Migrant Tales (May 26, 2011): Racist propaganda during Finland’s Winter War (1939-40)

by , under Enrique

Consequently, racial prejudice and discrimination are nonexistent (in Finland).                                                                                                        Heikki Waris, An introduction to Finnish Society (1965), p. 2

Finland was also denying in the 1960s that racism did not exist because there weren’t any foreigners living in the country. Racism has, however, been part of our culture for a very long time: Kongoshoe polish, Neekeripusu (n-word kiss) chocolate,  the Fazer licorice Gollywog are some examples of how this social ill had implanted itself in the national culture.

If Waris and other researchers wanted to find out if racism existed in our culture, all they’d have to do was study Finns that emigrated to Africa, North and South America. I once asked a second-generation Finn in Argentina how many races there existed in the world. “There are three,” he said. “White, black and pitch-black.”

We can even see racism prevalent in a Suomen Kuvalehti Easter 1940 issue: “In the East Indies Islands there appears a strange form of sudden mental disorientation that is called ‘running amok,’ or being taken over by horror and then reacting in a mad fashion. Even while running away from battle with a dagger in hand, the inflicted person rushes here and there striking anyone dead (that gets in his way).”

And then on the next page of the story is a picture of two Finnish solider representing the “civilized” world who know how to keep calm in the face of shocking situations. “Can somebody imagine for example that these Finnish soldiers would “run amok?” the caption reads.

The gist of the story by PhD Jan Gästrin, headlined “Spiritual discipline,” is that blacks are uncivilized and Finns civilized. In battle Finnish soldiers don’t “run amok” but can withstand the most rigorous tests of war: rats, lice, poisoned air etc.

racist-winter-war
The first page of a Suomen Kuvalehti article published in 1940 that attempted to show how the European white man was superior to blacks.

Note: The author apologizes for the racist content of the Suomen Kuvalehti article and wants to make clear that he does not play down the valiant fight the Finns put up against the former Soviet Union in the Winter War.

This blog entry was originally published May 26, 2011.

  1. Joonas

    “Racism has, however, been part of our culture for a very long time: Kongoshoe polish, Neekeripusu (n-word kiss) chocolate, the Fazer licorice Gollywog are some examples of how this social ill had implanted itself in the national culture.”

    This is not quite correct. Word “neekeri” was not racist before 1980’s and Neekerinpusu came originally from German translation Negerkuß (n-word kiss). The word had a neutral meaning before 80’s and it was mostly referencing people from Africa. In the 90’s people started associate the word with the American N-word and find it more offensive. Surprisingly it took as long as 2001 before they changed Neekerinpusu to “Brunbergin suukot” (Brunberg’s kiss).

    This doesn’t mean Finland (or Europe) wasn’t racist before 1980’s, but I don’t believe the word itself was racist back then. I can understand if some elder people still uses it in Finland, but otherwise it should be unacceptable – languages are developing and meaning of the words are changing.

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