Guest post by Elisa Räsänen.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Finland as an independent country. The centennial year is celebrated in various events both in Finland and around the world. Many events are also taking place in the U.S. Institutes and groups have been organizing public talks, film festivals and celebrations starting from last January. Perhaps one of the most interesting projects in the U.S. is the Traveling Sauna that is driving across the whole country, starting on its way in Texas in February. From Texas the sauna traveled to the West Coast, then to the Midwest where it will continue its journey to the East Coast and finally to Washington D.C. in the beginning of December, just in time for Finland’s 100th Independence Day.
Indiana University Cinema is commemorating Finland’s centennial year by showing the movie Äideistä parhain (Mother of Mine, 2005) by Finnish director Klaus Härö, as part of IU Cinema’s Creative Collaborations program. The purpose of the screening is to make Finland and its two official languages known on the IUB campus and to offer students and the general public of Bloomington a human perspective on Finland’s history.
A centennial year offers a good moment to look back at history. During World War II Finland twice had to defend its independence. Mother of Mine, although set in the time of the Second World War, is not a war movie, though. The movie tells about “war children,” Finnish children who were sent to Sweden during the Second World War. The story is told through the eyes of a child and through the narration of the same person as a middle-aged man. Ten years ago, at the time of its release, the movie was one of the first means by which a public discussion of these events in Finland’s history was started–a topic that had not yet been in public discussion, even though the events had long-lasting effects on the children and their families and many carried the trauma throughout their lives. The movie achieved the status of the most watched domestic movie of the year in Finland and was Finland’s Oscar nominee for that year.
I interviewed Professor Toivo Raun in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies in the hopes that he would shed light on the phenomenon of sending Finnish “war children” to Sweden.
Why did families send their children to Sweden, and what consequences were there?
The sending of some 70,000 “war children” (also known as “war orphans” or “refugee children”) to Sweden was a painful aspect of Finland’s overall wrenching experience in World War II. The goals were to protect the children from the consequences of a possible Soviet invasion of Finland and also to shield them from what appeared to be likely food shortages. Most of the children were under 10 years of age and spent several years in Sweden. The aim was certainly idealistic, but the reality was mixed. In recent years new oral histories have shed light on the range of experiences of the Finnish children, some of whom were Swedish-speaking since Finland’s population in 1940 was still close to 10% of the total. In the end about 20% of the war children remained in Sweden after the war and were adopted by their foster families. The questions remains whether it was necessary to send so many Finnish children abroad.
The movie Mother of Mine looks at the phenomenon from both the Finnish and the Swedish point of view. The overall theme in the movie is forgiveness, and it offers an understanding and empathetic approach to past events.
Finland as an independent country has had an eventful history. The movie offers its viewers glimpses into Finland’s history from a rather individualistic viewpoint, depicting the events of one single year in a person’s life. Summarizing the history of a country is a difficult task. I asked Professor Raun to give his perspective on what should be noted about Finland’s history on its centennial:
As Finland approaches the 100th anniversary of its independence in December, it is appropriate to contemplate certain key aspects of its history. Above all, Finland deserves recognition for its striking rags-to-riches story in the past 150 years. It has been one of the world’s most successful societies in carrying out the process of modernization in a civilized and humane way. Finland’s retention of independence in World War II despite two wars with the Soviet Union was a remarkable achievement, and its ability to maintain a well-functioning democracy during the past century stands out. Finally, although limited in numbers, the Finns have made a definite mark on the global cultural scene through such figures as the composer Jean Sibelius and the architect and designer Alvar Aalto, not to speak of their widely admired world-class educational system.
What is worth mentioning about Finnish cinema, then? Klaus Härö, the director of Mother of Mine, is an awarded Finnish-Swedish film director who has gained popularity both in Finland and in Sweden. In his films classical story-telling is in the focus. (See more about his work, in Finnish, here.) However, Finnish cinema cannot be discussed without mentioning Aki Kaurismäki, an art house director who just won Best Director for his movie The Other Side of Hope in Berlin. Kaurismäki discusses issues in Finnish society in a minimalistic yet humoristic style. This year the Finland 100 Foundation funded a movie project on the famous artist Tom of Finland, directed by Dome Karukoski. Finnish cinema, however, has a long history. I asked Professor Raun about his favorite Finnish film.
I don’t have a favorite Finnish film per se, but my favorite subject is Finland’s experience in World War II, as seen, for example, in such films as The Unknown Soldier and Ambush. Despite the overwhelming disparity in numbers with their foe to the east the Finns managed to achieve what they call a “defensive victory” and avoid occupation or Sovietization.
Mother of Mine will be shown at the IU Cinema on September 16. A discussion with Elisa Räsänen and Toivo Raun will follow the screening.
This presentation of Mother of Mine is sponsored by the Finnish Program at Indiana University, department of Central Eurasian Studies, Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center, Norwegian Language and Scandinavian Cultural Program, Baltic and Finnish Studies Association, and IU Cinema.
Elisa Räsänen, Lecturer in Finnish language, teaches Finnish in three different levels in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies, and organizes Finland-related events on campus. In addition to Finnish language pedagogy, Räsänen is enthusiastic about Finnish literature, movies and music.
Toivo Raun, Professor of Central Eurasian Studies and Adjunct Professor of History, regularly teaches a course on modern Finnish history as well as a comparative survey of Scandinavian and Baltic history. His research specialty is Estonian, Baltic, and Finnish history. He is the author of several articles on comparative topics in Finnish and Estonian history.