Heartfelt Hate Speech from a Hundred Years Ago
[MON FEB 15 2017; B8; ’Vilpitön vihapuhuja sadan vuoden takaa,’ Hanna Kuonanoja]
* Born on January 28 1899 in Rautio, Northern Ostrobothnia. Original surname Simelius.
* Graduated from the Oulu Lyseo Upper Secondary School in 1919.
* Graduated from the University of Helsinki, becoming a priest in Kiuruvesi.
* A representative member of IKL, the Patriotic People’s Movement in 1933-1939.
* A founding member of the Academic Karjala Society and leader of the Sinimustat (Blueblacks) youth organization.
* Fell in the Winter War on January 25 1940.
The war of 1918, hate for Russians, and deeply rooted religiousness created this iconic figure of the Finnish far-right. A researcher familiar with the life of Elias Simojoki finds similarities to modern times in the atmosphere of the 1920s and 1930s.
On January 25th in the year 1940, on the ice of lake Laatokka, a severely injured horse cried out. A lone soldier on skis came out, approaching the horse from the Finnish frontline. When he got to the horse, he got off his skis, grabbed his pistol, and shot the horse in the head.
The soldier had managed to ski back a few dozen meters, when he was machine gunned from the Russian frontline. He died instantly. His body remained on the ice until nightfall, when the Finnish retrieved their fallen friend.
The death of Elias Simojoki was as dramatic as his life. Simojoki was a fervorous priest on the far-right, who fought on the side of the Whites in the Finnish Civil War, took part in the Kinship Wars, was a founding member of the Academic Karjala Society that supported the Greater Finland ideology, was a representative of the radical right Patriotic People’s Movement (IKL), and was also involved in the 1935 plan to take over Estonia’s government.
On monday, a book recounting the life of this iconic figure of the Finnish far-right, Under the Black Flag – The Life and utopia of Elias Simojoki, is published. It was written by a political historian from Oulu, Doctor of Political Sciences Miika Siironen.
He says what interested him about Simojoki was, among other things, his contradictory personality. Simojoki could be very gentle towards children – and towards animals, implied by the circumstances of his death – but at the same time could talk about ”the reds” as utterly inhuman creatures. During the time of the Lapua Movement, he also took part in transporting leftists to the eastern border.
– I think he was a man who genuinely wanted to save this nation. He had good intentions, but ended up doing evil things.
Born in 1899, Simojoki grew up in a pietistic Lutheran family. According to Siironen, Simojoki assumed a worldview of an exceptionally strong, black and white divide between good and evil at a young age. In the cultured countryside, he absorbed the reserved attitude towards Russians, which eventually grew into a hate of Russians.
Simojoki was only a gymnasium student when he partook in the Civil War. He was also involved in the kinship war efforts in Eastern Karelia. The feelings concerning these wars dictated the rest of his life.
Simojoki felt the freedom war wasn’t over, and that the young kinship warriors were left alone and betrayed. It ignited a lust for a rematch.
Siironen calls Simojoki and his compatriots in the 1920s and 1930s ”extreme Whites.” They didn’t recognize post-civil war Finland as their kind of Finland.
According to Siironen, religion was the most important thing in Simojoki’s life. In religion he also found justification for his actions. He felt he was a warrior of God on this earth.
– European jihadists have similar ways of thinking. They cherrypick the parts from their religion that justify their political goals and their violence.
Simojoki was the link between three extreme White operators. As a founder of the Academic Karelia Society he was a central member of the organization. He became both a representative of the Patriotic People’s Movement and the leader of the radical youth association Sinimustat (the Blueblacks).
Simojoki had his unwavering supporters, but they became fewer towards the end of the 1930s. After the National Socialists rose to power in Germany, Finland finally understood the possibility of the extreme right coming into power. A law against incitement of the masses was passed, curtailing public speaking about officials and government systems.
Simojoki did not hold back as he spoke vehemently from the pulpit at Kiuruvesi, where he worked as a priest. Political opponents also felt his wrath through newspapers and public speeches. Simojoki became a regular subject in the district court for his outbursts in the 1930s.
Simojoki felt he was prohibited from speaking the truth. Siironen says this is similar to the court cases today concerning the controversial writings of the Finns Party.
– Their excuses are similar as well: they are misunderstood martyrs of free speech.
After extreme Whites participated in the 1935 attempt to overtake Estonia, the fate of Simojoki seemed to be sealed. His reputation was especially damaged by a private letter obtained by the press, in which he proposed his opponents be sent to a concentration camp.
However, Simojoki didn’t leave his mark on history as a humiliated extremist. On the contrary – his reputation relayed to further generations was often quite positive.
Siironen says it’s no wonder. Simojoki had a certain heartfelt devotion to his cause, with no hidden agenda to materially gain from it.
The highest ennoblement to his life was his death. Simojoki had long predicted a great battle against the Russians, demanded distribution of weapons, and spoken for the fortification of the Karelian Isthmus. He finally gave his life to that battle, trying to end an animal’s suffering between two frontlines.
– Had he died in the 1980s as a grumpy old man in Kiuruvesi, it wouldn’t have had the same effect at all, Siironen concludes.