Outi Karemaa: Foes, Fiends, and Vermin. Ethnic Hatred of Russians in Finland 1917-1923

Outi Karemaa:

Vihollisia, vainoojia, syöpäläisiä. Rasistinen venäläisviha Suomessa 1917 - 1923.

Bibliotheca Historica n:o 30
ISBN: 951-710-081-7 (painettu versio)
ISSN: 1238-3503
Hinta: 120 markkaa.
221 sivua.

Foes, Fiends, and Vermin. Ethnic Hatred of Russians in Finland 1917-1923


Central to the history of European racial prejudices has been the concept of the Other, as opposed to the Self, a kind of distorted mirror image. A common mechanism in the building of a national identity is stereotyped, even racist discrimination, which includes such typical stages as the initial branding of the Other as enemy, subsequent justification of the brand, and then a mythologization of the Other, for example as the arch-enemy of the nation. In this kind of nationalistic process, certain enemy imagery and ideologies gradually take root in the public mind. However, the implanting of these images does not always occur of its own accord; rather, it requires propaganda to incriminate the Other as an enemy, and this is exactly what the propagation of anti-Russianism in Finland between 1917 and 1923 was all about. This study concentrates on how and why hatred of Russians was disseminated to the extent that it became the accepted view of the Finnish public in general. The applied source material is quite heterogenic, with emphasis on the press and literature of the period, as well as private archives.

In European thinking, the commonest representatives of Otherness, i.e. enemies, have been the Turks and the Russians. The negative image of Russia in Europe would seem to date back to the 16th century, when many of the stereotypes connected with Russians, still alive in our own century, were born: even then, Russians were depicted as devious, violent, bestial, lecherous, and drunken barbarians. In Sweden, too, the word 'barbaric' became the most widely used attribute applied to Russians already in the early 17th century. Finland was similarly influenced by these stereotypes concerning Russians, but no widespread ethnic hatred as such can be said to have existed even in the era of autonomy under Tsarist rule. For instance, all through the so-called years of oppression (1899-1905 and 1908-17), Finnish resistance was clearly directed against the hated Russian administration and its representatives, not against the Russian people in any general, racist way. However, the way to real racism was being paved among the educated classes through the adoption of German-Swedish ideas on racial thinking, and the contempt shared by politically oriented Finns toward all things Russian. Conflicts and confrontations of an ethnic nature did occur, but these never gained any mainstream status with the majority of the population.

Even after the March Revolution of 1917, there appeared no signs of ethnic hatred of Russians in Finland; on the contrary, the sentiments were quite amicable, so much so that the end of the Tsarist ancien régime was celebrated together, in a spirit of mutual camaraderie. Public opinion, on the other hand, did not take kindly to the increasing unrest and anarchy occurring among the Russian military in the course of the summer and autumn of 1917. The shortage of both food and lodging contributed to the demands for expelling the foreign armed forces, first and foremost because of the appalling way the soldiers conducted themselves. Thus the branding of Russians as archenemies and filthy barbarians was considered not only by the activists, or independence men, but also among many other bourgeois-minded conservatives to be the very thing to further the expulsion of the Russian military. Another cause for alarm amidst the bourgeoisie, especially after the civil unrest during the general strike in November, was the potential co-operation between Finnish socialists and the riotous Russian troops: arguably then, Finnish anti-Russianism was tailored to suit the local political climate. Still, the actual hatred of Russians had not yet penetrated public opinion in Finland by the end of 1917, although among the activist movement, in particular, it was already the rule rather than the exception.

The branding of Russians as the barbaric Other during 1917 proved useful for the purposes of Civil War propaganda; the war irrefutably changed the way Finns were to regard Russians and, at least among the White stratum, it also shaped existing chauvinist stereotypes as well as anti-Russian sentiment into a deep-rooted hatred of Russians. Admittedly, without an external enemy, it would have been extremely difficult to find a powerful enough stimulus for the troops to engage in a war: the soldiers from Ostrobothnia, for example, had been psyched to fight against a foreign military force, i.e. the Russians. Many authors and poets, furthermore, joined in the incitement of hatred against Russians that formed an essential part of war propaganda on the White side. Special efforts were made, for psychological reasons, to cloak the shocking realities of civil butchery which aroused brother against brother in the guise of a struggle for freedom and the defence of Western civilization. Justification for the racist hatred of Russians among the Whites was sought, in part, through the description of the conflict as a mythical battle of the West against the dark and evil East. Great hordes of people were successfully whirled into the maelstrom of fierce fighting through the ploy of depicting Russians as repulsive, violent and lecherous ogres. The White side shunned away B both during the war and also afterwards B from the idea that its real cause might have lain in social problems and that the Finnish people, or the idealized image of a unified nation, could have been divided into oppposing camps. Therefore, an external reason was needed to shift the burden of responsibility from the combatants in the struggle, and the Russians were chosen for the role of scapegoat. Even the engagement of Finnish Reds in the conflict was explained away with 'an affliction contracted from the East'. The Red camp, together with women who had been known to consort with Russians B now saddled with such descriptive nametags as 'Red Russkies' and 'Russky brides' B were branded as unnatural Others, and consequently enemies; thus identified with the foe, they were promptly excluded even from being classified as Finns. Through the inclusion of these women, anti-Russianism was flavoured to some extent also with sentiments of jealousy, since it was hard for Finnish men to come to terms with the fact that some women had chosen a hated Russian over them. This kind of envious atmosphere only contributed to the more poignant features of ethnic hatred.

Much sterner attitudes towards Russians came to prevail in 1918, particularly after the return of the German-trained Jaeger corps to Finland in late February. Alongside the activists, the Jaeger troops were the fiercest preachers of anti-Russian propaganda. During the years of training in Germany, they had been infected with Teutonic racial ideology and anti-Russian sentiment and, as members of a younger generation, they had been bred with a more negative attitude towards Russia than their elders, particularly with images from the years of oppression in the fairly recent past vivid and alive in their memories. Thus the incitement of so-called 'Russky hate' during the Civil War would for its main part seem to result from a wilful desire born in the White camp to blame the war on the Russians B and make them generally useful scapegoats for every and any form of evil that needed explaining B thus creating a motivation for Finns to rally round the White battle flag. This line of thought blatantly disregarded the actual role the Russians played in the war, or in the propagation of offensive mores and manners for that matter. The most racist manifestations of anti-Russianism were to be found among the Jaegers and the activists; during the war, the standard image of Russians was moulded into the perverse arch-fiend and enemy of the Finns through deliberate propaganda. The events of 1917 served as an excellent springboard for the emergence of anti-Russian chauvinism; the powerful effect they had, together with older stereotypes, can be seen in the fact that not even the Finnish Reds were completely immune to these prejudices. But the antagonism felt in their camp never reached the dimensions of the mythical 'Russky hate' felt on the White side.

1919 stands as a kind of intermediary period in the development of the ethnic hatred of Russians: the deep scar formed during 1917-18 was clearly visible, and 'Russky hate' flourished especially among the Whites. However, hatred of Russians was by no means the sole public attitude expressed, albeit it was the most widely spread. Anti-chauvinist tendencies were most in evidence among the liberal circles in favour of moderate centre politics, whereas the hatred of Russians harboured by right-wing radicals and the Agrarian Party seemed unrelenting. With agrarians, this anti-Russianism was further enhanced by their disappointment, much greater than that experienced by the other bourgeois parties, in the working classes, with whom they would otherwise have shared mutual political interests. Thus the branding of Russians as scapegoats for the Civil War suited the Agrarian Party perfectly. Similarly, the hatred felt towards upper-class Russian émigrés was embraced as consistent with the deep-rooted tradition of rustic mistrust of 'the upper crusts' evident in the party line. Russian émigrés were generally envied because of their alleged riches, although most of them, even those from among the Russian nobility, had in actual fact lost their fortunes during the revolution.

A feature shared with the activist movement was the colour-blind nature of the 'Russky hate' among the Agrarian Party; there was no division into Good and Evil according to political standing. Instead, all Russians were subject to the same ethnic chauvinism. Besides ideological reasons, this hatred was further incited by the activists' sense of bitterness at having to play second fiddle in the Finnish political life. They were convinced that 'Russky hate' had not spread widely enough through the Finnish population, and thus an extensive campaign of xenophobia was launched at the turn of the decade by activist circles. The 'Russky hate' propounded during the 1920s, especially by the Academic Karelia Society (AKS), assumed the form of a mythical feud combining patriotic love with hatred of the Other. Thus the hatred of Russians was becoming a measuring-rod of national spirit and patriotism. Thanks to massive propaganda, the new chauvinism spread quickly throughout the country. After the experiences of 1917-18, Finns were highly susceptible to this type of ideology, already instigated by the White propaganda during the Civil War. Russians were seen as scapegoats and harbingers of Evil. The necessary tools and terminology for the campaign were provided by Western racial thinking between the two world wars. Anti-Russian sentiment was clearly heightened also in the Red camp, so that 'Russky hate' became a kind of public opinion shared by the entire nation during the 1920s. Thus, as far as 'Russky hate' was concerned, the values represented by a minority - the activists, the Jaegers, the paramilitary civil guards, and members of the AKS - now dominated the entire country, even if they had been on the losing side in the polity struggle of 1918-19 between the republicans and the royalists.

Besides the motive of justifying the Civil War and scapegoating the Russians, there were other reasons for inciting hatred against Russians. 'Russky hate' served not only the interests of the entire White section of the Finnish population but also those of various smaller groups. The activists felt frustrated with the 'peaceful' centre politics of the time; they felt that the legacy of the entire movement, dating back to the days of active resistance against Tsarist rule, was being 'diluted'. Similar to the membership of the AKS, they wanted to maintain anti-Russian sentiment in Finland: with the aid of hatred directed against Russians as a unifying feature in the nation, it would be possible to shape people's attitudes to be more sympathetic towards issues of importance for the activists, above all the ideology of 'kinship spirit' prompting greater unity among the Finnic peoples and the resulting military campaigns behind the old Russian border. The goal of the activist movement, the Jaegers and the AKS was a united and unanimous nation - brought together by a common 'Russky hate' - which would then march on under their colours and leadership. Hatred of Russians was further exploited in domestic political struggles, for example at interpellation debates over the émigré question in Parliament, or in the issue of Finnish officers who had served under the Tsar being ousted from the army. After the Civil War, the Russian connection had become enough of a burden to easily lend itself to use as a weapon against other Finns as well. This was nothing new in itself - after all, Russia had been a useful ploy already in Swedish affairs of state during the 18th century - but so far research seems to have paid scant attention to this aspect of the Russian question. The Agrarian Party in particular benefited from the adopted anti-Russian policy: their colour-blind hatred of Russians managed to combine 'Russky hate' with the older tradition of rustic mistrust of 'the upper crust', and similarly, in the question of Finnish officers who had served in the Imperial Russian Army, their inherent hatred of Swedes mixed successfully with their hatred of Russians. Evidently, during the 1920s, bringing together all strata of the population under the common flag of anti-Russianism was advantageous even for the Social Democrats, who wished to gain public acceptance in Finnish society after the Civil War.

The hatred of Russians also bore clear signs of a battle between the generations, as the generation born in the last two decades of the 19th century often criticised their elders for having dealt with the Russians in such a relaxed manner, and not even being able to hate them. It comes as a surprise, then, that the importance of differences from one generation to another in the mental history of anti-Russianism has mostly been ignored in research. However, it seems evident that, owing to the forceful propaganda during the 1920s, the ideology of hatred against Russians did finally spread widely among the masses of the Finnish population, regardless of age. This must have taken place most readily among those age groups which already possessed a fairly negative image of Russians to begin with, thanks to the periods of Tsarist oppression, the legacy of the activists, or the Jaeger movement. The young people now inciting this ethnic hatred were naturally aiming to find themselves a good status in society. This particular motivation for anti-Russianism was much in evidence during the issue of ex-officers of the Tsar, as it was hoped that the top positions in the new Finnish army would be manned by Jaeger officers, at the expense of former members of the Imperial Russian Army.

By the 1920s, then, Finns had become quite inclined to adopt the idea of `Russky hating'. Several factors contributed to this fact: the already existing negative stereotypes, rampant in continental Europe of old, and only further confirmed by the evidence of the various violent manifestations of 1917 among the Russian military in Finland; the Swedish-Germanic racial ideas, upheld especially by members of the Jaeger movement; the activist tradition born during the periods of Tsarist oppression at the turn of the century; and the inherent need of a newly independent country rent by a recent Civil War to build up its identity and unity through hatred of a common enemy, a barbaric Other. As the former mother country was Russia, which already in old pan-European cultural heritage stood for all manner of mostly negative stereotypes, and as the expulsion of the Russian military was used in Finland as an excuse to explain the Civil War, the result was a peculiarly Finnish kind of 'Russky-hate'.

Considering the interpretation presented by Professor Matti Klinge in his article from the 1970s on 'Russky hatred', the source material of this study would seem to confirm the accuracy of his claim that ethnic hatred of Russians in Finland only emerged during 1917-18. This dating has been generally accepted in the past decade of academic research also by other scholars; although one must hasten to specify that the widespread mythologization process this hatred of Russians underwent, as well as its propagation to the point where it became accepted public opinion, were fully realized only in the early years of the following decade. On the other hand, Prof. Klinge's impression about the basic ideological nature of Finnish 'Russky hate' must be deemed inconclusive, since the phenomenon belonged emphatically in the realm of ethnic chauvinism. Even though the White side, admittedly, harboured a furious hatred against Bolshevists, the publicly propounded 'Russky hate' in essence consisted of the branding of all things Russian as hateful Otherness.

The Finnish 'Russky hate' contained fundamental elements of foreign import - specifically, the seeds for racist thinking, and ancient Western stereotypes connected with Russians - but it was the domestic scene, together with the widespread need to hate the Other, that provided the necessary stimulus and created a favourable atmosphere for it to emerge. Thus the events surrounding the independence struggle were needed to instigate the generation of a genuine racist hatred, even if from a European viewpoint its elements were by no means unique; the cult-like 'Russky hate' which emerged in Finland between 1917-23 correlates fully with the various phases in the creation of Otherness. During the period covered in this study, Russians were irrevocably transformed into representatives of the Other, against whom a major section of the population harboured a deep-rooted ethnic hatred: regardless of their political standing, Russians had become, in the Finnish view, foes forever, fiends eternal, and filthy vermin.

Translated by Risto Raitio

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