Finland shaken 100 years ago by murder of Governor-General Bobrikov
Prime Minister Vanhanen sees nothing to celebrate in Eugen Schauman's actions
By Heikki Aittokoski
"This where he came from, the stairway," indicates Timo Koskela, who works at the Council of State building in Helsinki. Eugen Schauman, a civil servant, fired three shots at the Russian Governor-General Nikolai Bobrikov, and two at himself with his Browning pistol.
Bobrikov died, as did Schauman. It was the best-known political murder in Finnish history, if you do not count that medieval incident on the ice of Lake Köyliönjärvi, where the English bishop Henrik was axed to death by the peasant farmer Lalli.
But now let's move to the Council of State building, formerly the home of the Senate, on Helsinki’s Senate Square.
"Death was a blessing for Schauman," says Koskela. "His body was roughly dragged down the stairs, feet first."
One can only imagine what the murderer would have faced, if he had been taken alive.
Tomorrow, June 16th, will mark the centenary of Governor-General Bobrikov's assassination. It took place on the second floor of the what is now the building of the Council of State.
In the stairwell, set off by the building's red carpets and green walls, is a memorial plaque which states that Schauman was acting on behalf of his country: Se Pro Patria Dedit.
Koskela's job is the practical organisation of government's sessions. His duties also include giving tours of the premises to new employees of the Council of State. Owing to security considerations, the area is not open to the public.
"The Finns' attitude at that time was ambivalent," says Koskela. "On the one hand, they were happy that Bobrikov died, but on the other hand they were afraid of the consequences."
Bobrikov's assassination and its background are well known. More detailed information can be found in the book by Seppo Zetterberg, Viisi laukausta senaatissa. Eugen Schaumanin elämä ja teko (”Five Shots in the Senate. Eugen Schauman’s Life and His Deed").
The book describes Eugen Schauman (1875-1904) as an alienated, unbalanced Finnish patriot, who could not stand the oppressive actions of Governor-General Nikolai Bobrikov (1839-1904).
Bobrikov was the representative of Czar Nicholas II in Finland, and in practice, the ruler of the Grand Duchy of Finland. He personified the Period of Oppression, or the Russification of Finland. The Governor-General was generally hated and his demise was no great cause of sorrow to many.
The shots fired by Schauman did not kill Bobrikov immediately. He was rushed to hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery.
Timo Koskela tells an anecdote, according to which a Finnish nurse would have come to the window of the hospital and told the curious crowd gathered outside that things are going “in the right direction”.
"By this the nurse meant, that Bobrikov was dying. There is no proof of this actually having taken place, but it certainly depicts the prevailing sentiments of the time."
Bobrikov died on the night of June 17th, and the people of Helsinki rejoiced.
The assassination is already rather remote in terms of political history, but it still raises an interesting question. Should Schauman be revered a national hero or condemned as a terrorist?
A century ago in Helsinki the answer was clear. A cult was built around Schauman. Anniversaries and memorials were held, pictures were sold, and respects were paid at Schauman's grave. The Academic Bookstore even sold two different Eugen figurines.
In the modern-day perspective, Schauman's actions are more complex. Bombs explode around the world practically every day. Suicidal terrorists wreak havoc, absolutely convinced of the justice of their causes.
The current occupant of the Council of State building, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, finds nothing positive in Schauman's actions.
"By today's standard's it was purely an act of political terrorism, and altogether deplorable", Vanhanen remarks.
"At the time some felt that it was a heroic act, which it was not. The same kind of thing can be seen right now around the world. People celebrating murder."
The government has no plans to mark or celebrate the Bobrikov incident.
It did raise some thoughts, however, says Vanhanen.
"A year ago in the summer I paid attention to the plaque as I was climbing the stairs of the Council of State building. I realised that it would soon be the 100th anniversary. I announced that it would not be commemorated.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 15.6.2004
More on this subject:
No flowers for Eugen Schauman
HEIKKI AITTOKOSKI / Helsingin Sanomat