A Swastika Dialogue between Foreigner and Finn

In Finland, the swastika continues to be an official emblem of the Air Force command. It is also used in some other parts of the Finnish armed forces.

As I have been studying conversations around this issue, let me offer a brief synthesis of some of the dialogues that take place during my World Political City Walks. I will explore this issue more in my forthcoming book on Finnish nationalism.
-Foreigner: What the fuck?

-Finn: You should understand it is our traditional symbol and has nothing to do with the Nazis.

-Foreigner: Well, there truly is something very special about you Finns, if you believe the world agrees that your swastika has nothing to do with the nazis.

-Finn: OUR swastika truly has NOTHING to do with the nazis. We used it before there was any nazi party.

-Foreigner: Weren’t you allied with the nazis anyway?

-Finn: It has nothing to do with this.

-Foreigner: Some weird stuff. Do Finnish people ever travel or learn about the world?

-Finn: Your should know that our Air Force got the swastika symbol from a Swedish count in 1918. No nazi party existed at the time. See?

-Me: It could be helpful to remember that the count later become a founder of the Swedish National Socialist Party and his sister-in-law got married to Hermann Göring.

-Finn: It has nothing to do with this. Besides, OUR swastika looks CLEARLY different from the nazi one. EVERYONE can see it has very little resemblance with the nazi symbol.

–Me: Have a look, both of you, at the CURRENT emblem of the Finnish Air Force command (see below)

-Foreigner & Finn: What the fuck?



13 thoughts on “A Swastika Dialogue between Foreigner and Finn

  1. The origin of the air force “swastika” is from Indian culture and it’s meant to mean good luck. When Swedish people were gratious to donate funds for Filand’s first airplane, it was painted with this “swastika” to bring goog luck while flying it over the Gulf of Bothnia. For that reason the “swastika” was founded as the symbol of Finnish air force. It has got nothing to do with nazis, and everyone should notice the direction of the symbol: in Finland it’s level while nazis have it standing on the corner.

  2. it is true that nazi parties did not exist, when count Eric von Rosen gave Finland its first airplane in 1918, with his “good luck symbol” swastika painted on it. In order to assess whether the symbol has “nothing to do with nazis”, it may be useful to take into account that von Rosen did become a key figure in Swedish nazi politics. Also his sister-in-law married Hermann Göring. This fits in the more general story that swastika became a symbol used by various racist nationalist groups in that epoch. It is surely a complicated story, but these things should be considered before jumping into easy conclusions.

    • Emblems of Finland have been changed many times, including the swastika. A few decades ago, Charles de Gaulle got embarrassed when Urho Kekkonen gave him a chain that had swastikas. Soon after, Kekkonen ordered swastikas to be removed from those chains. Unfair, perhaps, but this is how the world often functions.

      Especially for questions of national defence, it is not always so easy to separate other people’s problems from ours. Wise military leaders take into account how others may react. Some in Finland seem to think that romantic attachments to particular symbols should outweigh the goal of having optimal capabilities to defend the nation.

      Maybe there are benefits to having the swastika as an official symbol of the armed forces of Finland today. Maybe you or someone else would like to explain them to our readers?

  3. I don’t undestand the relevance of the fact that von Rosen became a nazi supporter later in his life. Are you arguing that Finland should get rid of the swastika because they should have known, mystically, in the 1918 that it is going to be a nazi symbol later in history? And as a kind of argument for this, you present the fact that von Rosen and his relative became nazi affiliated later, so they were evidently chanelling the spirit of nazism with swastikas before nazism?

    In any case, I see this swastika affair as a similiar kind of symbolic resistance like wearing a muslim veil can be: just as swastika can be seen without connection to nazism so can muslim veil be seen without connection to subjugation of women in ulta-conservative patriarchal ideology. Easier option for everyone would be to get rid of these troublesome symbols because they are so tainted but somebody has to make some resistance once in a while just to make a point that the meanings and interpretations of symbols are not simple or fixed.

    • My main question is how using the swastika might help the military of Finland to do its main job now and in the future. One would imagine their job description is pretty simple: maintain optimal defence capabilities. Do you think that task should be overridden with concerns of “symbolic resistance” or making points about interpretations of symbols? Perhaps it can be shown that those interpretations serve their main function. This is what I am trying to find out.

      About the fact that von Rosen was a nazi supporter, I believe I already said above it is complicated and I have avoided making simply conclusions based on that fact. I do not think it is the main question in the debate about whether Finnish air force should maintain the swastika.

      In any case, it is not an irrelevant fact, when one asks if the Air Force swastika is connected to nazis, that the guy who offered it to the air force became a nazi himself. It simply reinforces the often-made argument that the swastika was used by various racist-inclined people and groups before the nazis existed and many of these people and groups later became nazis. I am not so familiar with von Rosen’s exact ideological position in 1918, so my reference was to a more general argument.

      • Getting rid of the swastika would of course be a very practical solution, one that would save time, trouble and confusion. But I doubt that it has any true signifigance for national security. It could, of course, be used by Russia for propaganda operations against Finland but the Air Force emblem survived the Cold War period which indicates that even Russians are quite cool about it. The practicality should be the only reasonable argument for its removal, not any shady general connection to Right Wing ideologies conserning its origins because there is none from Finnish perspective. Finnish Air Force adopted the swastika insignia to honor von Rosen, anything beyond that is irrelevant and happenstance.

        Military is understandable and “natural” place for this kind of intransigient traditionalism but even in more ordinary settings and as a matter of principle, I don’t think people should give up the fight attach their own warranted meanings to the symbols they use, even if some other meaning/interpretation is understandable. Should we just accept that star of David is now a hate symbol and not a religious symbol of worlds most oppressed minority? Should we, in the name of practicality, plead for muslim women to stop using veil, because it gives some people an impression that islamization of our society is ongoing and that they hold ultra-conservative values that make their integration to our society difficult, and thus hurting their position?

        btw., Eric von Rosen’s Wikipedia page explains the background of his use of swastika and there seems to be no deep connection to any ideology:

        “Eric von Rosen had been using a swastika as a personal owner’s mark. He originally saw the symbol on runestones in Gotland, while at school. Knowing that the symbol signified good luck for the Vikings, he utilized the symbol and had it carved into all his luggage when going on an expedition to South America in 1901. Being a friend of Finland, on March 1918 he gave the newly independent state an aircraft, which signified the beginning of the Finnish Air Force. The aircraft, a license manufactured Morane-Saulnier MS Parasol/Thulin D, was marked with his badge, a blue swastika on a white background. The Finnish Air Force adopted this roundel as their national insignia “

  4. And the nationally important artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela had been using the same, the locally very common symbol, hakaristi, a lot in his art and as he designed the symbol for the Finnish air force, it is no wonder he used it then as well.

    He used it in some other medals and honorary chains as well.

    • Yes, important point, I always to refer to Gallen-Kallela’s work when I talk about the swastika in my World Political City Walks. Last Friday I took my walkers to see the original Aino painting, with Swastika ornaments, at Central Bank of Finland. It clearly shows that Finns did not adopt the swastika from the nazis.

  5. You do know that swastika designs were used in 1700 in Finland? We have examples like the “Tursaansydän” which as a symbol has been in use for hundreds of years. Also some traditional decorations for national costumes have swastikas, those all pre-date airforce symbols by atleast decades.

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