Marianne Junila, The exemplary Finnish Winter War
In this article I focus on the emergence of the image of the Finnish Winter War, which has remained surprisingly homogenous and untouched by postwar political rethinking.
The Finnish Winter War against the Soviet Union was the first of the three wars Finland was involved in during the Second World War. In many ways it was also the greatest one, reminisced about as a lonely and heroic fight against an overwhelming enemy, a fight in which the Finns showed exceptional attitude, unity and morale – the right spirit. The expression “the spirit of the Winter War” quickly became a very emotionally loaded concept. It refers not only to those brave months but also to the ideal behavior and ethically high values claimed to be typical of Finns at that time.
In this text I study the actual behavior of the people by using the annual reports which the parishes gave to the diocesan synod soon after the Winter War has ended concerning the moral state of the people. Do the reports bear witness to this special atmosphere? Did people really act in an exceptional, honorable way?
It turned out that the image of the Winter War was surprisingly correct. Nevertheless, it has been influenced by the completely opposite image of the next war. In the Continuation War unselfishness and self-denial for the country’s best did not seem to be characteristic of the Finns. On the contrary, according to the vicars, Finns had become pleasure-seeking and careless. This abrupt change brightened up the image of the Winter War which was consequently reminisced about as an ideal and exemplary era in the country’s history.