No night tonight: Finnish Midsummer days last forever

The Finnish word for Midsummer is juhannus, actually a form of “John,” as in Saint John, whose feast day falls on or near the summer solstice. In Swedish, which is also an official language in Finland, the holiday is known simply as midsommar.

Finnish cities tend to empty out at Midsummer as people make for the countryside, seeking out summer cottages, lakes and Midsummer bonfires.
Video: Finland 100

Midsummer is very much a secular holiday, officially held on the Saturday between June 20 and 26, with roots that predate Christianity. Finnish cities tend to empty out as people make for the countryside, where there are summer cottages, lakes and Midsummer bonfires. (You can read more about Midsummer traditions and celebrations in our article.)

In the middle of the summer, the midnight sun circles the sky in the far north without setting for weeks on end, and even southern Finland doesn’t experience complete darkness. It can be a disorienting experience for those spending their first summer in Finland, but also an enchanting one. The magic of Finnish summer light always seems to have the same effect, no matter how many times you see it.

By Peter Marten, June 2018

Finnish summer festivals bring music to your ears

We asked five well-known culture personalities to recommend their favourite Finnish festivals (links below).

You can listen to music at a festival called Silence, hear jazz on a fortress island, enjoy chamber music far from the big city, and more.

Rosa Liksom

Author, artistPhoto: Pekka Mustonen

“My favourite is Silence Festival, organised in Lapland in the small village of Kaukonen in June. It’s a multidisciplinary programme – contemporary classical music and contemporary circus – that brings together people interested in art and local culture. They have workshops and high-quality performances in a beautiful, peaceful setting.”

Paola Suhonen

Designer, artist, film makerPhoto: Kim Öhrling

“Superwood is a unique boutique festival that brings the best of Finnish electro and pop music, academic talks, film, and art and design under the same roof. It’s held to the east of Helsinki by the sea, in the middle of a dark forest. The first Superwood was in 2017 and this was the first time a Scandinavian fashion brand organised its own festival. This is the best reason to come to dark Helsinki in October.”

Pekka Kuusisto

Violinist, composerPhoto: Maija Tammi

“If you’re into chamber music, it’s more or less impossible not to know about the avalanche of sound that is the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival. Two weeks of nearly constant daylight and joyous music-making in a tiny little town far away from the larger blobs on the map. If you need to be closer to Helsinki, come to Our Festival. I’d recommend it even if I wasn’t the artistic director. It lasts a week and has roughly 20 events of very varied programming, featuring concerts in the living room of the Sibelius family.”

Riku Rantala

Writer, TV personalityPhoto: Marko Rantanen

“I’d recommend Viapori Jazz, a small but top-class jazz festival held every August on the Suomenlinna fortress island, overlooking Helsinki. It combines Finland’s best sounds and musicians, picturesque venues, and dark and warm late summer nights.”

Isac Elliot

Pop artistPhoto: Sony Music

“My favourite festival is Ruisrock, a huge three-day festival in the archipelago outside of Turku. It has always been a dream of mine to perform there. Any stage would have been nice but I got to play on the main stage. I’m always going to remember the warm and sunny day when my dream came true at the age of 16. The surroundings are amazing, with boats and ships cruising past the festival area – it is just very special.”

By Taru Virtanen, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2018

Finnish photographer excels at depicting metal music

Tina Korhonen photographs bands and musicians for a living. “I just shot a Rolling Stones concert last week,” she mentions casually.

The story of how she reached this point in her career stretches back to the Finnish village of Sotkamo, her hometown, about 600 kilometres (375 miles) northeast of Helsinki.  She currently lives in London.

Her first musical love was punk; later she got into heavy metal. She never intended to become a photographer with a strong focus on metal musicians; it happened by coincidence.

Appearances form a big part of metal music culture, with makeup and costumes meant to go a tad over the top. Perhaps because of this, “the heavy metal scene is visually very interesting to capture,” says Korhonen.

Career expansion

When it comes to photography, Korhonen is a chip off the old block. Her father was into landscape photography before she nicked his Canon AE-1 for her own use. The first magazine to publish Korhonen’s photos was a Finnish subculture magazine called Toinen vaihtoehto (Another Alternative).

“I didn’t even get paid for them, but I was so excited,” she says. “Wow, they published my photos!”

Later, she got a job at Finnish music magazine Rumba, where music photography officially became her thing. Eventually, she moved to London to expand her career. Some of the biggest UK papers, such as NME and the Observer, have published her work.

“If I was to name a favourite among the photoshoots I’ve done,” says Korhonen, “it would probably be the one with Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister. He was charismatic, and he was also always friendly when I saw him, even if he didn’t talk much.  He would remember you, too.”

She also doesn’t hesitate to name her favourite Finn to photograph: Ville Valo. The handsome vocalist from HIM is always a pleasure to portray, according to Korhonen.

Anything can happen

Bring the paint! Vocalist Ville Valo (left) of HIM gets ready for a Halloween gig at the Hammersmith Apollo in London in 2004.Photo: Tina Korhonen

Over the years, Korhonen’s portfolio has become pretty impressive: it includes Nightwish, a Finnish group with an enormous international following, and Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich, originally from Denmark, who became a friend as they bonded over their Nordic backgrounds. The legendary Finnish band Hanoi Rocks is also among the groups she has depicted.

“I’ve never had any problems with the big stars,” says Korhonen. “I find that the bigger the name, the more professional they are.”

There is one musician she would specifically like to get in front of her lens. “If I could pick anyone to do a photoshoot with, it would be Iggy Pop,” she says. “As yet, I’ve only taken photos of him when he’s live on stage. . He performs like there’s no tomorrow, he gives his audience everything and I love his music, from the Stooges to his solo albums.”

Anything can happen on the job. Once, at a photoshoot with Australian death metal band Thy Art Is Murder, the person booked to play a corpse didn’t turn up. Finally, Korhonen’s assistant had to step into the role.

“Only her feet were visible in the shoot,” says Korhonen, “but she was very reluctant to do it, as she happens to hate her feet.”

Metal appeal

At a Brixton Academy gig in 2014, bassist Troy Sanders of American metal band Mastodon reaches out to shake hands with Finnish photographer Tina Korhonen.Photo: Giora Hirsch

If Korhonen gets to choose the music, she’s likely to play Mastodon, Monster Magnet, or some classic Black Sabbath. When it comes to Finnish metal, Moonsorrow and HIM get her vote.

“I think the appeal of metal music is in its energy and intensity,” she says. “That either makes it or breaks it for people.”

Metal music scenes exist and thrive in nations as diverse and far-flung as Nepal, Iran, Indonesia and Brazil. Finland, though, has more metal bands per capita than any other country.

“Metal is everywhere,” says Korhonen. “But I suppose Finland might be the only country where it’s considered mainstream.”

By Mari Storpellinen, June 2018

* Korhonen is nominated for Best Photographer in the 2018 Heavy Music Awards (voting until June 27). In order to vote, you have to make a selection in each category and then confirm your vote via a link sent by email.

Helsinki professor becomes pioneer of metal music research

Esa Lilja’s credentials include a doctorate and an adjunct professorship in musicology at the University of Helsinki – and a love of heavy metal.

His foot is tapping to the beat of heavy metal music. He’s sitting in the rehearsal space of the metal band Tyrantti, listening carefully. As a musicologist, Lilja focuses on the chords and melodies of heavy metal and other genres, as well as the way they connect in harmonies.

“My most important finding was,” says Lilja, “that because of distortion, which is essential in all heavy metal…

World Cup next door: Finnish fans enjoy summer feast of football

Not since 1958 has football’s World Cup circus set up camp so close to Finland’s borders. That was when a Brazilian teenager called Pelé made his debut in Sweden, scoring two goals to help win the final against the hosts and launching a glittering career.

Sixty years later, the tournament is taking place on Finland’s doorstep again, this time in Russia. Sweden, having made the cut for the 12th time, will be flying the flag for the Nordic region, along with Denmark, who are in the final tournament for the fifth time, and Iceland, who are there for the first time ever.

Within convenient reach

Danish fans are not hooligans – they call themselves “roligans,” based on the word “rolig” (calm). They do get excited when Denmark scores, though.Photo: Paul Faith/AFP/Lehtikuva

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the Finnish men’s national team itself has never qualified for a European Championship or World Cup tournament. In its qualifying group, it clocked up a mere two wins and nine points from ten games, and a goal difference of minus four, finishing fifth out of six in its group, ahead of only Kosovo.

But interest is greater than ever in the competition, hosted in cities across the Russian Federation from June 14 to July 15. The fact that the tournament is being held within easy reach has encouraged Finns and other resident fans to cross the border and watch some games in the flesh.

Fans from many other countries are also stopping in Finland on their way to Russia. St Petersburg is the nearest venue city, a three-and-a-half-hour train ride from Helsinki, and Moscow is also within a convenient distance. Kaliningrad is a relatively easy Baltic hop away.

Future generations

From left: Icelandic forward Jóhann Guðmundsson, midfielders Gylfi Sigurðsson and Aron Gunnarsson, and goalkeeper Hannes Halldórsson display their country’s flag after defeating Austria in Euro 2016, where Iceland announced its presence by advancing all the way to the quarterfinals. In the World Cup their group includes Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria.Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Lehtikuva

Juho Summanen and his brother are among the Finns who managed to procure tickets. They’re attending the group stage game between Argentina, one of the favourites, and Nigeria in St Petersburg.

“We’ve been rooting for Argentina for years even though neither of us has any connection to the country,” says Summanen, who works for a translation office. “I guess we just liked their style of play. I can’t really remember where it started. My brother gifted me the ticket as a Christmas present. In fact, getting the tickets was not difficult, but there’s a mandatory fan ID procedure which seems to be a bit of a hassle.”

It’s the first time that Summanen has attended a big international football tournament. Like many Finns, he is more of an ice hockey fan than a football devotee, especially since the football team he did support, Rakuunat of the eastern town of Lappeenranta, has been defunct since 2008.

“But I follow the national team when they’re trying to qualify for the Euros or the World Cup, and then the actual tournaments,” he says.

He harbours little optimism about Finland qualifying for one of the big tournaments: “It was close when Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä were still playing. I hope future generations will prove me wrong!”

Glued to the game

Danish star midfielder Christian Eriksen (10) celebrates with teammate Thomas Delaney after scoring a goal against the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup qualifier played in Dublin in autumn 2017. Eriksen scored a hat-trick and the Danes won 5–1, clinching a spot in Russia, where they face Australia, Peru and France.Photo: Paul Faith/AFP/Lehtikuva

In Finnish football, sports journalist Olli-Matti Matihalti supports SJK, from the central western town of Seinäjoki, which won the national championship in 2015. He identifies a batch of young, rising Finnish talent, but is similarly guarded about predicting Finnish success at an international level.

He’s also cautious about heading to Russia, preferring to watch the World Cup games on TV. “I’ve been to one World Cup and a European Championship, and although it would be easy to travel to Russia, it’s difficult to prepare unless you know you’ve got a ticket,” says Matihalti. “Hotel-and-match packages seem to be too high-priced, too.” It might be easier to watch at home.

The geographical proximity of the event across the border may affect viewer numbers. A larger proportion of the Finnish population than during any previous World Cup is expected to be glued to its collective TV set. The Finns are excited about watching great football, but they’re excused of the partisan stress that their Nordic family members – the Danes, the Icelanders and the Swedes – are feeling.

Summer of soccer continues

People in Finland may be less than ecstatic about the prospects of their national men’s team, but there’s still plenty happening on the football front in Finland.

The Under-19 European Championship takes place from July 16 to 29, hot on the heels of the World Cup, in Seinäjoki and Vaasa, with eight teams in contention: Finland, Norway, England, Italy, Ukraine, Portugal, France and Turkey.

Also, the annual Helsinki Cup, held in and around the capital (this year from July 9 to 14), is the third-biggest youth football tournament in Europe and attracts boys’ and girls’ teams from as far away as South America. It’s a great event for spotting the stars of the future.

When summer arrives in the southern hemisphere, Finland is participating in the Under-17 Women’s World Cup, taking place in Uruguay from November 13 to December 1. They qualified by placing third in the European Championship.

By Tim Bird, June 2018

Finnish physicist Tuomo Suntola wins Millennium Technology Prize

“It feels great to win the Millennium Technology Prize,” says Tuomo Suntola. “Now we can convincingly share the value of this technology. It is what we meant it to be.”

Suntola, born in Tampere in 1943, is awarded the 2018 edition of the biennial, one-million-euro prize for his work in atomic layer deposition (ALD), a nanoscale technology used to create ultrathin layers in a controlled fashion. Technology Academy Finland awards the Millennium Technology Prize to honour a pioneering technological innovation that improves people’s quality of life and promotes sustainable development.

Nanotechnological Swiss Army knife

On much of its silverwork, Kalevala Jewellery uses an ALD process devised by Finnish company Beneq to give items a transparent, anti-tarnish protective coating. These pendants are part of the “Naisen ääni” (Voice of a Woman) series.Photo: Kalevala Jewellery

“ALD is the Swiss Army knife of nanotechnology,” says Riikka Puurunen, associate professor at Aalto University and ALD researcher. “It is already used in many technologies and the potential applications are enormous.”

Manufacturers utilise ALD in photovoltaics, LED lights and flat electroluminescent displays. It’s even used to coat silver jewellery to prevent tarnishing. Yet one of its biggest roles is in memory and logic chips.

“ALD is an enabler of Moore’s Law, the observation that the number of transistors on integrated circuit chips doubles about every two years,” Puurunen explains. “A key milestone was in 2007, when Intel began commercial use of ALD in its chips.”

Confused CEOs are no obstacle

This easy-to-follow Millennium Technology Prize video explains ALD and its applications with help from inventor Tuomo Suntola himself.
Video: Technology Academy Finland

One of Suntola’s first jobs after university was working on a humidity sensor which required a thin film. This led him to wonder about other ways to create ultrathin films. When the medical instrument company Instrumentarium asked him for new product ideas, he knew just what to recommend.

“I proposed my idea and the management asked many questions,” Suntola says. “The CEO finally said, ‘I’m still confused but let’s do it.’”

The idea was to build up layers of different materials one atomic layer at a time, which guarantees uniformity even on complex three-dimensional shapes. He filed for a patent for his ALD invention in 1974.

“At the time we only had one goal, and that was to use ALD for flat panel electroluminescent displays,” says Suntola. “However, even at that early stage, I was thinking about its potential in semiconductors.”

Fundamental research in the technology has also been conducted independently in the Soviet Union, initiated by Valentin B. Aleskovsky and Stanislav I. Koltsov, who both passed away in the 2000s.

Technology takes flight

Intel employee Rebecca Nevin holds a Stratix 10 chip, which contains 30 billion transistors and can process the equivalent of 420 Blu-ray discs of data in one second. Intel began commercial use of ALD in its chips in 2007.Photo: Tim Herman/Intel

The first display panel showed arriving and departing flights at Helsinki Airport, and commercial production began in the 1980s. As the technology improved, it was considered for more diverse applications.

“When I worked for Microchemistry, a subsidiary of Finland’s national energy company, Neste, we began developing ALD to be used for photovoltaic devices and silicon wafers,” Suntola says.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s, when the chip manufacturers became interested, that the technology exploded in popularity. If you enjoy what your modern smartphone, notebook and PC can do, you can thank Suntola and his invention.

Changing the way we see the universe

Swiss educational and R&D institution HE-Arc uses Picosun ALD processes and machinery to put coatings on timepiece components such as this one.Photo: HE-Arc

Today it is being considered for even more uses, such as in healthcare, where it can be used to coat implantable medical devices or in controlled drug release.

“One of the ideas which I am excited about is using ALD on telescopic mirrors,” Suntola says. “This next generation of telescopes could change the entire way we see the universe.”

Suntola remains on the board of directors of Picosun, a Finnish company specialising in ALD, but the majority of his time is spent working on his idea of a dynamic universe.

“I like to study the basis of our theories about the universe,” he says. “I look behind the equations.”

By David J. Cord, May 2018

Finland is making the most of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence, a branch of computer science, can already perform demanding tasks, if taught and trained by humans.

In the future, intelligent machines will be able to learn like humans, act like humans, and think like humans. They can free us from tedious routine work, and will enable us to concentrate on more creative tasks that bring more value to our lives.

Three waves of AI

“The first wave of AI in the 1960s required coding and programming of rules, so that software and algorithms could solve specific problems,” says Harri Valpola, an accomplished computer scientist and CEO of The Curious AI Company.

“This enabled the creation of automated processes like route planning, which have become an integral part of today’s technology,” he continues.

“Today, when we talk about AI we refer to its second wave, which is based on supervised machine learning. Speech and image recognition, machine translation, data mining and other existing AI applications are all based on the second wave.”

Valpola says the third wave of AI, autonomous artificial intelligence, is emerging today. There are no third-wave technologies in current AI products yet, but research labs have had working prototypes for some time now.

It may take several decades before the intelligence of machines surpasses that of human beings.

“But things like digital coworkers that utilise a simpler form of AI will be around much sooner,” Valpola says.

Complex problem solving

“We are able to tap into knowledge that was never available to us before,” says Maria Ritola.Photo: Samuli Skantsi

“AI systems that identify patterns in vast amounts of data enable complex problem solving,” says Maria Ritola, the Finnish co-founder and CMO of Iris AI, which recently closed a two-million-euro funding round. “We are able to tap into knowledge that was never available to us before.” The startup has launched an AI-powered science R&D assistant that helps researchers track down relevant research papers without having to know the right keywords.

“But one of the risks of AI systems is that they learn human prejudices due to biases in the training data given to them, which is then used for decision making,” she says.

Social impacts of AI

“Another risk is that governments do not participate enough in developing AI systems,” says Ritola.

“As a result, we may fail to understand the social impacts of the machines that are getting ever more intelligent. One of the areas to understand and manage is the big shift in job markets relating to automation.”

Finland sees the big picture.

“The Finnish government is acutely aware that AI will change our jobs and careers, and wants to understand how it will affect individual people and our society,” says Pekka Ala-Pietilä, who heads a steering group that carved out a plan for Finland’s AI programme.

“Finland has huge potential to become one of the leading countries in exploiting the benefits of AI. The idea is to make it easy for businesses to utilise AI, and to support the public sector in building predictive, AI-powered digital services based on people’s major life events. We want to keep our country wealthy, our businesses competitive, our public sector effective, and our society well-functioning.”


  • 1941
    German engineer and inventor Konrad Zuse builds the world’s first programmable and commercially available computer.
  • 1950
    British mathematician and logician Alan Turing introduces the Turing test, which lets people test whether a machine can think: The machine is intelligent if you can talk to it without noticing it is a machine.
  • 1956
    Researchers found a new academic discipline, AI research, at a workshop at Dartmouth College in the US.
  • 1961
    The first industrial robot, Unimate, starts work at the General Motors factory in New Jersey, USA.
  • 1982
    Finnish neural network pioneer Teuvo Kohonen introduces the concept of self-organising maps.
  • 1986
    American researchers Rumelhart, Hinton and Williams publish an article on MLP network and back-propagation, a new learning procedure that constitutes the basis for today’s deep learning AI.
  • 1997
    Chess computer Deep Blue beats the world’s best chess player, Garry Kasparov.
  • 2000
    Cynthia Breazeal of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US develops a robot called Kismet that can recognise and simulate emotions.
  • 2009
    Google starts to secretly develop autonomous, self-driving cars.
  • 2011
    Watson, a question-answering AI developed by IBM, can understand natural language. It competes against, and beats, two former winners of the quiz show Jeopardy.
  • 2012
    Deep learning technology beats all other computer vision methods in the ImageNet competition, where the goal is to recognise images in a vast set of approximately 1.2 million images.
  • 2012
    A robot that had learned to sort objects on its own, developed by Finnish robotics firm ZenRobotics, starts to sort useful waste material from industrial waste.
  • 2016
    AlphaGo, AI developed by Google, beats professional player and 18-time world champion Lee Sedol at Go, a complex game that requires creativity and is more difficult for a machine than chess.

By Leena Koskenlaakso, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2018

How Finland found a road to reconciliation after the Civil War of 1918

Finland’s Parliament adopted a declaration of independence on December 6, 1917. Prior to that, armed “security” groups, which later became known as the Whites and the Reds, had already formed.

The Whites were politically conservative, while the Reds were associated with the labour movement. The long-established discord between the two camps meant that, even after independence was achieved, the way ahead for the new nation was unclear.

The Civil War lasted from January 27 to May 15, 1918. Out of some 36,600 deaths, approximately 9,700 were executions and 13,400 were due to appalling prison camps. Red casualties outnumbered White by around six to one.

Political reconciliation began almost immediately after the war was over. It would take longer for cultural and social reconciliation to begin.

Moving towards a more inclusive republic

The White general, C.G.E. Mannerheim, leads a parade down the Esplanade in Helsinki on May 16, 1918 in honour of the end of the Civil War.Photo: cc by 4.0/Helsinki City Museum

The White victors had placed their hopes in a monarchy with strong ties to Germany, but that country’s eventual defeat in the First World War put an end to the idea. Finland chose a republican constitution in July 1919.

“It is hard to talk about republicans being more interested in compromise when many of them supported harsh measures against Red soldiers,” says Jason Lavery, permanent adjunct professor at Helsinki University and professor of history at Oklahoma State University. “Yet, those who wanted a republic saw it as a more inclusive form of government for both the moderate left and monarchists.”

Finland’s first president, K.J. Ståhlberg, was a believer in reconciliation, pardoning Red prisoners, allowing trade unions to negotiate and signing a law so tenant farmers could purchase their holdings at advantageous prices.

“Ståhlberg did try to unify the country, but within the parameters set by the anti-Marxist consensus,” says Lavery.

Post-war moderation

Helsinki’s island fortress of Suomenlinna, now a Unesco World Heritage site and tourist favourite, was the location of a prison camp holding captives from the Red side in early 1918.Photo: Niilo Toivonen/cc by 4.0/ Finnish Heritage Agency

The moderate Progressive Party and the Agrarian Union supported compromises and steps towards reconciliation during the early years of independence. The extreme left was excluded from the political process, but the Social Democrats were welcomed in local politics, and even became the largest party in Parliament under the leadership of Väinö Tanner.

“Tanner did what he could,” Lavery says. “As prime minister in 1927, he accepted the salute of the Civil Guard, the militia that formed much of the White Army, in the annual parade commemorating the end of the war.” The White general, C.G.E. Mannerheim, had begun an annual tradition of a parade on May 16 in honour of the end of the Civil War.

Tanner’s acceptance of the salute was particularly relevant, because the Civil Guard had been called butchers by the left because of their role in summary executions. When elements of the Civil Guard and a group called the Lapua Movement attempted a right-wing coup, in 1932, the majority of Finns rejected them and the uprising failed within days.

The late 1930s was a period of relative economic prosperity and continuing social reforms, which helped to contribute to a strong democracy and parliamentary system.

Bringing people together

Miina Sillanpää, who would become known for her ability to get parties with opposing viewpoints to converse, gives a speech as a member of Parliament in 1907.Photo: J. Indursky/cc by 4.0/Finnish Heritage Agency

Another politician who was influential in forming the future of the country was Miina Sillanpää, known as a bridge-builder who could bring together parties with opposing viewpoints. She was among the first women, 19 of them, voted into Parliament in 1907 after women gained the right to vote and to run for office, in 1906. During the Civil War she worked to help orphaned children, of whom there were many – 15,000 by some estimates.

In Tanner’s government (December 13, 1926 – December 17, 1927), she held the position of Second Minister of Social Affairs, making her the first female government minister in Finland. She came from a working-class background and helped drive social issues such as better working conditions for maids and other workers, and shelters for orphans and unwed mothers. Tarja Halonen, Finland’s president from 2000 to 2012, has remarked of Sillanpää that she “can be said to be one of the mothers of the welfare state.”

Sporting heroes, most notably distance runner Paavo Nurmi, also helped all Finns to root for a common goal. He won 12 Olympic medals – nine gold and three silver – over three Olympic Games between 1920 and 1928.

Together in the Winter War

In the Winter War of 1939–40, recruits from Vihanti, a village about 600 kilometres (375 miles) north of Helsinki, sit during a break in the fighting at Suomussalmi, near the eastern border. The Winter War became the unifying, unambiguous war that the Civil War was not.Photo: cc by 4.0/Finnish Wartime Photo Archive

In 1939 the Soviet Union attacked Finland, starting what is known as the Winter War, which lasted from November 30, 1939 to March 13, 1940 and united all elements of Finnish society in the defence of their country.

“The Winter War was the unambiguous and heroic war of national liberation that the Civil War was not,” Lavery says. “It was independent Finland’s first great collective achievement.”

Organisations representing employers and employees agreed to negotiate and cooperate. The Social Democrats encouraged their members to join the Civil Guard. Commander-in-Chief Mannerheim cancelled the annual parade commemorating the White victory, replacing it with a day of remembrance for the fallen. Finns were willing to unify for a common cause.

“One must also consider events after the Second World War,” says Lavery. “These include the legalisation of the Finnish Communist Party, the building of the universal welfare state, and the art and scholarship produced about the events of 1918.”

Reconciliation is never over

The Civil War brought destruction to many parts of Finland. In April 1918, only chimneys were left standing in Tammela, an area of the central western city of Tampere.Photo: cc by nd 4.0/Vapriikki Photo Archive/Tampere Museum

One of the most important literary works related to the Civil War is Väinö Linna’s trilogy Under the North Star, published in 1959, 1960 and 1962. It sympathetically explores the motivations of the Reds and unflinchingly describes what happened in the war’s aftermath.

It was the cultural reconciliation Finland had long awaited, but the process of reconciliation is never over. “Civil wars often never really end,” says Lavery.

Even today, Mannerheim remains a divisive figure. “Butcher” is sometimes spray-painted on statues of him, while the Mannerheim Museum uses the loaded term “War of Liberation” to refer to the Civil War.

A 2016 survey by Finnish national broadcasting company Yle shows how deeply the war affected people. Even nearly a century after Civil War ended, 22 percent of respondents said that it remained a “highly sensitive” topic in their families.

Yet Finnish society values a process of law, democracy and working together for the common good. This has helped heal, as much as possible, the scars from the Civil War.

“It took decades to gain full trust in democracy,” said Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö in a speech on January 1, 2018. “Participatory patriotism was born.”

One lesson that came out of the Civil War, he said, is that “there is diversity, people have different backgrounds, convictions and goals, and we have a right to disagree. This is something we must be able to respect, however differently we ourselves might think.”

By David J. Cord, May 2018

Partial list of sources consulted

  • Risto Alapuro, “The Legacy of the Civil War of 1918 in Finland”, in After Civil War: Division, Reconstruction, and Reconciliation in Contemporary Europe (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015)
  • Osmo Jussila, Seppo Hentilä and Jukka Nevakivi; From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: A Political History of Finland since 1809 (Hurst & Company, 1999)
  • Jason Lavery, The History of Finland (Greenwood Press, 2006)
  • J.E.O. Screen, Mannerheim: The Finnish Years (Hurst & Company, 2000)
  • National Archives of Finland, “Causes of war death 1918 according to the political affiliation of the killed persons”
  • Miina Sillapää Society website (in Finnish)
  • Finnish national broadcasting company Yle: “Finns remember Civil War, ‘Red’ and ‘White’ resentment lingers”
  • Speech by President Sauli Niinistö, January 1, 2018