Sampo Terho and the racist as a composer
2017-10-15 07:03:00 -

An Outside View/Léargas Taobh Amuig

Panu Höglund


Many dictators and strongmen in tyrannical states wanted to be artists. Everybody has heard about the Roman Emperor Nero, known for his cruelty; even he had artistic ambitions, and on his deathbed, he pronounced the following last words: ”What an artist is being lost in me!”


Nero loved making music, acting, chariot races and painting, but even though he was somewhat popular with the common people in his day, conservative higher-ups of ancient Rome disliked these pastimes of the emperor, being of the opinion that it was the kind of vanity that was not becoming of the ruler of an empire.


Of course, we don’t need to go that far back in time. Everybody knows that Adolf Hitler was interested in fine arts. He spent some time trying to earn his honest penny by painting and selling pictures of the beautiful old buildings of Vienna, convincing himself that he was a talented painter. 


He did not shun music, either, being enthusiastic about Richard Wagner’s nationalist romantic operas, especially ‘Rienzi’. This opera tells the story of Cola de Rienzi, an Italian rabble-rouser of the late Middle Ages, and it’s a story somewhat reminiscent of Hitler’s own career – that’s life imitating art for you! (By the way, Wagner based the story on an English-language novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, one of the most boring writers ever to wield a pen.)


As regards Stalin, the Soviet dictator, his first literary activity was writing poems in his native language, Georgian – the Caucasian language of Georgia. He was interested in Georgian separatism before turning socialist, and he wanted to promote his native language in literature. 


Later in his life, though, he took great pains to learn perfect Russian. Those who heard him speak the language found it obvious that he was not a native speaker, but at the same time they admitted he was able to express himself vigorously; he usually made use of Russian proverbs and allusions to classical Russian literature. Stalin was even interested in contemporary literature in Russian, though that did not always work out well for every writer.


On the other hand, everyone knows that some writers survived the great persecutions because their writings pleased the dictators. 


For instance, Mikhail Bulgakov penned a drama about the Whites — that is, the enemies of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War — from an understanding point of view. It could have brought him a lot of trouble with the Communist Party, but as Stalin happened to like the drama, coming every night to the Moscow Artistic Theatre to enjoy it again and again, the author was safe. Bulgakov was never executed, but it is another story entirely that he was killed by a hereditary disease of kidneys before he was fifty years of age.


The aforementioned big men came to my mind when I heard that Sampo Terho, the Finnish Minister of Culture, was having a musical composition of his played in public in Kuopio, an eastern Finnish city with a considerable tradition of classical music. 


Ten years ago, Terho’s most remarkable ‘cultural’ pursuit was trying to mainstream racism. Back then he published an article in the right-wing journal Kanava making reference to, among other things, the ‘Mongoloid’ natives of America. Things have changed since, but probably Terho still clings on his earlier ideas of different ‘races’, including the ‘Mongoloids’.


Of course, even a racist can compose good music. But regarding the description of his composition Terho gave to the media in his interviews, it seems that he has little idea of music, too. He mentioned a couple of pop groups that had influenced him and his composition, and that was about everything he could say. 


As is the case with many other right-wing extremist politicians in Finland, he used to be just one of those young men torturing their guitars in some backstreet band hoping for girls to take a liking to their stardom. But when that didn’t quite work out, he joined right-wing extremists to take his revenge on the whole world.


Panu Höglund is a Finn who writes in Irish.

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