I heard yesterday an interesting talk on Marshall Carl Mannerheim (1867-1951) just a few days before the outbreak of the Winter War exactly 70 years ago on November 30, 1939. The talk centered on different aspects of the Civil War of 1918 and how Mannerheim saw the world.
Those who have studied this man, know that he was not the easiest person to get along with and had a mean temper. If he would wake up today from his eternal sleep, one of the matters that would shock him is our liberal, democratic Nordic welfare society.
Without stealing any of his thunder from those difficult decades when he led Finland, Mannerheim’s thinking would have been totally out of touch with these times.
Despite his strong distaste for dissension and the ideology behind Bolshevism (he was trained as an officer of Czarist Russia and had a soft spot for the Menshevics), his view of the world was more open than many Finns when the country became a republic in 1917. How many Finns had back then a broad international view of the world and were not overtaken by the hysteria of nationalism and petty provincialism?
How did nationalism and that narrow view of the outside world impact Finland during those crucial decades that led to the Winter and Continuation Wars? If mistrust and hatred of Russians was the driving force that unified some Finns back in those difficult times, how did it affect its foreign policy? Can we still see this same suspicion and mistrust today sprinkled in our views of immigrants?
Even though it is questionable that Finland could have done something to prevent the Winter War, there are a lot of question marks concerning the Continuation War. Answering, or pondering these queries seriously, will bring to light many things about ourselves as a a people and hitherto-unknown or hidden aspects of our history.
One of these is the reticent attitudes of Finnish authorities towards foreign investment (Restricting Act of 1939) and draconian laws to discourage foreigners to move to the country.
One of the biggest culprits, I am certain, were a small country’s petty provincialism, fear, and suspicion of the outside world.