Heino Nyyssönen, Commemoration Days and the Spirit of the Winter War
The Spirit of the Winter War is a well-known concept in Finland. It refers not only to experiences of the struggle during the years 1939–1940 but also to political rhetoric occasionally used as an argument for political demands. Therefore, I study two topics in this article: the use of the concept in particular and war commemorations in general. How has the Winter War been commemorated in Finland on the anniversaries and how has the spirit of the war been articulated in public during these commemorations?
Historical events pass but the experience remains. A point of departure is to concentrate on the repetition of the anniversaries i.e. on the commemoration days on November 30 and March 13. In principle all anniversaries form a new layer, an angle, to study the past. Here the focus is on historical continuities and discontinuities, and thus, what persists and vanishes over the course of time. The study combines ideas of conceptual history, politics of memory and public history. Its source material is based on the largest Finnish daily newspaper the Helsingin Sanomat starting from 1940 onwards. I have chosen six newspapers from each year up until 2009; altogether from seven decades, one from the anniversary itself and one from the previous and following day.
After methodological remarks I will discuss the outsets and conclusions i.e. how was either the beginning or the end of the war emphasised during the commemorations. Following this, the next topics will be newspapers and editors as arenas of memory. Different cults, such as C.G.E. Mannerheim’s, and other rituals will be focused on separately in a different chapter. My hypothesis is that commemoration was dominated by national and local elites until the 1960s, after which a more popular oriented rhetoric started to appear. It is worth noticing that the nature of both anniversaries was unofficial during the Cold War period, and even some of the organisers stressed this. Although some war time organisations were banned, commemorations were not. In the article there are examples of the political use of the concept the Sprit of the Winter War already in the 1950s. Therefore, I suppose that this politics of mourning also helped to recover and deal with the legacy of the war.