Tuori’s research group tries to crack the code language of the Nazi era

“There is no such thing as European unity per se. We have simply created elements that we consider important and that have come to be taken for granted. What we should do is consider what really unites us in Europe,” says Kaius Tuori, a legal historian who calls himself an ideological historian of law and has followed the rise of extremism in Finland with dismay.

Kaius Tuori and his research group examine legal traditions and the political history of ideas in Europe. Their work involves a great deal of archival research, as they explore topics such as the battle of ideologies during the Nazi period.

 “During the Nazi era, people were afraid of criticising the government directly, so they used code language,” Tuori explains.

According to him, the code closely resembled that used in other dictatorships and societies that do not enjoy freedom of speech. People learned to read “between the lines”, finding euphemisms for topics they could not safely address, especially in public.

 “For example, people might refer to Ancient Rome or Greece, because their social systems could be discussed relatively freely. This was a method that had already been resorted to, for example, when nudity or homosexuality were taboo subjects. They were topics you could discuss or display, as long as you were talking about the classical periods,” Tuori says.

The people doing the talking were mainly university professors in Germany who wanted to voice criticism of the Nazi policies. 

Captivated by the past

Tuori’s research group is currently examining the traumatic experiences of emigrants who fled from the Nazis, as well as the moral bankruptcy of the Nazis after 1945, and how both groups eventually readopted the concept of rule of law.

 “The examination of the past, of traditions, is fascinating,” says Tuori.  

Tuori’s research is also inspired by images of the “Other”, or the conceptualisation of indigenous peoples. He investigates long-term developments rather than rapid changes.

 “We focus on continuums of 2,500 years and work from the idea of remembering history: what we want to remember from the past.” 

In Tuori’s opinion, contemporary political debate does not allow enough time to consider the connections between issues and events.

 “Researchers must engage in reflection, show how ideas evolve, how they are interlinked and where they ultimately lead.”

Spotlight on interpretations of the 1930s

Tuori himself specialises in the European crisis of the 1930s, which led to the rise of Nazism, fascism and communism. 

 “It was no short-term process either, but rather part of our shared European heritage. I am trying to establish how true this interpretation is and how necessary it was after World War II.”

Tuori also discusses the 1930s as a period of reforms which saw the Nazis develop their own legal theory. It labelled all Jews as vermin.

 “The moral bankruptcy of the Nazis followed from the regime’s negation of legal rights.”

Tuori examines key thinkers of the 1930s who were forced to leave Germany and relocate to countries such as the United Kingdom. Many such authors argued against Nazi views.

Tuori explains, “My research centres on how these thinkers began their work and what eventually went askew in Germany when the constitutional state failed to prevent the Nazi crimes.”