#11 - JRL 7033
St. Petersburg Times
January 24, 2003
New Book on Siege Gets A Hot Finnish Response
By Irina Titova
The Russian edition of "The Leningrad Blockade and Finland:
Nikolai Baryshnikov, which was released less than a week before this Monday's
59th anniversary of the lifting of the blockade, offers a different take on
Finnish involvement in the 900-day siege - a view that has angered some
While the "Great Patriotic War" with Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1945 remains
possibly the most significant historical event in the Russian consciousness,
and the "Winter War" of 1939 and 1941 following the Soviet invasion of
Karelia is still a sore spot in history for some Finns, Finland's role in the
Leningrad blockade has largely been ignored by both sides.
Finnish historians have generally treated their country's role in the
blockade, holding the lines to the north of the city, as the mere result of a
just war to return the territory of Karelia that the Soviet Union took from
it two years earlier. Russian historians have focused mainly on Nazi Germany.
Baryshnikov's study, based on years of research in both Finnish and Russian
archives, covers the topic of Finnish involvement in depth, and challenges
the view that the Finns merely wanted to win back their former territory.
Baryshnikov says that the Finnish role in the blockade had aggressive goals,
and made a significant contribution to the city's suffering.
"It's a myth that the Finnish troops halted their advance at the river
- the earlier border with Finland," Baryshnikov said. "In some places, they
moved further, and stopped only because the Finnish army was concerned about
suffering a massive number of casualties."
"It also stemmed from the fact that a large number of Finnish soldiers
refused to go any further," he added.
Another common theme in coverage of the topic is the role of Marshal Carl
Gustav Mannerheim, the head of the Finnish armed forces, who is portrayed as
a figure who tried to ease the situation in Leningrad, where 1 1/2 million
people died from hunger, disease and bombardment. Many attribute the lack of
artillery and air bombardment from the Finnish side to feelings of nostalgia
for the years he spent in St. Petersburg as a young officer in the Tsarist
But Baryshnikov's book offers evidence that he says shows that Mannerheim
clearly supported German plans to destroy the city.
"Baryshnikov's research offers proof that Finland was wasn't leading a
so-called 'separate' or 'defensive' war, as Finnish historians describe it,
meaning a war aimed regain its territories," said Johan Beckman, the director
of the Johan Beckman Institute in Helsinki, the publisher of the work, at a
presentation of the book Wednesday. "Instead, he shows that Finland was
taking part in an aggressive war in cooperation with Hitler, with the purpose
of destroying the Soviet Union and, in particular, Leningrad."
"The 'separate war' concept was the brainchild of Finnish
Beckman added. "Finland's participation in the blockade is one of the most
terrible moments in Finnish history."
Baryshnikov backs up his claims using quotations from speeches made by
Finnish military figures and government members, as well as information
published in newspapers at the time.
One example is a written statement by Vaeino Voionmaa, the chairperson of the
Finnish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, on June 30, 1941, before the
blockade had even begun.
"All of this is taking place under the name of a defensive war, but it's
already clear that it's an aggressive war ... Now, the talk is about total
participation in Germany's crusade," he wrote.
According to Beckman, Finnish political authorities have been relatively
supportive of the work. Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja attended the
presentation of the work in Helsinki in December.
But the book has caused controversy among a number of historians and public
organizations in Finland.
One of the leading Finnish historians on the topic, Timo Vihavainen, of the
University of Helsinki, labeled Baryshnikov's work as "a book built on
Stalinist propaganda stereotypes," in a review printed in the newspaper
Helsinki Sanomaat. Vihavainen says that he believes that Finland joined the
war against the Soviet Union for two major reasons: the desire to recover its
territory, and because it was forced by Germany to take part
"[Baryshnikov] is a representative of the Stalinist approach to the war
exists in some circles in Russia," Vihavainen said in a telephone interview
from Helsinki on Thursday. "Baryshnikov also misunderstood some of the
language in his research in the Finnish archives."
But Beckman says that there have
At the same time, other Finnish historians, like Helge Seppaelae, agree with
Baryshnikov's main points, Beckman said.
"It's hard for such small nation to admit that it had something to do
causing such a tragedy," Beckman said.
Beckman says that his interest in publishing the book was to provide a better
understanding of the history. He said that the book will ultimately appear in
English, Finnish and Russian editions.
"The book is unique in the sense that it, for the first time, strongly
a different picture of the war, which Finns should also know and consider,"
Russian veterans of the Winter War with Finland agree with Beckman.
"Both the Finnish government and Mannerheim himself are guilty in that
said Boris Pokhodzei, the chairperson of Soviet-Finnish War Veterans Union.