Guide: H4 Russia (2/2)

or the Second Half of Chapter VI of A Guide to Finland, titled “History of Finland, part 4, or from 1809 to 1918, when Finland was a Grand Duchy of Russia, got infected by nationalism, and finally took its independence”

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This second half of a chapter won’t make much sense unless you read the first half first.

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The fact that Finns suddenly hankered for more independence, and Russians for, well, more Russian-ism, continued to make the climate of Finland very ugly indeed.

In 1898, a Russian called Bobrikov, Nikolai Bobrikov, was made the Governor-General of Finland. He was a career soldier, and a useful instrument for the purposes of the emperor and other Russian nationalists like him. (Naturally entirely different from the Finnish nationalists, since pushing patriotic hufflepuff down people’s throats is okay if those are your own people.)

The next year the Emperor declared that the laws of the Empire overruled those of Finland, its component part; in a stirring example of the power of democracy, half a million Finns (a fifth of Finland’s population!) signed a petition protesting this decision, and the Emperor failed to receive the legation bringing the signatures.

Bobrikov was intensely disliked, and actually outright hated in Finland: no wonder, as his innovations went against all the Finnish nationalists were clamoring for. Official government papers changed their language from Swedish to Russian. The separate Finnish army was disbanded, and since no conscript ever escapes, Finns of suitable age were directed to serve in the Russian army. Quite many failed to show up for this — six out of ten the first time, in 1902. After a few years, or in 1905 to be exact, conscription in Finland ceased, apparently because getting the conscripts out of the woods and alleys when they didn’t want to go was an intolerable bother. After all, of what use is a soldier if you need two others to find him?

Since bureaucracy can never be thwarted, instead of men Finland was levied money — and since tax collectors are harder to avoid than mere soldiers, Finland paid.

Finns cursed and simmered — both of these are skills Finns have a gift for — and then, as was bound to happen sooner or later, someone lost his patience, abandoned all care, and took up a gun.

Thus, in the June of 1904, Eugen Schauman, a government clerk and a fierce Finnish nationalist, aged 29, an avid reader of both current papers and of the poetic Tales of Ensign Stål which told of the war against Russia which Sweden lost in 1809, losing Finland — well, one sweet day he took a gun and marched to the senate building, to which he had access because of his position.

Soon Governor Bobrikov entered, and on the stairs they met: the Russian governor going up, the Finnish clerk going down: and five shots later neither would go up or down no more. The first two shots were deflected by the medals and buttons of Bobrikov’s coat (at last an explanation for all that military hardware!), but the third hit his beltbuckle, shattered it, and fatally and terribly wounded the Russian.

Schauman took a couple of steps back, fired two shots at his own chest, and died instantly. Bobrikov tottered down the stairs on his own feet, but despite being rushed to a surgeon, he died the next night.

In the murderer’s pocket, a letter addressed to the Russian Emperor was found. Schauman swore he had acted alone, without the knowledge of his family; and begged the ruler to look at the evils (i.e. Russia) plaguing the non-Russian edges of his empire.

And then there was much open celebration among Finns, and other kinds of rejoicing; and, unlike in most similar cases, immediate reciprocal slaughter did not result. The new Russian governor was more lenient than Bobrikov had been, and naturally Finns attributed this to the three magical bullets of the clerk.

Schauman was quietly buried in a pauper’s grave, but a few years later, when things had quieted down a bit, he was, with much ceremony, reburied in the Schauman family grave. The place of the shooting is decorated with a plaque that says “Se pro patria dedit”, Latin for “Gave himself for the fatherland”. The words refer to Schauman, but a contrarian could read them as Bobrikov’s epitaph as well.

Ever since then some have seen Schauman as a hero, a self-sacrificing champion of freedom, the killer of a man that symbolised all the evils and fears of the Russian oppression; some have seen him as just a murderer.

Your dear author can’t quite decide: but given that I’ve already given such space to Lalli, the mythic bishop-slayer, some perverse sense of equality forced me to say something about Schauman, too. Oh, and if you still recall that a modern TV show voted wife-cheated, priest-killing Lalli to be the fourteenth-greatest Finn of all time — well, Schauman was number 34. Maybe because Finns love tragedy; maybe because Finns understand people who snap and stand up to set the entire world aflame.

Or just maybe many Finns adore Schauman because there still are a lot of Finns who don’t like Russians, any Russians, whether imperial or Soviet, not one tiny teeny-weeny bit. (Or Swedes, either. Then again, which man or nation ever loved his neighbors?)

After Bobrikov, the Russification abated for a while, then intensified again, and in one form or the other continued until the fateful year of 1917. Then, in the middle of the First World War, Russia went down in flames: the flames of revolution. Some Finns sympathized with the Red revolutionaries; others didn’t, and for a while the nays carried the day. In the sixth of December, 1917, the senate of Finland declared that state independent and free of Russia.

The then-current rulers of Russia, both Red and imperial, could not be interested in this at the moment, as they had other problems of their own. (Meanwhile, the emperor Nikolai was drifting ever closer to a cold basement and the rifles of a squad of soldiers just obeying orders.)

Despite this declaration and Russia’s noninterference, troubles soon began: some parties and interests were keen to return to the bosom of the Communists; others saw this as desirable only if they were allowed to let a bayonet precede them. The Communist-friendly Reds flexed their muscles, organizing some militias, partially with the help of revolution-friendly Russian troops still stationed in Finland, and the other parts and parties of the Finnish parliament fled the capital.

Now, a word about the friends of Finland needs to be said. Such a distant and cold place as Finland isn’t the likeliest friend-getter of the international world; usually gold and diamonds and similar adornments are needed to stay popular in the cutthroat world of alliances and protectorates. There was, however, one nation that was keen to support the Finns: namely, Germany.

The reason for this is, as mathematicians say, obvious, if one only draws a picture — that is, consults a map for the relative positions of Germany, Russia and Finland.

Thus the Germans (imperial Germans at that time) had been eager to support the Finns, if only a cheap and flashy way could be found. A few thousand Finnish youths, smuggled to Germany, fought the World War against Russia in German ranks, getting plentiful military training (as in, “If they shoots back, they’re the enemy. If they shoots back and curses, they be us and you be court-martialed.”). When the trouble with Reds began, these volunteers, the so-called Jääkärit (Jaegers, or light infantry), were shipped home.

The civil war of Finland (1917–1918), known by many names the use of which depends mainly on the rhetorical positions of the user, then followed: the Reds in the south of Finland, supporting Communist or socialist ideals, the new mistakes of the day, and the Whites in the north, reinforced by the Jaegers, supporting the old parliament, the rich, and various other old mistakes of the day.

The White side was led by a man called Mannerheim, one of Finland’s greatest heroes, a child of a Swedish-speaking aristocratic family who had risen to the rank of a general in the Russian army, and returned home as Finland split from the empire. We shall meet him again.

The war was brutal and unpleasant, as civil wars tend to be. The Whites marched south and won the war; at the same time, a German division just happened to land at the southern tip of Finland and marched up to offer its help to the Whites. If the war was unpleasant, the aftermath was even uglier. The Reds, despite having lost the war, had had time enough to stage plenty of spontaneous executions and all kinds of random burning, looting and butchering among the folks they didn’t like; and the victorious Whites were not entirely averse to this sort of thing either, and in addition were in a position to organize all kinds of prison camps, with rapid-fire courts (pun intentional) attached, and toilets and sanitary spaces entirely lacking. There isn’t much anything cheerful that can be said of waiting whether bullets, hunger or disease will kill you first.

In time, those camps were closed down and the last inmates let free; and with time most of the old grudges were forgotten. Sadly enough, the main motivator in erasing the old hatreds was the wondrous unifying power of xenophobia, hatred of the Foreign Devil; but the episodes of the Second World War, and the wars against Russia, must wait until the next chapter of this guide.

Also waiting in the wings for the next chapter are various other details — the rise and fall of Finland’s homegrown fascists, for example, and the curious episode of a man who almost became a King of Finland.

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A note — Political assassinations in Finnish history: For modern times, I only know of the killing of Bobrikov by Schauman (1904), the death of Eliel Soisalon-Soininen, a perceived Russian sympathizer, by Lennart Hohenthal (1905), and the killing of Heikki Ritavuori, the then-minister of the interior, by Ernst Tandefelt (1922), who apparently was something of a lunatic. All of these three were shootings, and the murder of Ritavuori in 1922 was both the latest political assassination in Finnish history, and the only since the independence of Finland (1917).

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A note — Bobrikov was shot in June 17, 1904, and I’m told that some quite famous book depicts the happenings of that day in Dublin, even referencing the assassination. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t tell you more.

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Prev: Russia (1/2)Contents — Next: Between wars

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