Should the Air Force of Finland Get Rid of the Swastika?

ilmavoimat

One thing that keeps amazing me is to see the Finnish military marching and some of the Air Force guys carrying a swastika. I am not talking only about documentaries from the 1930s. I am talking about today. The image posted above is the current emblem of the Air Force Command.

Swastika-like figures appear in some other official Finnish symbols, including the presidential flag. My focus here is on the one used by the Air Force since it is probably the one that has clearest resemblance with the Nazi symbol. The colors and the position are a bit different, but the association is difficult to avoid.

Foreigners sometimes ask about this oddity. For some of them, more than an oddity, using a symbol so strongly associated with Nazi ideas seems outrageous. Especially when racist nationalism has an increased visibility in various places, including Finland.

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If asked, the Finns who defend its use tend to respond by first saying: “Oh, it has nothing to do with the Nazis”.

Then comes an erudite flow of historical facts about the historical usage of the symbol by the Hindus or the Hopi tribes or, most importantly, by some ancient Scandinavians.

“See, it is only people who do not understand history that may think the swastika we use is derived from the German national socialism”.

“Besides, the Finnish air force started using the swastika because this Swedish count called Erik von Rosen donated an airplane to the white troops of Finland during the civil war. He had painted a swastika on his plane because he liked the symbol.”

If it is mentioned that this particular Swedish count was a well-known Nazi sympathizer, the response is always ready: “The donation happened before he could be a true Nazi sympathizer. At the moment, in 1918, Hitler was a nobody”.

Many, including Henrik Jaakkola on my Facebook site, have pointed out that the association of the swastika with far-right racist movements precedes its use by Hitler:

“The Nazi-party of Germany was not the only fascist or far-right movement using the swastika – it was pretty popular and widespread throughout the European far-right after the 1st WW. This is the context in which it ended up being used by the (very political and very right-wing) army that was the Finnish state military during the Civil War against the Reds”.

This characterization seems quite accurate to me, though I am not a specialist on that historical period. Feel free to correct me on this one. In any case, it is undeniable that the swastika still used by the Finnish military is associated by many with a racist and fascist ideology.

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Sometimes the use of the swastika is defended by referring to freedom of expression. “If the communists can march waving red flags with Soviet symbols, why should the swastika be prohibited?”.

The question I am raising here is, however, not about freedom of expression. This is not about whether the swastika, the sickle and the hammer, or some other sign that many consider offensive should be made illegal.

This is about whether it makes political, strategic or any other sense to it use the swastika as one of the official symbols of the armed forces.

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Arguments about “rewriting history” also come up at times in discussions around the swastika. The fact that the Finnish military was directly associated with the German Nazi government is one of the issues. A little like the arguments about freedom of expression, these debates are interesting but not always relevant to the question I am asking here.

This is not a question about manipulating historical records by removing controversial symbols such as the swastika from museums or history books. This is about the way the Republic of Finland wants to present its armed forces today.

Sure, the Air Force swastikas are today less visible than before the end of the Second World War. But they are still carried proudly and form part of the official symbols.

In some military doctrines, winning the hearts and minds of people, including potential allies, has been considered important. These days there is plenty of talk about possible military cooperation in possible future scenarios. In Finland, there are discussions about Nordic or European collaboration, as an alternative to a possible NATO membership.

More generally, the question of finding sympathy or solidarity from others in times of crisis is surely relevant for those responsible for the future of the Finnish military.

Perhaps someone has calculated that the potential costs of alienating potential solidarity in times of crisis by waving a swastika flag are greater than the benefits? I would be happy to hear about such calculations. Meanwhile, I think the case for getting rid of the swastika is stronger than the case for keeping it.

6.12.2016,

Teivo Teivainen, Professor of World Politics, University of Helsinki

Critique as Hysteria: I say this government is hostile to universities

The debate about the future of universities in Finland has been quite intense in the last couple of years. There have been various kinds of protests, including occupations of university buildings by angry students and critical declarations by professors. Some, such as the eminent scholar of Arabic and Islam Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, have decided to leave the country, citing the hostile attitude of the current government of Finland toward the universities as one reason.

Universities are facing huge budget cuts. Made by a government whose main leaders declared before the elections that they would not cut the budget for education. The derogatory comments they have made about universities and scholars have also contributed to the negative perceptions many (and arguably most, of course not all) scholars have of this government’s policy toward universities. I have also stated publicly various times that the government is hostile toward science and universities. .

Today Karina Jutila, director of the think tank e2 related to the prime minister’s Center Party, published an article where she criticized my claim that this government is hostile to science and universities. Continue reading

Toward a Very Political Economy of Capitalism

In case anyone is curious about my take on the possibilities of democratization of capitalism, this is a preview of  some things I will be talking about here in Brighton. In academic jargon, it is an abstract, starting with a couple of conceptual clarifications.

A full paper will be available later. I post these short lines here with the hope that someone might care to give me constructive criticism (or any other comments).

Right now a wonderful conference on What’s The Point of International Relations is going on at the University of Sussex. Various key people of our academic discipline (or however one wants to call IR) are speaking here. It was a real honor to be included in that list, also because I have wanted to come to Sussex University (and the cool town of Brighton) since a long time. Continue reading

First Response to Elections in Venezuela: Past Confidence in Vote Counting Confirmed

The opposition has won the parliamentary election in Venezuela. President Maduro recognized the defeat immediately and called for calm. In this sense, at least for now, he seems to follow the immediate response of his predecessor Hugo Chávez when the latter lost the referendum in 2007.

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Finns Party Member of Parliament Ignorant of the Constitutional Right to Demonstrate

There was an energetic antiracist demonstration yesterday in Helsinki. It was triggered by comments that Member of Parliament Olli Immonen had made in Facebook a few days earlier. Many people, including myself, considered these comments by a high-profile Finns Party member disgustingly racist.

Especially for the standards of the Finnish protest culture, the demonstration was mostly deemed a great success. Sure, there were some minor contradictions.

Today another Finns Party Member of Parliament, Jani Mäkelä, decided to question yesterday’s demonstration. So he asked in Twitter how the demonstration was able to get permits from the authorities so fast. Smart. Except that the Finnish constitution happens to be quite clear: no permit is needed for demonstrations. Continue reading

The Campaign Against G4S at University of Helsinki Was Successful

The University of Helsinki changes its provider of security services. The previous provider was G4S, widely criticized for its alleged human rights violations in Palestine/Israel and elsewhere. This can be considered a victory for the campaign that had demanded that G4S be kicked out of the University of Helsinki. I feel happy.

I am not in the position to make any official statements about the reasons behind my university’s decision to discontinue relying on the services of the G4S. The previous contract was over, G4S was bidding for a new one and lost the bid. Nevertheless, I believe it is clear that our campaign had an impact on the process. Let me briefly remind you of some of the moments of the campaign. Continue reading