff

Updated, alive

8 May 2014 | Non-fiction, Reviews

fjoashgo hs b

Minna at 50. The Finnish flag is flown on her birthday: 19 March has been named the Day of Equality. Canth also flies on the tail of one of the aircrafts of the Nordic airline Norwegian: the fleet carries portraits of ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’ of four Nordic countries (the other Finn is the 19th-century poet J.L. Runeberg). Original photo: Viktor Barsokevich / Kuopio Museum of Cultural History

Herkkä, hellä, hehkuvainen – Minna Canth
[Sensitive, gentle, radiant – Minna Canth]
Helsinki: Otava, 2014. 429 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-23656-6
€40.20, hardback

There are two sure methods of preserving the freshness of the works of a classical author in a reading culture that is increasingly losing its vigour.

The first is to give a high profile to new interpretations of them, either in the form of scholarly lectures or of artistic re-workings, such as dramatisations, librettos or film scripts. Another unbeatable way to keep them alive as a subject of discussion is an updated biography, through which the author is seen with new eyes.

Minna Canth (1844–1897) is now celebrating her 170th anniversary, and she is fortunate in both respects. Having begun her literary career in the late nineteenth century, she still continues to be Finland’s most significant female writer.

Her influence on the role of women in society and, in particular, her promotion of girls’ education, is the cornerstone of Finland’s social equality. In the twenty-first century Canth’s plays are still receiving new interpretations, and they have also been made into operas and musicals. (Read her short story, ‘The nursemaid’, here.) More…

Juhani Suomi: Mannerheim – viimeinen kortti? Ylipäällikkö-presidentti [Finland plays its last card – Mannerheim, Commander-in-chief and President]

30 April 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

suomi.ViimeinenMannerheim – viimeinen kortti? Ylipäällikkö-presidentti
[Finland plays its last card – Mannerheim, Commander-in-chief and President]
Helsinki: Siltala, 2013. 836 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-234-172-3
€32, hardback

In his book Professor Juhani Suomi – well-known as the biographer of President Urho Kekkonen – focuses on the life and actions of Marshal Gustaf Mannerheim (1867–1951) during the final phase of the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union beginning in1943 and, in particular, during his term as Finnish President from 1944 to 1946. Mannerheim was elected President by exceptional procedure, and his difficult task was to lead Finland from war to peace, which he succeeded in doing. Suomi seeks to reply specifically to the question of whether Mannerheim lived up to the myth that was created about him, and of whether he was Finland’s last chance as the guarantor of the country’s independence during those fateful years, as he is often presented. On the basis of a number of sources, the author draws a critical portrait of an aristocrat: this was a man who was cold and vain, who at every turn thought mainly of his own posthumous reputation and who as an elderly leader was slow and fickle in his decisions – though the reader will not necessarily agree with all of Suomi’s conclusions. Well-written, occasionally a bit too detailed, his book vividly describes a dramatic period in Finland’s recent history.

Translated by David McDuff

Antti Kujala: Neukkujen taskussa? Kekkonen, suomalaiset puolueet ja Neuvostoliitto 1956–71 [In the Soviets’ pocket? Kekkonen, the Finnish political parties and the Soviet Union 1956–71]

17 April 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Neukkujen taskussa?Neukkujen taskussa? Kekkonen, suomalaiset puolueet ja Neuvostoliitto 1956–71
[In the Soviets’ pocket? Kekkonen, the Finnish political parties and the Soviet Union 1956–71]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2013. 392 pp., ill .
ISBN 978-951-31-7347-0
€39, hardback

In this book, which partly cites new sources in Russia, associate history professor Antti Kujala describes the nature of the policy pursued by President Urho Kekkonen during his term of office from 1956 to 19971 (he resigned in 1981). The parties were divided among themselves, and also to some extent internally. In political plotting secret support was sought after from both the Soviet Union and the West. Kekkonen was able to achieve a strong position, which he made use of. He sought to safeguard Finland’s interests with regard to the Soviet Union and created a good relationship with its leaders. At home, however, he used his position as a weapon against his opponents and tried to restrain criticism that could easily be interpreted as anti-Soviet. The Soviet Union viewed Finland as lying within its sphere of power and was able to influence many Finnish politicians and union leaders, as well as the composition of the government. The section of the book in question contains an account of the central phenomena of Finland’s political history: the influence of the Soviet Union, as manifested by the ‘night frosts’ and the so-called ‘Note Crisis’, and Finland’s reactions to the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops in 1968.

Translated by David McDuff

The almost nearly perfect travel book

4 April 2014 | Articles, Non-fiction

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

The question of what foreign people think of us Finns, and Finland has always been a particularly burning one in these latitudes: a young nation, a small people. Can we be as good as bigger and wealthier nations? Tommi Uschanov reads a new book on the Nordic countries published in England, keeping a sharp eye on what is being said about…. Finland, naturally

When an article based on The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle by Michael Booth was published last January in the London Guardian, there was a nationwide outcry in Finland. ‘Finland being bashed in the British media,’ one tabloid headlined grandiosely, while a sober financial paper spoke of ‘a broadside full of stinky stuff’. It takes a re-reading of the article after having read the book to understand why. To create an artificial atmosphere of controversy, the article is lop-sidedly critical of Finland in a way which the book goes out of its way to avoid.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People belongs in a by now time-honoured genre within English letters: the humorous encomium to a host culture by an expatriate – or immigrant, as we hosts impolitely insist on calling them. The only difference is that Michael Booth, a British food and travel writer, does not discuss only Denmark, where he has lived for a decade, but visits each of the other four Nordic countries in turn. More…

Rauhan ytimessä. Sadankomitea 50 vuotta [In the core of peace. Sadankomitea at 50]

3 April 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

rauhan_ytimessaRauhan ytimessä. Sadankomitea 50 vuotta
[In the core of peace. Sadankomitea at 50]
Toim. [Ed. by] Johanna Sumuvuori
Helsinki: Into, 2013. 170 pp., ill .
ISBN 978-952-264-264-6
€23, paperback

The nonpartisan Sadankomitea (‘Committee of 100’) peace organisation was founded in Finland in 1963 by the young radicals of their time. The movement was inspired by certain British non-governmental organisations. Its policies were established by research, discussion and writing rather than by direct action and marching. An important feature of the movement, especially during the Cold War, was its distinction from Rauhanpuolustajat (The Finnish Peace Committee), which was considered to be a mouthpiece of the Soviet Union. The movement’s discussion forum was the journal Ydin (‘The core’), founded in 1967, whose articles had more weight than its circulation might have suggested, a fact that also indicates Sadankomitea’s influence. This commemorative book contains a dozen or so articles in which peace movement veterans – including Finland’s foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, who is a founding member – and younger activists discuss the movement’s work for peace. The fascinating articles range from personal recollections to analytical overviews.

Translated by David McDuff

Eerikinkronikka [Eric’s Chronicle]

6 March 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Eerikinkronikka kansi2.inddEerikinkronikka
[Eric’s Chronicle]
Finnish translation by Harry Lönnroth, Martti Linna
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura [Finnish Literature Society], 2013. 221pp.
ISBN 978-952-222-445-3
€35, hardback

Eerikinkronikka (Erikskrönikan) is both an important source of knowledge about Finland’s medieval history and a chivalric epic poem. The Old Swedish text was possibly written during the 1320s by Duke Eric’s secretary, the priest Torkel Kristinsson. Philologist Harry Lönnroth and historian Martti Linna have translated the work into Finnish for the first time, in prose form, with an extensive introduction by Lönnroth. The epic depicts the political history of Sweden in the 13th and 14th centuries, and also the struggle for power within the family of the well-known statesman Birger Jarl (died 1266). One of the central characters is the idealised Duke Eric (died c.1318), whose son becomes King Magnus Eriksson. The narrator comments on events in a laconic style that often has a religious tinge. The epic gives a vivid and dramatic account of chivalric life and life in the kingdom of Sweden, of which Finland was a part. At the time the Swedes were consolidating their power in Finland; the work mentions Birger’s ‘crusade ‘ to Häme in southern Finland, the founding of Häme Castle, and battles in Karelia.

Translated by David McDuff

Markku Jokisipilä & Janne Könönen: Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraat. Suomi Hitlerin Saksan vaikutuspiirissä 1933–1944 [Guests from the Third Reich. Finland in the sphere of influence of Hitler’s Germany 1933–1944]

20 February 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

kolmasvaltakuntaKolmannen valtakunnan vieraat. Suomi Hitlerin Saksan vaikutuspiirissä 1933–1944
[Guests from the Third Reich. Finland in the sphere of influence of Hitler’s Germany 1933–1944]
Helsinki: Otava, 2013. 602 pp., ill .
ISBN 978-951-1-26881-9
€37, hardback

Germany had long been a great power with close historical ties to Finland, and when Hitler took over in 1933 the bond was still largely intact. Some Finnish cultural and scientific figures admired the new Germany and accepted its ideology, whereas the views of many Finland’s soldiers were influenced by the help received from Germany during the Civil War of 1918 and by the threat from the neighbouring Soviet Union. During the Winter War of 1939–40, when the Soviet Union attacked Finland and Germany was formally a Soviet ally, relations cooled. After the Winter War politicians sought support from Germany for reasons of Realpolitik, in preparation for another conflict. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union during the Continuation War of 1941–1944, they sent military supplies to Finland and troops to the country’s north. Cultural relations with the Baltic superpower flourished. Hitler’s attendance in 1942 at the birthday party of Marshal Mannerheim (well known to be an Anglophile) was a spectacular display of Finnish-German friendship. However, no persecution of Jews took place in Finland. When it became obvious that Germany would be defeated, even the Nazis’ enthusiastic friends distanced themselves from them, and in the Lapland War of 1944–45 the German soldiers were driven out of Finland. The book provides a vivid and comprehensive reminder of a time when many Finns put their trust in Hitler’s Germany and were flattered to receive its attention.

Translated by David McDuff

Human destinies

7 February 2014 | Articles, Non-fiction

To what extent does a ‘historical novel’ have to lean on facts to become best-sellers? Two new novels from 2013 examined

When Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest newspaper, asked its readers and critics in 2013 to list the ten best novels of the 2000s, the result was a surprisingly unanimous victory for the historical novel.

Both groups listed as their top choices – in the very same order – the following books: Sofi Oksanen: Puhdistus (English translation Purge; WSOY, 2008), Ulla-Lena Lundberg: Is (Finnish translation Jää, ‘Ice’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012) and Kjell Westö: Där vi en gång gått (Finnish translation Missä kuljimme kerran; ‘Where we once walked‘, Söderströms, 2006).

What kind of historical novel wins over a large readership today, and conversely, why don’t all of the many well-received novels set in the past become bestsellers? More…

Decade of youth: the 1950s revisited

30 January 2014 | Reviews

Rock around the clock! Photo from Rasvaletti, by unknown, 1958

Rock around the clock in Helsinki, too! All photos here from Rasvaletti; photographer unknown, 1958

Rasvaletti. Valokuvia 1950-luvun Helsingistä /
Fotografier från 1950-talets Helsingfors
[Hair-grease. Photographs from 1950s Helsinki]
Työryhmä [working group]: Yki Hytönen, Tuomas Myrén, Riitta Pakarinen, Aki Pohjankyrö, Hilkka Vallisaari
Helsinki: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo, Helsinki City Museum,
2013. 211 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-272-499-1
€45, hardback
Onnen aika? Valoja ja varjoja 1950-luvulla
[Time of happiness? Light and shadow in the 1950s]
Toimittaneet [Ed. by]: Kirsi-Maria Hytönen & Keijo Rantanen
Jyväskylä: Atena, 2013. 249 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-796-924-6
38€, hardback

The 1950s rocked! They literally did – that is when the world got rhythm: Blue Suede Shoes by Elvis and the film Blackboard Jungle, with Bill Haley’s hit Rock Around the Clock, for example.

The development of new sound reproduction – long-playing records and tape recorders – was essential to the spreading of the gospel of rock and pop here, there and everywhere.

In Finland, the shocking new music was a smash hit among a group of young urban men called lättähatut, flathats, who also wore tight trousers, black overcoats and pointed shoes. Their girls dressed in angora sweaters and tight trousers or skirts. These teenagers, who hung around together very late in the evenings, were largely considered not only a nuisance but also a possible danger to the peaceful development of society (not only in Finland…). More…

Kuka on saamelainen ja mitä on saamelaisuus – identiteetin juurilla [Who is a Sámi and what being Sámi means – looking for the roots of identity]

30 January 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

kuka_on_saamelainen_etukansiKuka on saamelainen ja mitä on saamelaisuus – identiteetin juurilla
[Who is a Sámi and what being Sámi means – looking for the roots of identity]
Toim. [Ed. by]: Erika Sarivaara, Kaarina Määttä & Satu Uusiautti
Rovaniemi: Lapin yliopistokustannus (Lapland University Press), 2013. 182 pp.
ISBN 978-952-484-651-6
€29, paperback

This anthology updates one of the most burning questions, one which also has political consequences: who has the right to belong to an indigenous people, and who is entitled to define it? Of the approximately 100,000 Sámi – the only indigenous people in the European Union – around 7,000 live within Finnish territory. The writers represent Sámi research at the Lapland University, and they examine the definition of ‘the Sámi without a status’, i.e. people not included on the election list for the Sámi Parliament. The book questions the prevailing discourse, which characterises Sámi history as a withdrawal from the progress of civilisation; this is interpreted as a survival strategy, and the Sámi are not primarily regarded as the victims of colonialism and modernisation. The work also highlights the inner hierarchies of the Sámi and analyses both the reindeer-farming Sámi, regarded as elite, as well as the marginalia, the Sámi who engage in forestry and agriculture to make a living. Articles are sensitive, sometimes provocative, and they shine a spotlight on every ethnic group as well as the fundamental questions of the individual, the right to one’s own identity, language and history.