This spring we have commemorated the centenary of the Finnish Civil War. The joy and gratitude expressed during Finland’s centenary celebrations last year were quickly replaced by the sad memories of our national tragedy. But we must face the painful episodes in our history as openly as we do the joyful ones: the events which took place a hundred years ago are still of relevance for Finland today, and it is not insignificant how we account for the past. Civil war is the worst thing that can happen to a nation. Let it be a lesson to us to remember and preserve our stability at a time of turmoil in various parts of the world.
Finns have shown maturity and an understanding of history this spring: the discussion on the Civil War has not overheated. Patience is a virtue when processing painful memories, not least because we live in an age of active informational influence seeking to take advantage of any divisions between people. Today, we are not looking for the culprits of the war. Instead we observe how Finland and the Finnish people found their way from war to reconciliation. In his speech here in Nivala a hundred years ago, Senate member Kyösti Kallio pointed the way in this direction. We have gathered here today to pay tribute to this great Finn as well as to those choices and achievements that the Finnish people have together made during the past hundred years. We have successfully defended our freedom and created one of the most stable and free societies, which is also one of the happiest in the world. Even the air here is the cleanest.This is quite a remarkable feat for a small nation. And it is an achievement that will also show the way forward: it obliges us to manage our own affairs, while also taking responsibility for international matters.
While a good political speech will always captivate its audience and address topical issues, it will also reach out to the future by introducing new ideas and avenues. By showing the way forward. President Kallio’s informal, just lightly drafted speech in the church at Nivala met these requirements. He gave the speech at a very difficult time. In May 1918, the Finnish Parliament was still suspended, people took the law into their own hands, executions prevailed in the country and the army held a kangaroo court based on martial law. At the end of April 1918, there had been three governments in the country: The Vaasa Senate chaired by P.E. Svinhufvud, the Senate in Helsinki, chaired first by Kyösti Kallio and later by E.N. Setälä, and the Finnish People’s Delegation in Vyborg led by Kullervo Manner with dictatorial powers. The Vaasa and Helsinki Senates joined forces on 4 May and Finland finally had a government that governed the entire country. Independence had now been implemented in practice, not just declared. The institution of a head of state had been born. The Finnish flag was replaced. The construction of Finland as a state could begin.
But once the guns fell silent, the most difficult task remained: the reconstruction of society, restoration of trust and finally reconciliation. The road from war to peace is hard, sometimes impossible. It takes a lot of wisdom and patience, a spirit of conciliation. Above all, it takes time and strong institutions which are constructed gradually and will only earn the trust and support of the people through their activities.
I have talked about participatory patriotism. The sense that this country and community are mine because I, too, am part of them. I enjoy the support and protection provided by my country, and in return, I participate to the best of my abilities in its construction and defence. Implanting this sense into people’s minds in the early decades of Finnish independence has been the foundation for our success.
It would be a misrepresentation of history, however, to say that immediately after the Civil War Finland would have smoothly or straightforwardly been capable of shifting to politics that nurtured social inclusion. But important steps in that direction were taken in any case. One of these essential first steps was the reconciliation speech by Kyösti Kallio. It is an irony of history that the speech was not saved in its entirety for posterity. Yet its core message is still strong: the requirement to build a Finland in which “there are no Reds and Whites but only Finns who love their fatherland, citizens of the Republic of Finland who all feel themselves to be members of society and who are at home here” remains as engaging now as it was back in 1918.
Besides speeches, Finland also needed action, of course. Some action had already been taken before the Civil War when the Working Hours Act for the eight-hour day and the Local Government Act for the development of local and regional democracy were enacted in November 1917. Prepared by Kallio, the Crofters’ Act had also been presented to Parliament in January 1918, but was not passed until the following October. Other reforms that continued after the Civil War included compulsory education and conscription. Another important step was “Lex Kallio”, initiated in 1921, legislation allowing landless rural people to buy small farms and in that way gain affinity and new hope.
Democracy was strongly anchored in Finland, which eventually had chosen the republican form of government. Finland was the only country to become independent in the aftermath of the First World War and also to retain its independence and democracy throughout the turbulent 1930s and 1940s. The Winter War Miracle that saved our freedom was therefore not created in autumn 1939 but achieved by our own choices during those two decades following the Civil War. It is historical symmetry that during the Winter War, Kyösti Kallio was again in a key position, this time piloting our nation through a difficult period as the President of the Republic.
I have said that we have to try to reconcile ourselves with our past. This is an ongoing process which may never be finished. Every generation will have to reconsider the main historical events in the context of their own time. Understanding is not the same as acceptance. It is impossible to accept all that enmity and cruelty that the Civil War brought out in the Finnish people. We must try to understand the situation that led to war, however. It is the only way to ensure that the important lessons of the past remain in our minds.
The lesson of 1918 is that the most important task of a nation is to ensure its own integrity and stability. Participatory patriotism is therefore just as important today as it was a hundred years ago, and we are all responsible for it. I encourage you, ladies and gentlemen, to take the responsibility. Nurturing democracy is an invaluable tool in reconciling different points of view. This is a good rule of thumb: even where there is diversity and people of different backgrounds, convictions and goals, we have a right to disagree. This is something we must be able to respect, however differently we ourselves might think. This is what Kyösti Kallio urged his fellow citizens to do, to seek reconciliation – in his famous Nivala speech as well as consistently in his other actions. Let’s not forget it.