Finnish wartime leaders on trial for "war guilt" 60 years ago
New book says nothing suggests direct orders from Stalin
By Max Jakobson
Exactly 60 years ago, on November 15, 1945, a trial began at the House of Estates in Helsinki "to punish those who were guilty for the war".
"Whoever, in a decisive manner, has helped cause Finland to go to war in 1941 against the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or who has, during the war, prevented the achievement of peace, shall be punished for misuse of his office to the detriment of the country..."
Here is a list of those who were indicted, in the order of the severity of their sentences: Risto Ryti, J.W. Rangnell, Väinö Tanner, Edwin Linkomies, T.M. Kivimäki, August Ramsay, Tyko Reinikka, and Antti Kukkonen.
I remember vividly how we young people protested against the trial: it was not justice - it was simply an act of oppression by the Soviets. However, gradually it became understood that the sentencing of our wartime leaders was a "political war reparation" that was necessary for the appeasement of the Soviet Union.
After getting out of the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, we have begun to shed light on events that were kept in the dark for 50 years. The new book Kansakunnan sijaiskärsijät ("Scapegoats of the Nation") by Lasse Lehtinen and Hannu Rautkallio raises the question of whether or not the law on war guilt was really necessary to spare Finland punitive action by the Soviet Union - possibly even Soviet occupation.
The writers have previously been involved in similar research. Lasse Lehtinen has evaluated the war guilt issue in his doctoral thesis, in which he examined the relations between the Social Democratic Party and Urho Kekkonen. Hannu Rautkallio has studied archives in Russia, Germany, Great Britain and the United States for years, bringing to light new material on relations between Finland and the Soviet Union.
A trial concerning war guilt was not part of the armistice agreement between Finland and the Soviet Union which was signed in September 1944. According to the 13th article of the agreement, Finland was required to arrest and punish those accused of war crimes. There was no mention of political guilt.
Free Parliamentary elections were held in March 1945 - the first in all of Europe after the war - and there was no attempt on the part of the Soviet Union to interfere with the continuity of Finland’s democratic system.
After the elections, in the summer of 1945, the war guilt initiative began, but there is nothing to suggest that there would have been any orders from Stalin. In the view of Lehtinen and Rautkallio, Stalin took a "soft line", and wanted Finland to remain under the leadership of President C.G.E. Mannerheim and Prime Minister J.K. Paasikivi, so that the deliveries of war reparations from Finland would be carried out on schedule.
It is my view that Lehtinen and Rautkallio are right. I remember how Soviet diplomat and historian Valentin Valin explained to me in the autumn of 1988 that Stalin was quite aware of Russia’s weakness and did not want any trouble in Finland. Stalin’s overall policy line in 1945-46 was to continue cooperation with the Western allies.
His message to Finnish communists was clear: they should seek to rise to power through their own means. There was nothing to be gained in waiting for Soviet tanks.
He adhered to this policy line all the way to the end. Finnish Communist Party leader Otto Ville Kuusinen was not allowed to return to Finland from his Moscow exile, even though he would have liked to, and nothing was permitted to happen to Mannerheim.
The process against those accused of war guilt was initiated by Andrei Zhdanov, the feared head of the Allied Control Commission, but at the same time it was a domestic political power struggle, pitting the majority of the Social Democratic Party against the part of the Agrarian League led by Urho Kekkonen, along with the leaders of the Finnish Communist Party.
The main target of attacks from the left was Väinö Tanner. Why was he hated so passionately?
There is a short answer to this: Tanner was a Social Democrat, and therefore, a traitor.
All Social Democrats - not just the Finnish ones - were hated in Moscow.
Tanner was sentenced because Finland did not become a Soviet state, but rather, "Tanner’s Republic", to quote a phrase by author Paavo Haavikko. He needed to be punished, because it was under his leadership that the Social Democrats had won in their battle against the Communists.
For Paasikivi, the war guilt issue was an extremely difficult tribulation. To the very end, he opposed the drafting of the retroactive war guilt law, which goes against the principles of Western justice.
Reluctantly he agreed to Kekkonen’s argument that if there were no trial in Finland, those accused would be sent instead to Moscow to be sentenced.
During the Continuation War (1941-44), Kekkonen had converted to a new belief: under his leadership, Finland would have to adapt to being in the Soviet sphere of power in order to preserve its independence. In his view, the Communists had to be taken into the government so that they would not remain lackeys of the Soviet Union.
Lehtinen’s and Rautkallio’s book is a vivid description of the multifaceted process which was pressed into the consciousness of the people as a humiliating acquiescence to Soviet power. It is an important opening to those difficult times that we have long remained silent about.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.10.2005
The writer is a veteran diplomat and former Finnish Ambassador to the UN, and an occasional contributor of commentary and analysis to Helsingin Sanomat
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