Pauli Heikkilä, Torchbearers and the Baltic states Via Europe to the Soviet Union
In the early 1920s several young writers with modernistic poems appeared in Finland. Their anthology was called Tulenkantajat (Torchbearers). Soon the name came to refer to the group in general. Despite their artistic expressions, the group lacked coherence in their political opinions. This became apparent in 1928 when they started a monthly journal with the same name. Erkki Vala, a strong advocate for international ideas, was called in to edit the journal. His adversaries were nationalists, who eventually took over the publication in 1930 just before it was discontinued due to financial reasons. A few years later Vala, however, took up publishing with younger partners. The title remained the same but the weekly journal supported socio-liberal policy and the Nordic orientation.
Although a fair amount of research has been carried out about The Torchbearers of the 1920s in Finnish literary history, only few studies have been conducted on the later journal. My article tends to fill this gap focusing on international relations; more precisely on the Baltic states by way of fictional works and published news items as presented by the journal. What was written about the Baltic states in this journal from 1934 to 1939? Even though the focus of these texts was on foreign countries, they were written from the Finnish point of view. This is revealed by analyzing the texts.
The concept of the Baltic rarely appeared in The Torchbearers. When it did, it was, in a great extent, based on information from Estonia. In early stages young writers were curious about their closely related country. In artistic matters Estonia seemed to provide a model where national tendencies could successfully meet international influences. For a long time The Torchbearers believed politically in Konstantin Päts’ assurances that he was saving democracy. Gradually, however, they lost their faith, and a new constitution of 1938 was undeniably an example of dictatorship. Most alarming was the way how democratic politicians had turned to support restrictive methods; that might even take place in Finland. In this process the Baltic states transformed from neighboring countries with shared interest into strangers to be avoided. Consequently, the treaties with the Soviet Union next year were seen as a fresh start for Baltic democracies. After the World War II Vala even published a book, De Baltiska Sovjetrepublikerna (The Baltic Soviet Republics), to justify the annexations and the end of the independent states.