Mannerheim's personality can unite our states, Finland and Russia
Last week, the Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim Memorial Plaque was unveiled in Saint Petersburg. The event provoked an ambivalent reaction of the public to this former Russian officer, founder of Finnish statehood, and leader of Finnish troops fighting alongside the Germans in World War II who blockaded Leningrad. The memorial plaque has been attacked by unknown persons. Finnish analyst Johan Bäckman explains the incident:
Mannerheim’s personality can unite our states, Finland and Russia, and strengthen the friendship between our peoples. He spent the main part of his life up to his 50th birthday in Russia and was a general of the Russian Army. Like all great men, he was a controversial figure, but the open discussion about him between Russian and Finnish historians and publicists can also strengthen our relations.
We must not forget that in the autumn of 1944, Mannerheim himself strengthened Soviet-Finnish relations. Then Finland refused the alliance with Hitler and became an ally of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. In the fall, in 1944, Mannerheim sent a letter to Hitler and refused further cooperation. In doing so, the Finnish Marshal stated his intention to save his nation.
Stalin perfectly understood that the main unifying factor of the Finnish people was Mannerheim. Therefore, Mannerheim did not face the tribunal of the Finnish war criminals. On the contrary, he became the first president of post-war Finland. For Victory Day 1945, Mannerheim sent Stalin a cordial greeting. For those who accuse Mannerheim of collaboration and complicity with the Nazis, I have to say that from 1944 onwards, Mannerheim was an ally of Stalin and the Soviet Union, and he started the friendship and the good neighborliness between the two countries which still exists to this day.
Let me remind you that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself laid a wreath at the grave of Mannerheim in Helsinki during his visit in September 2001.
I am sure that Mannerheim always missed his Russia and wanted to return to his St. Petersburg. This plaque is his posthumous comeback. For Mannerheim, there was only one Russia: the Russian Empire. He was loyal to the imperial family, and I think he would like modern Russia, which is returning to its pre-revolutionary history.
I am sure that Mannerheim, as the majority of the White generals were, was anti-Bolshevik, but not a Russophobe. It is known that he kept a picture of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and, indeed, he was faithful to the emperor and his family until the end of his life.
Now we should talk about the black spots. We seem to have three of them: the blockade of Leningrad, ethnic cleansing and concentration camps in Karelia, and Mannerheim's personal friendship with Göring. One can also add the mass death of Soviet prisoners during the war in Finland or, of course, the earlier alliance between Finland and Nazi Germany. All of this was terrible, and answering these questions is difficult. Of course Mannerheim was responsible for this, but he was not a collaborator, and cannot be compared to Bandera, Shukhevich, or Vlasov. Marshal Mannerheim was Finnish and served neither the Germans nor the Nazis. He was, however, a brilliant anti-Bolshevik who was ready to use any measures necessary to fight against Bolshevism, including collaboration with the Nazis with all of the terrible consequences.
It is understandable that historians of the Great Patriotic War and the Siege of Leningrad cannot agree with the fact that the city now has a Mannerheim plaque.
Finland was a party to the siege of Leningrad, but not the initiator. The politicians responsible for the alliance between Finland and Nazi Germany were the president and members of the government who entered into a military alliance with Germany and then were convicted by a Helsinki war criminal tribunal of 1946. In this regard, Mannerheim could not have been a traitor, for his empire no longer existed and he served Finland and the Finnish people to the bitter end.
It is also known that during negotiations on the eve of the “Winter War” at the end of the 1930’s, Mannerheim was willing to compromise with Stalin and advocated transferring certain areas of Finland to the Soviets in exchange for vast areas of Karelia. Mannerheim thus strove to prevent the war, and this remains an important part of his biography.
Mannerheim is presented in a quite astonishing way in official Finnish historiography. Finnish historians assess him not only as the savior of Leningrad since he allegedly refused to besiege the city, but also as a savior of the people of Karelia who allegedly lived better than the Bolsheviks in Finnish concentration camps. Finnish historians also write that Mannerheim was no fan of Hitler or the Nazis in general, and in fact harbored a negative attitude towards them. Finnish historiography, as with the historiographies of any small nations, is of course a beautiful pink fairy tale, and has nothing to do with reality.
In Finland itself, events associated with Mannerheim are met with protests. In our country, there are several monuments to Mannerheim, and all of them are controversial. Finland has witnessed more protests against Mannerheim than St. Petersburg itself. Many people know the most famous monument of Mannerheim on horseback in the center of Helsinki founded in 1960. But few people know why it was placed at a height of over 16 meters - Finnish terrorists threatened to blow up the monument.
Near the city of Tampere, there is a Mannerheim monument in the forest situated on the rock from which he led the White invasion of 1918. Anti-Nazis regularly graffiti “executioner” in red paint on the monument, and the same word recently appeared on the monument in the center of Helsinki. A significant portion of the Finnish people, especially the supporters of leftist ideas, hate Mannerheim.
The act of vandalism in St. Petersburg which struck the memorial plaque in red paint is apparently a provocation.
This act of vandalism is an attack on our common history, and an attempt to falsify it. I see this as some foreign agents closely tied to the Swedes initiating provocative activities against the plaque. These provocations are directed against the good neighborliness between Russia and Finland.
Mannerheim was your Russian general and our Finnish Marshal. He was never a German officer. Once again, if he were alive today, he would have liked modern Russia. All his life, he wanted to see a great Russia without Bolsheviks, and now he has returned to St. Petersburg as a Russian general. Historical memory is sacred, but the future is more important than the past.