Today is Finland’s 97th Independence Day.
It will be celebrated in traditional Finnish style, with a parade by the armed forces (look for #paraati14), a grand reception at the presidential palace, and Edvin Laine’s version of The Unknown Soldier on TV.
It is an often repeated but easily forgotten truth that one of the main differences between Sweden’s and Finland’s views on security policy lies in that most families in Finland have close relatives that fought in the wars to preserve Finland’s independence.
During the Second World War, Finland had general conscription for men, and a large number of women were voluntarily involved in second-line duties. In my own family, my grandfather spent two years at the frontlines of the Olonets Isthmus, before losing half his leg in the opening bombardments of the battle at Tali. His father had in turn served in the War of 1918. My other grandfather was too young to serve, but his father served at the home front, with his oldest uncle having fallen in the assault on Kalevankangas in the battle for Tampere in 1918.
I would say that mine is a fairly common family in this aspect. Many people can still today relate to the experience of having sat down and heard grandfather tell tales about the war, of silly episodes and of comrades lost. Some will tell of fathers, sons and brothers who never came back, or who were forever changed by what they saw and lived through.
The war is still very close to many Finns.
Today we also have a new generation of veterans. These fit poorly into our perception of the warriors of the Karelian forests, and as such we often seem to forget about their existence. However, a large number of Finnish soldiers have served in “hot” peacekeeping operations during the last decades. A few have been killed in action, but far more have returned home with memories of things seen and experienced that are heavy to carry. Some have been wounded, a fate no different now than it was at Tali seventy years ago.
These soldiers might not have served and bled to secure Finland’s independence in the way we are used to envision it, but they were sent out on a mission by our parliament, and as such we bear a responsibility to take care of them when they return home.
To all Finnish veterans, of wars past and current, a big thank you.