USES OF THE SWASTIKA
A Web Essay by Ainur Elmgren, April 2003 (home) - updates November 2003
IT BEGAN WITH THIS -
I saw it in 1995 in a glossy aircraft book in high school (Väinö Linna's, in Urjala, Finland) and was astonished. I had just arrived in Finland from my former home country, Germany, where swastikas were shunned like the plague. Where did this distinctly Finnish-coloured Hakenkreuz come from? Some classmates told me that the blue swastika used to be the symbol of the Finnish Air Forces (before 1944). They were also careful to point out that it was already in use in the early 1920's and definitely not Nazi-inspired. I remained suspicious. After all, some Finns were pretty keen on German militarism ever since the White side in the Civil War 1918 received help from Imperial Germany.
Turns out that, as usual --- the SWEDES are to blame...
MILITARY USE OF THE SWASTIKA
The Swedish count Eric von Rosen donated an aircraft to the fresh Finnish Air Forces (i.e., the White side) in 1917. The wings were decorated with von Rosen's personal favourite emblem, the swastika. von Rosen had travelled in Asia and was probably inspired by the Buddhist imagery he had encountered.
The blue swastika became adopted as a dynamic symbol for the new Finnish Air Forces after the Civil War. This was not that unusual in the new independent republics in Europe. Latvia, too, used the swastika in official imagery, and eventually some German and Austrian right-wing extremists hijacked it for their political purposes. The swastika was common in folk art in many cultures, and in times when every nation strove to display their national identity in world fairs and sports competitions (as well as in war), this folkloristic symbol was free for exploitation. Besides, it was also a symbol for energy, and denoted electric power stations in maps well into the 1950's. Not only aircrafts, but also the Finnish tanks were "adorned" with this insignia. The small Finnish army could not afford to waste Soviet tanks that had fallen into their hands, and they were re-decorated with swastikas and thus easily recognisable as "friendly".
After the armistice in 1944, it became politically incorrect to display the swastika - or that's what you'd think. Finland is different...
Due to the armistice agreements with the USSR, certain nationalist organisations such as Lotta Svärd (the women's auxiliary defence forces organisation) were prohibited. But the Lottas still display their badge proudly. In the daily paper's obituaries you can now and then see the Lotta cross. The swastika in the order of the Mannerheim Cross is not particularly hidden under the tiny white heraldic rose. And plenty of modern-day companies, private and public, have incorporated the swastika shape in their logotypes.
Quite a few Finnish militaria
websites feature disclaimers that explain the origin of the swastika to foreign
visitors. Here are a few examples.
Disclaimer from the site Suomen itsenäisyyden ajan sodat kuvina - Pictures from Wars during Finland's independence - private page
Disclaimer from the site of the Finnish Air Force Museum in Tikkakoski
Regulations of the Finnish swastika insignia from Kari Stenman Publishing; a company specialised in literature about aviation
"Tunteita nostattava hakaristi" - artikkeli Puolustusvoimien Ruotuv�ki-lehdest� (an article about the swastika from the magazine of the Finnish Defence Forces)
The swastika is an ancient Finnish symbol and therefore liberally used in arts and crafts of the period of nationalism - 19th century to the early 20th century. Because the idea of Finland as an independent nation was so new, the need for powerful symbols that reinforced this idea was even greater. The swastika was dynamic, exotic and folkloristic - perfect for art with a message in the late 19th century. Artists who wanted to evoke a "national consciousness" incorporated the symbol in their paintings. It became a suitable basis for patterns and designs in the spirit of national romanticism and art nouveau - and continued to blend in with art deco and modernism. To the left, an illustration by Alb. Gebhard, from the cover of Nuori Suomi 1901. It seems to have a political message as it depicts Suomineito - the Maid of Finland, symbol of the young Finnish nation - spreading a fire.
Traditional decorative patterns in Carelian handiwork sometimes include the swastika, aka "vääräpää" ("crooked head"). The folklorist Theodor Schvindt collected and published such patterns in Ompelu- ja nauhakoristeita (1st edition 1893, 2nd edition SKS 1982, Helsinki).
The flag of the President of Finland has a little "cross of freedom" in the upper left corner. Click on the cross to view the whole flag and a description. A CALL TO BOYCOTT THE PRESIDENTIAL FLAG. The President wears the Grand Cross of the Order of the White Rose of Finland on a neck chain. The President is the Grand Master of all official orders in Finland. The Order of the White Rose is special since its chain (designed by Akseli Gallen-Kallela) was altered in 1963. Below, the old chain, as worn by Mannerheim. THE MODERN VERSION * THE PRESIDENT'S PAGE * THE OLD VERSION (THE MANNERHEIM SITE)
|The modern design replaced the swastikas on the chain with cross-shaped conifer twigs. However, look carefully at the order itself. The Finnish lions (from the state coat-of-arms) are all facing in the same direction, going round the cross counter-clockwise, much like a swastika. Thus the dynamic movement is retained..|
The news programme in the Finnish public broadcasting corporation YLE have a neatly unfolding swastika animation in their opening credits. Below, a faint swastika-like shape from their website, and to the right, the opening credits and another swastika shape. Very stylishly done, in my opinion.
SITRA is an
independent public foundation under the supervision of the Finnish Parliament.
The Fund aims to promote Finland's economic prosperity by encouraging research,
backing innovative projects, organising training programmes and providing
That's what they say on their homepage, anyway. Your guess is as good as mine.
Dear readers, if you have continued this far I know I've touched you in a special little way with this informal essay. Please mail me your stories and suggestions where to find more swastikas. Everything is welcome, from the pavement pattern outside Stockmann in Helsinki to details in Akseli Gallen-Kallela's Kalevala illustrations.
A Fokker DXXI as used in the 40's.
The Lotta Svärd emblem.
A Finnish WW2 tank turret.
The Mannerheim cross. About the Mannerheim cross with audio narrative in Finnish from marskinmaja.net.
In August 2003, I visited the Mannerheim monument in the city of Lahti, Finland. Read about my experiences and admire the photos taken by my Lahtian friend Juho.
Above: Fennia, a decorative set of stoneware with swastica patterns. Click to view the whole scan and read the history. Below: Traditional swastika patterns from Carelia in Theodor Schvindt's Ompelu- ja nauhakoristeita.
The cross of freedom.
The modern Order of the White Rose of Finland - Suomen Valkoisen Ruusun Ritarikunta.
Yle news - Uutiset.