Nobody wanted a cell near Edwin Linkomies
By Jukka Tarkka
The wartime political leaders who were sent to prison for a few years in the autumn of 1945 have been referred to as sotasyylliset - the "war guilty".
The operation that led to their sentencing, which was demanded by the Soviet Union, was called a trial. However, its true nature was that of an act of political vengeance.
Finland's actions in the Second World War were a logical continuum, starting from the Winter War of 1939-40. However, the trial only involved the Continuation War (1941-44), which was a direct product of the Winter War.
Eight men were sentenced in the process, but only four of them were in the government when the Continuation War began. Only three were sentenced on the basis of parts of the indictment alleging that they influenced the start of the war.
In fact, Finnish politicians were sentenced for acts contrary to the interests of the Soviet Union. These acts involved acting on behalf of Finnish interests.
Risto Niku's book Kahdeksan tuomittua miestä. Sotasyyllisten vankilavuodet ("Eight Men Sentenced - the Prison Years of the War Guilty") starts from the notion that was prevalent at the time, namely that the trial was a disgusting injustice, but that it was sensible to have it, because it was necessary. However, he does not ponder the ethics, legal aspects, or politics of the issue.
Instead, Niku focuses on what the consequences of the sentences were in the everyday lives of those who were caught up in it.
The question has not been systematically approached from this very personal angle. The book has all the hallmarks of a best-seller.
It has fiery emotion, and a sublime unpretentiousness. The innocent men suffered their injustice with their heads held high and got through their tribulation as heroes.
It has a sharp depiction of the age. There was submission to the demands of the Monitoring Commission, and pressure from the Communists when nothing else could be done, and as soon as the opportunity arose, moves were made to deceive the oppressors.
The book is actually quite an entertaining peek into the little habits of great men in grim conditions - a kind of historical reality-TV.
Those who were sentenced schemed among each other and lobbied the prison administration, because nobody wanted to end up in the cell next to the notoriously cranky Edwin Linkomies. These grown-up men who had been through many difficult situations would sulk for ridiculous reasons, or they might become furiously angry over counting the points in a card game.
It is embarrassing to say that now all of that is downright amusing, even though it certainly did not seem funny to those who were in the thick of it.
Niku draws an interesting picture of the mental survival strategies with which different types of people dealt with a blow of fate that was difficult to endure both physically and mentally.
Wartime President Risto Ryti managed to maintain the role of a distant observer, even in the most extreme of situations. Prime Minister Jukka Rangell, who was a boyish fun-lover with the will power of a former athlete, got through his time in prison with apparently the least damage.
Prime Minister Edwin Linkomies managed to write his wartime memoirs without his fellow inmates knowing it. The book remains a riveting read. Foreign Minister Henrik Ramsay was an experienced sailor, and therefore accustomed to Spartan conditions. He did not dwell on the negative aspects of life.
Interesting and long-lasting psychological bonds were forged while the men were inside.
In one delightful example, the manager of a Jyväskylä bank must have rubbed his eyes a couple of times when the loan application from a former prison guard bore the signatures of four former Prime Ministers and two other cabinet ministers as guarantors!
None of those sentenced ended up being social pariahs after their release.
Ryti's portrait was placed among all other presidents on the wall of the meeting room of the Council of State. Two of the gaol inmates were elected to Parliament again, and two became university professors, one of whom rose to be a rector and a chancellor. Four received honorary doctorates. Most had an impressive array of honorary positions and trusteeships.
All of the former prime ministers among the group - Risto Ryti, Jukka Rangnell, T.M. Kivimäki, and Väinö Tanner - are buried in front of the chapel at Hietaniemi Cemetery in Helsinki.
At the cemetery they have their very own inner circle in the area between the graves of Urho Kekkonen, the Minister of Justice at the time, and then-Prime Minister J.K. Paasikivi.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.10.2005
The writer is a political scientist and former Member of Parliament who wrote his doctoral thesis on the war guilt trial.
More on this subject:
Finnish wartime leaders on trial for "war guilt" 60 years ago