Väinö Linna: Finland’s national writer, or Stalinist?
2017-08-04 10:57:13 -
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Panu Höglund

Väinö Linna is usually regarded as an author who chronicled the history of Finland in the 20th century in his novels. He became a celebrated writer when he published Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier), about a company of machine gunners in the Second World War, with characters so lively that Finns even today speak of them as if they were personal acquaintances. After that, Linna wrote Täällä Pohjantähden alla (Here Under the Polar Star), a great epic series of novels about the Koskela family and the people around them, as well as their destinies during the 20th century.

Today, however, Erkki Vettenniemi is trying to depict Linna as a Stalinist. Vettenniemi, a historian who has published a biography about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the dissident Soviet writer, has few reasons to accuse Linna of Stalinism: basically, Linna said in an essay he wrote in the 1970s that there was a lot of anti-Soviet propaganda around in pre-war Finland, and that it was not entirely sensible from a foreign policy viewpoint. These opinions were quite common in Finland in that decade, and not limited to Stalinists, although there were an awful lot of them in the universities of the country at that time.

The big question is, why Vettenniemi is trying to dethrone this national writer? In the book he wrote about Solzhenitsyn, he tried to exempt the Russian from all criticism, suggesting that Solzhenitsyn’s version is the last, unchangeable truth about the Soviet gulag camps. He does not seem to acknowledge Timothy Snyder and Anne Applebaum, historians that are definitely no communists; they do praise Solzhenitsyn for his pioneering role in the historiography of the Soviet camps, but they do disagree with him in details. For instance, their view is that Solzhenitsyn has exaggerated the figures of deaths.

It is safe to say that Vettenniemi is just trying to take possession of the cultural hegemony in Finland for himself and his ilk, the extreme right wing? Few scholarly books about gulag camps have ever been translated into Finnish, which is why it is easy for a Finn to think that Solzhenitsyn’s works have never been called into question. Thus, it is easy for a fanatic such as Vettenniemi to misuse the writings of the Russian for his own political ends.


Panu Höglund is a Finn who writes in Irish
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