Cultures of Silence. Evolution of a Finnish Version of Vergangenheitsbewältigung

Cultures of Silence (2011-2014) is a project funded by the Academy of Finland.

Project Leader: Lars-Folke Landgrén
lars-folke.landgren(at)helsinki.fi
tel. (09) 191 22997

Researchers:

  • Simo Muir, simo.muir(at)helsinki.fi
  • Oula Silvennoinen, oula.silvennoinen(at)helsinki.fi
  • Malte Gasche, malte.gasche(at)helsinki.fi

The project aims to conduct key studies into the formation of a historical narrative regarding Finland's association with Nazi Germany in the Second World War and the moral challenges arising out of this fact.

Memory is selective, and so is speech, both public and private. Even among professional scholars, the building of such a narrative seems to have been an isolated affair, with Finnish studies rarely engaging or seeking to make a contribution to international research. Despite having fought on the side of the Axis, so far there also haven't been many official efforts to bring Finnish culture of memory into close contact with discussion going on in other European countries.

The basic hypothesis is that such disengagement is a result of the formation of cultures of silence around certain delicate themes, turning the Finnish narrative into a narrative of dissociation, emphasizing Finland's non-involvement in Nazi policies. While the formation of cultures of silence around topics understood politically hazardous or morally difficult has been a typical reaction everywhere, the specific aspects of this process in Finland remain little studied.

To test our hypothesis, we propose to conduct case studies on three fields: Finnish war-crimes processes as a phenomenon related to other such processes of official judicial reckoning internationally; Finnish Jews as an example of the difficulties a minority group encounters when dealing with the contradiction of their own past; and Finnish academic society as a forum of discussion for many central actors in the process of forming a national narrative about the war.

These three cases illustrate the field of tensions arising from the conflict between a patriotic narrative and obvious moral challenges. By laying emphasis on the mute parts of the Finnish dominant narrative about the war, this study is designed to fill a gap in Finnish historiography.