Sata vuotta sitten – one hundred years ago

posted by Kaihsu Tai on December 3rd, 2017

Pohjois-Haagan veljeshauta
My rough translation of a first-hand account of the Finnish Civil War, from a 1960 book. The citation and a link to the original text is at the end.

On the way to armed struggle

Dr J. A. Pärnänen had been the headmaster of the Workers’ Education Institute [in Tampere] since 1908. He made sure that the lecturers were not only academics with just master’s degrees or mere doctorates, but also professors from universities – occasionally also lawyers. As 1918 approached with all its tensions, he wanted a lawyer to come to explain to the youth about the new Acts on local elections, which were passed after much controversy. The job fell on the secretary of the city council, a young lawyer [the author himself].

Universal suffrage for all citizens above 20 years old, male and female, was achieved by the Acts on local authorities applying both in urban and rural areas, as well as the Acts that provided for referendums and local elections. The new laws, passed 27 November 1917, were set to come into force on 1 January 1918. However, difficulties in preparing for the implementation required another law to be passed on 2 January 1918, to allow the incumbents to stay as caretaking councils until the electoral commission could declare the election results properly.

For three January evenings, the lecturer explained the Acts to an audience of 50 to 60, who paid serious attention. The first lecture was about the provisions for the elections, the second on the workings of the council, and the third about municipal economy and finance. On the last evening, Monday 21 January, the audience was to learn about the general workings of a city hall and the committees of the council.

As the lecturer came up the stairs towards the lecture hall of the institute, he heard someone expressing surprise about the words of the Jäger March, a poem written by Lieutenant Heikki Nurmio and set to music by Jean Sibelius, just published in Helsingin Sanomat [a newspaper from Helsinki]. Someone else even tried to sing it. Yet another read out the forceful words of the poem but put the last verse to a quite mocking tone. As soon as the lecturer showed up, the audience became quiet and the lecture started with its usual seriousness.

The speaker wrapped up the presentation by saying that, now the country was finally free from the subservience to a foreign power, long-awaited plans for democracy could at last be realized at the local level. He hoped that the audience could rest assured that revolutionary acts were no longer needed after this, even though many players had been tempting the people to go that way.

After the event drew to a close, the porter Juho Peura accompanied the lecturer out to the gate, where a shocking sight awaited them. A company of Red Guards, hundred men strong, stood march-ready outside the gate, this being one of 16 Red Guard companies in Tampere at the time. Several had their rifles on their shoulders, others some lesser weapons on the belts.

In response to the lecturer’s query as to what this meant, Juho Peura criticized the Red Guards, their cause, and their activities with no reservation of harsh words. He saw the decision of the Social Democrat party leaders to establish the Red Guards to be a big mistake. He asked for advice as to how to stop such folly. When the lecturer responded by equally criticizing the Red Guards’ behaviour during the November week-long strike, Peura explained that the leading socialists, especially the trade union’s council (he being its chair), organized the strike only to avoid worse things from happening.

It must be stated that the government saw it as necessary to put into place measures for law and order exactly because of this; it proved necessary to use them in order to guarantee the recently-won freedom and independence.

As they see the Guards march towards Hämeenkatu [the main street in Tampere], the two men bid farewell in a spirit of deep concern. A week later, events would take the shocking turn they had feared. And after a few weeks, they would meet each other in an utterly altered circumstance.

Among the peaceful audience of that night, some had not joined the revolutionary struggle by taking up arms. Even so, they would start to help in its various tasks.

Yrjö Raevuori (1960) Kaupungin kohtalokas kevät ja kesä. (The fateful spring and summer in the city.) Porvoo ja Helsinki: Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö. Pages 8–10 (original text in Finnish).

Published in: Advent, Books, Finland, Hagiography, Weapons | on December 3rd, 2017 | Permanent Link to “Sata vuotta sitten – one hundred years ago” | Comments Off on Sata vuotta sitten – one hundred years ago

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