A History Of
The Finnish Civil Guard
Vihavainen for Mosin-Nagant Dot Net
By Charlie Bowles
This text documents the history of the voluntary organization,
known as Suojeluskunta in Finland. On the internet in Finland,
Suojeluskunta has often been compared to the US National Guard
and the British WW2 era Home Guard. During certain phases
of its history its functions it was somewhat like these two,
but in reality it was so unique that finding any internationally
well-known exact equivalent is impossible. Even though Suojeluskunta
was abolished more than 50 years ago, such was its political
weight in Finnish history, that discussion about the subject
still easily causes bitter arguments in Finland. The idea
of this text is to shed some light on many roles and influences
that Suojeluskuntas had when it came into being in Finland
and into Finnish Society. A word about a term frequently used
later in this text. "Sk" is the Finnish abbreviation for Suojeluskunta.
FROM NOBLE IDEAS TO A BLOODY CIVIL WAR
Finland had come to
Russia as an autonomous Grand Duchy in 1809 after the Swedish-
Russian War of 1808 - 1809. When this war was over , the Russian
Emperor Alexander I guaranteed the Finns a large variety of
rights and exceptions making Finland quite different from
other parts of the Russian Empire. The arrangement proved
fruitful to both sides: The Finns become loyal citizens and
an autonomous Finland prospered both culturally and economically.
In the 1880's opinions among the Russians concerning the Finnish
autonomous status started to change. As Slavophilism and Panslavism
spread in Russia and it created suspicion, envy, and hate
against the Finns and their status of an autonomous Finland.
When a new Russian Emperor was crowned in 1894, Slavophiles
and Panslavists got a controlling position and started stripping
the rights of autonomony from Finland one after another. The
goal of this oppression campaign was Russification of the
whole of Finland by removing its autonomous status and replacing
its own culture with a Russian one. In Finland, the Russification
campaign met both passive and active resistance and the idea
about an independent Finland increasingly started gaining
popularity. Hate created by an oppressive campaign and nationalism
had planted the seeds for demands of an independent Finland.
The environment however, didn't yet allow a good opportunity
for it to happen.
The birth of The Protective Guard:
Suojeluskunta could be translated literally as "Protective
Guard" and the translation fits nicely for the original mission
of Suojeluskunta. The first organizations, which later developed
into Suojeluskunta, were locally established from volunteers
for maintaining public order during General strike of 1905.
Some more were also established in following years, but the
real establishment boom didn't come until 1917. In that year
Russia faced two revolutions. The first revolution had already
led to some homicides in Finland, created lot of restlessness,
and lead Bolshevik councils (aka "Soviet") spreading like
a plague to Russian military and naval units stationed in
Finland. As an aftermath of the first revolution, Finnish
police departments also were disestablished. It was ,however,
the second one by the Bolsheviks that caused the real havoc.
When news of the Bolshevik Revolution reached Finland, large
numbers of Russian troops stationed in Finland started celebrating
their new "svoboda" by executing their officers and more violence
followed. Unfortunately for Finns, too many of the now uncontrolled
but well-armed Russian soldiers, this "svoboda" included the
possibility to take whatever they wanted with the help of
the weapons they had. At the same time the idea of also making
a revolution in Finland gained popularity among members of
the Finnish Social Democratic Party (SDP) and political violence
started to spread in Finland in June of 1917. The food situation
was getting worse (agricultural strikes during the planting
season didn't exactly help the situation) and the revolutionary
wing of the SDP, which had allied itself with Russian Bolshevists,
started forming armed "Punakaarti" (Red Guard) units. Political
violence continued escalating: During a week of long general
strikes in November of 1917, armed Russian military and Finnish
Red Guard units marched into many places and 34 people were
killed in political violence. In these conditions during 1917,
more local organizations for maintaining order were rapidly
established one after another. At the same time independence
activists ,seeking the possibility to separate Finland from
Russia, created their own local organizations disguised as
voluntary fire departments. Even though local security organizations
and "voluntary fire departments" of activists often had originally
been established for separate reasons. Typically they had
no problems finding common goals and soon started to develop
in the same direction of becoming Suojeluskunta organizations.
in the Civil War of 1918:
In December of 1917 Finland became independent and the country
was lead by the Finnish Senate. There were still large Russian
military units (the estimations of Russian soldiers in Finland
at that that time vary from 42,500 to over 100,000) in Finland
and the Russian Bolshevik Government with its new allies
had plans for them. The Russian Bolsheviks started arming
Finnish Red Guards and at end of January 1918,violence in
Finland escalated into Civil War. Local Suojeluskunta organizations
didn't yet have real higher levels of command connecting them
effectively. However, there was one organization that had
some influence among them. The Senate elected "Sotilaskomitea"
(Military Committee), which was a small organization of well-known
nationalistic Finns. In mid-January of 1918 it had asked C.G.E.
Mannerheim, who had recently returned from Russia to be its
chairman. Soon after this, the Finnish Senate declared Suojeluskunta
troops as its troops and named Mannerheim as their commander.
When Suojeluskunta faced Civil War its situation anything
but easy. It had about 14,000 men, but they were not
organized as a military unit and had no military training
to speak of. Its opponent Red Guards had no military training
either and was also poorly organized , but it had managed
to mobilize some 25,000 men. However, these were only minor
problems for Suojeluskunta compared to the shortage of weaponry.
Suojeluskunta had only about 9,000 rifles and 44 machineguns.
The Red Guard had no such shortage as Russian garrisons were
arming them voluntarily and trainloads of weaponry were transported
to them from Russia. Germans were arming Suojeluskunta, but
no receipt of the cargo of the steamship Equity with its 20,000
rifles and 50 machineguns almost caused Suojeluskunta to lose
the war in its beginning. Once the war started, the number
of troops on both sides started increasing rapidly. At start
of the war, Reds captured the Southern part of Finland and
the White Army hurriedly created from Suojeluskunta units
gathered together. Armed with the few available weapons they
managed to keep the Northern part of Finland. The frontline
between the two sides formed a line running from Ahlainen
- Vilppula - Mäntyharju - Antrea - Rautu. At beginning
of the Civil War Suojeluskunta had only about 5,000 - 6,000
men on the front lines.
Mannerheim - 1918
At first the Reds attacked along main roads and railways,
but Suojeluskunta units managed to keep them at bay until
the Whites got their main troops organized, equipped and trained.
Suojeluskunta units were part of White Army, but at the same
time they remained separate from recruited and drafted units,
which later became the Finnish Army. In mid-March it was time
for the Whites to attack and they first succeeded by surrounding
and then capturing the important town of Tampere. After the
Reds lost Tampere, their front fell apart, and further successful
attacks by the White Army and the German Ostsee Division sealed
the fate of the Red Guards. Most of the Red Guard members
ended up in POW camps while some managed to escape to Russia.
The Civil War ended on the 5th of May 1918, but the situation
in Finland remained quite restless several years after that.
At end of January 1918 about 400 Suojeluskuntas having about
38,000 men members were facing some 375 Red Guards with an
estimated 30,000 men. In actuality the numbers of frontline
combatants on both sides were not that large. The Red Guards
naturally had Bolshevik-minded Russian soldiers and sailors
fighting at their side from the beginning, but their number
seems to have been relatively small. Officially Bolshevik
councils ("Soviet") were a leading majority of the Russian
military units in Finland. In reality they were unable to
control the unwilling and demoralized soldiers. At the end
of 1917, the Russian Military still had large numbers of troops
in Finland, but practically all of their units either remained
passive or simply "melted away" when their soldiers decided
to desert and return to their homes. In areas other than the
Karelian Isthmus, the size of Russian units taking part in
the war were not larger than platoon-size. However, as military
training of Red Guards was basically non-existent, Russians
often served with them as heavy weapons specialists, training
personnel and even as leaders. The amount of troops continued
to increase until April, at which point the White Army had
about 70,000 men and Red Guards about 75,000.
Suojeluskunta members of Civil War can be roughly divided
to three types of members: Those willing to fight both
in their own local area and other parts of the country. Those
only willing to fight or maintain order only in their own
area. Supporting members, who supported Suojeluskunta with
finances and/or supplies without personally participating
in battle. At end of the year 1917 and during the Civil War,
"lentävä osasto" ("flying unit") type units were
established from those also willing to fight in other areas
of the country.
Heroic liberators or butchers?
(Source for numbers: “Suomen sotasurmat 1914
- 1922" website)
Wars rarely are clean,
but the Finnish Civil War was as ugly as civil wars can be
in their worst. The road to this carnage was paved by the
Suinula mass-murder of Suojeluskunta POWs, and the incident
became widely known as the "Suinula massacre". The number
of people executed or murdered (9,278) was only slightly smaller
than the amount of those died in battle (9,313). Often the
executions had nothing to do with justice or due process,
people were executed for old personal grudges, hate, revenge
and convenience. As the White Army won the war, its units
and members naturally did most of the killing, murdering or
executing 7,276 people. In regard to the executions and murders,
many Suojeluskunta units also gained a worse reputation than
the average White Army unit . There were probably good reasons
for this. Their members had volunteered for personal and/or
ideological reasons, this combined with weaker discipline
and lack of an effective chain-of command didn't exactly improve
chances for them to treat POWs humanely. In general, Suojeluskunta
members saw the Russians as enemies of Finland and Finnish
Reds as traitors, who had betrayed their own country. Volunteers
of Suojeluskuntas wanted an independent Finnish State. For
them the Russian military was an occupier and the Red Guards,
who had allied themselves with the Bolshevik government, were
a threat to Finnish independence.
White Guards executing
Red Guard members - 1920
Nationalism and hate of the Russians, being typical opinions
of Suojeluskunta members, it wasn't surprising that many of
them didn't like taking orders from the ex-Russian Army
General Mannerheim and his Staff. The Staff which was mostly
Finnish born officers, had earlier served Russia and Swedish
officers. The situation offered a convenient opportunity for
settling old scores and revenge for lost friends and relatives
of Suojeluskunta members who returned to their old villages,
cities and towns. Soldiers of other types of White Army units
(recruited units and conscripted troops) rarely had personal
grudges to settle even if they were not all exactly innocent
when it came to atrocities either. During the Civil War the
White Army didn't have a real chain-of-command for Suojeluskunta.
The Advisory Committee of the Commander in Chief, which had
representatives of various Suojeluskunta, was intended as
the connection between local Suojeluskunta and the HQ of Mannerheim.
but it didn't take part when it came to actual commanding
troops. Also the military chain-of-command for frontline units
was quite unclear giving higher headquarters poor control
of their troops. As the war continued, executing prisoners
of war often become the standard method for troops of both
sides. After the War, Red prisoners of war were kept in POW
camps, where hunger and pestilence (like the influenza of
1918 and typhoid) killed almost 11,700 of them. The Finnish
Civil War of 1918 left festering wounds among Finns and it
is open to question if the wound ,even nowadays, is fully
healed. For part of the Finnish population Suojeluskunta has
remained heroes that liberated Finland, while the other part
still calls them by their old nickname "lahtari" (butcher)
used by the Reds during the 1918 war.
PART II: SUOJELUSKUNTA DURING THE 1920s and 1930s
problems to stability
The end of the Civil War brought Suojeluskunta to a new situation.
Finland was now independent, but having an organization which
would guarantee safeguarding it against outside and interior
enemies was also seen as important. The Finnish Army was still
very small and could not have coped with any real foreign
Army on its own. The existing Suojeluskunta organizations,
which had been originally organized as "voluntary fire departments"
and units for maintaining local security, were no longer up
to date for the situation. Suojeluskunta needed to be redesigned
and uniformly rebuilt nation wide. Redesigning the new organization
included a number of arguments, some of which continued well
into the 1920s.
These arguments included matters such as:
Should Suojeluskunta membership be voluntary or obligatory?
What should be the main missions of the Suojeluskunta?
What relationship would Suojeluskunta have to the Finnish
Army, the Finnish political system, and local authorities?
On the 4th of July of 1918, representatives of 171 Suojeluskuntas
gathered in town of Jyväskylä, and the decisions
made there had profound impacts on the future of Suojeluskuntas.
The resolutions made in Jyväskylä greatly influenced
the first piece of legislation made for Suojeluskunta, which
was a statute legislated by the Finnish Senate on 2August
1918. The statute was short in text and rather vague in some
matters, but it cleared up things considerably and created
the groundwork needed for creating the new organization. At
the same time it showed recognition of its status from a part
of the State. Matters covered in it included: Suojeluskunta
was defined as a State-wide voluntary organization with local
and district levels. Each locality would have local Suojeluskunta
and the country would be divided to Suojeluskunta districts,
all of which would include several localities. Suojeluskunta
organization would not be part of the Army, but a separate
entity having its own Commander-in-Chief. Membership eligibility
requirements (trustworthy males of at least 17 years of age).
The process of selecting members (volunteers with recommendation).
Members could be active or passive ones. The basic organization
(local chief and district HQ levels and how to create them).
Suojeluskunta oath introduced for use of all Suojeluskunta.
The Suojeluskunta given rights to accept donations and own
The basic structure of Suojeluskunta:
The statute also made the leader of the Senate's Committee
of Military Matters, General-Major Wilhelm Thesleff, as the
first Commander-in-Chief of the Suojeluskuntas and gave Suojeluskuntas
their own representative in the Defense Ministry. At the start
Suojeluskunta didn't have a Higher HQ, and the organization
was directly subordinate to the Defense Ministry. For all
purposes Suojeluskunta-districts were the same as mobilization
districts. In the beginning the office had only two sections,
Military and Financial. Georg D. von Essen was elected as
the first leader of Suojeluskunta Office and later (1919)
as the first Commander-in-Chief of the then independent Sk
organization. The Suojeluskunta was very popular immediately
after the Civil War and its organization effectively spread
to the whole country. In 1919 Suojeluskunta became an independent
organization tied to Finnish defense. First it got its own
independent HQ called "Suojeluskunta Toimisto" in the Ministry
of Defense, but at April was renamed "Suojeluskuntain Yliesikunta"
(Sk.Y). By 1920 about 93 % of Finnish municipalities and towns
had local Suojeluskunta.
The basic command structure of structure of Sk
organization starting from the top:
Suojeluskuntain Yliesikunta (Sk.Y
= Sk General Headquarters) : The high
command of Suojeluskunta organization was lead by the Commander-in-Chief
of Suojeluskunta organization. Its organization grew with
Sk-organization: When Sk.Y was first established at 1919 it
had four departments, but in less than a year their number
had increased to seven.
(Suojeluskunta Piiri): These contained two or three
Suojeluskunta areas. Each Sk district had a small District
HQ lead by the District Chief (Piiripäällikkö).
Most of the time Sk District HQs had 4 members and 2 alternate
Area (Suojeluskunta Alue): These contained one or more
local Suojeluskunta and had a small Sk Area HQs.
Local Suojeluskunta: Suojeluskunta
of one municipality or town.
Arm sleeve from the 1920's. The sleeve is from the local
Suojeluskunta of the town of Forssan
Sk organization and its parts got
their financing from four main sources:
: These included donations, membership fees and money
collected by Suojeluskunta and Lotta Svärd organizations
as entrance fees to functions they had organized and so on.
This was the largest source of funding for local Suojeluskuntas.
State budget : This started when the Finnish State decided
to pay wages of some hired personnel of Suojeluskunta organization.
The sums increased as Sk organization grew larger, but Suojeluskunta
remained a quite inexpensive tool for helping to maintain
the defense capability for the Finnish State. The sum always
remained smaller than 2% of the yearly State budget and less
then 12% of defense spending.
municipalities, towns and cities: These typically financed
local Suojeluskunta (as long as left wing parties didn't have
a majority in local politics).
from firms owned by Suojeluskunta: Three parts of Suojeluskunta-organization
were organized as quite independent companies early 1927 and
also did business with outsiders. They were: Suojeluskuntain
Ase ja Konepaja Oy (SAKO = Weapons and machine factory of
Suojeluskunta). Suojeluskuntain Kauppa Oy (SKOHA = Shop of
Suojeluskunta). Suojeluskuntain kustannus Oy (= Publishing
house of Suojeluskunta).
Selecting and naming officials in Suojeluskunta:
The Finnish President named the Commander-in-Chief
of Sk organization, who also had to be approved by Sk organization
delegates before selection. Meetings of delegates elected
2 delegates from each Sk District and could be summoned by
Suojeluskunta Chief-of-Staff or by five Sk districts by written
local Suojeluskuntas of each Sk district selected members
of their Sk District HQ in annual meetings of Sk-district
held in February. In these annual meetings of Sk District
each local Sk of the particular Sk District had 1 - 3 representatives
depending on the size of the local Suojeluskunta. Sk District
HQ members were selected for two years. Additional Sk District
meetings could be called by the District Chief and Sk District
HQ. Suojeluskunta Commander-in-Chief appointed the Chief of
Sk District. Before being appointed, he also needed to be
approved by Sk District HQ of the Sk District he was about
to lead. The local Suojeluskunta HQ was lead by the Local
Chief (Paikallispäällikkö), who lead local
Suojeluskunta HQ, which had 4 members and 2 alternate members.
Members of these HQs were elected for a period of one year
in general annual meeting held in January.
Selection of members:
Sk members were divided to two categories: Actual members
and supportive members. Supportive members paid membership
fee, but didn't have right to vote in Suojeluskunta, they
had no right to wear Sk uniforms and had no responsibility
for attending Suojeluskunta training.
The information below
concerns only actual members:
Conduct demanded from those willing to become Suojeluskunta
members were quite clear: They had to be trustworthy Finnish
males having at least 17 years of age (those willing to join
but who were under 21 needed permission from their legal guardian).
To be more precise, in this case being trustworthy meant not
having a criminal past or the wrong kind of political ideals.
Ex Red Guard members of Civil War never had any chance to
join and neither did Communists (who were basically seen as
the enemy). As a rule Social Democrats (moderate left) were
also unwanted until a reconciliation between the Social Democratic
Party and Suojeluskunta organization in February of 1940.
The existing members (especially the Chief of local Suojeluskunta)
decided who was considered trustworthy and who was not. If
local Sk wasn't familiar with the applicant, then written
recommendations from two trustworthy persons were needed.
Those wanting to join, but younger then 17 could join to Boy
Units (Poikayksikkö). Suojeluskunta Boy Units didn't
give military or weapons training, but instead concentrated
on sports. At First Boy Units had been the so called "Squirrel
Companies" organized soon after the Civil War for 13 - 16
year old boys wanting to join Suojeluskunta . In that first
try sports alone proved too little for maintaining interest,
but in the 1920s interest reappeared and this time proved
more long lasting. Officially, work with Suojeluskunta Boy
Units was started in 1928 and it continued until abolishment
of Suojeluskunta. Boy Units also worked to aid recruiting
of new members to Sk. Once members of Suojeluskunta Boy Units
reached the age of 17, they were transferred from Boy Units
to ordinary Suojeluskunta. Sports and other activities of
Boy Units got many boys to join and about 70 % of them joined
regular Suojeluskunta after reaching the required age. After
1920, Suojeluskunta members, who were at least 20 years old
had one vote in elections of his Suojeluskunta and until the
statute of January 1934 could also be selected to a responsible
position in his Suojeluskunta. After the Statute of January
1934, Suojeluskunta members got one vote in Suojeluskunta
elections after belonging to Suojeluskunta for one year. As
kind of a "old member bonus", they could also get another
vote. This "old member bonus" vote was available to those
who had belonged to Sk for 15 years, or were over 40 years
of age and had belonged to Sk 10 years. The statute also required
those selected for responsible positions to be at least 21
years of age.
Members of Suojeluskunta - Who and what kind of
men they were:
Suojeluskunta wasn't a political organization on its own,
but its members generally belonged to a specific side when
it came to political views. Political views of Suojeluskunta
members covered the spectrum from the political center to
the extreme right. However, the difference in political views
between average Sk member and average Finnish citizen was
not as large as one might expect. In the 1920s and 1930s ,Finnish
political views in general were more right-wing orientated
than they are these days.
Unlike Soviet propaganda and also as often claimed by Finnish
Communists, Suojeluskunta members were not all from well-to-do
families, rich or even from "bourgeois" professions. The share
of farmers among members was quite large, but this was not
very surprising as at the time the large majority of Finnish
population lived in the countryside, covered by small farms
owned by their farmers. The professions of Sk members could
also vary considerably from one local Suojeluskunta
to another. For example 92 % of members in Lemi Suojeluskunta
were farmers and 60 % of Uuraa Suojeluskunta members were
workers. The other largest social classes of Sk-members were
lower middle-class and working class. The proportional share
of workers among members of Sk increased little by little
as their share among new members was on the rise.
Professions and occupations of Sk members in the year 1933:
Profession/Occupation Percentage from Sk members
1. Farmers and fishermen (also non land-owning ones)
2. Factory- and shop-owners (and executives) 2,88 %
3. Artisans 1,30 %
4. Other entrepreneurs (doctors, artists etc) 1,48 %
Total 57,28 %
II. Public servants
1. State, municipal and church officials 6,81 %
2. Industry and business personnel 7,43 %
3. Other 0,7 %
Total 14,99 %
III. Servants and
1. Servants 5,91 %
2. Agricultural workers 4,75 %
3. Industrial workers 4,92 %
4. Other workers 4,60 %
Total 20,18 %
1. Students 6,62 %
2. Other 0,92 %
Total 7,54 %
gathered by the Educational Office of Suojeluskunta. Source:Suojeluskuntain
historia, part 3 pages 260 - 261).
Main functions of Suojeluskunta during peace:
Giving military training
to its members
Supporting athletics and sports
Assisting authorities when asked (Police officials & country
Assisting Finnish Armed Forces when needed
in a wide variety of situations where organized and armed
troops might be included. This included missions like searching
large areas, guard duty and assisting apprehension of dangerous
criminals. In the 1920s Suojeluskuntas of the border areas
were often very busy plugging up holes to secure borders with
far too few Frontier Guard units. The Finnish prohibition
covering 1919 - 1932 was another main reason for assisting
authorities since searching for illegal stills in forests
demanded a lot of manpower. Some Suojeluskuntas were enthusiastic
about destroying illegal stills even without authorities asking
them, while others were less inclined. Propaganda made by
Sk organizations was typically quite subtle. Instead of derogatory
and chauvinist speeches, it favored organizing popular events
using sports, chorus singing and orchestras as attractions
and included some patriotic parts (music, poems etc.) in the
programme. Suojeluskuntas also had their own their magazine:
"Suojeluskuntalaisten lehti" ("Magazine of Sk-members") published
by "Kustannusosakeyhtiö Suunta" ("Publishing-ltd Suunta"),
which was replaced with Sk-organization published "Hakkapeliitta"
in 1925. From 1926 on ,Hakkapeliitta was weekly color magazine
with tens of thousands subscribers. However, it wasn't the
only one, "Suomen Sotilas" ("Finnish Soldier") was also a
quite popular magazine and many Sk-districts had their own
magazines. The fact that the large majority of opinion leaders,
like teachers and priests, in Finland in the 1920s and 1930s
had positive attitudes towards Sk-organization. didn't do
any harm either.
PART III: SUOJELUSKUNTA AND POLITICS
Suojeluskunta wasn't a political organization on its own,
but neither was it totally non-political in all ways. The
political views of its members were in a spectrum from political
center to extreme right, and it showed. The organization was
openly anti-communist and in general didn't really like moderate
left-wingers either, even though it tolerated them better.
Expressing party political or anti-government opinions in
public had already been forbidden for Sk officers along with
using the organization for political purposes since 1919.
Sk organization wasn't a player in State-wide politics (election
of Parliament and President), instead starting from the early
1920s, its leadership tried their best to keep the organization
non-political, but it did have its own interests in municipal
level elections. To secure their funding from municipality/town,
local Suojeluskunta needed political parties favorable to
Sk organization to have the majority in local municipal/town
councils. So local Suojeluskuntas did their best to get all
their members and supporters to vote in local elections. Which
of the parties supporting Sk members and how supporters voted
didn't really matter as long as they voted for one. Political
parties supporting Suojeluskuntas in 1920s and 1930s basically
included all non-Socialist ones. In the 1920s and 1930s Finland
had several political groups, which nowadays would be considered
extreme right wing and there was nothing forbidding Sk-members
from being members in them also. Communists and Social Democrats
were natural political enemies to Suojeluskunta. This was
partly due to inheritance of hate from the Civil War, but
also partly because of very different political ideals.
The hate relationship with left-wingers wasn't one sided.
Social Democrats and Communists attacked Sk organizations
in several levels trying to weaken or destroy them all together.
The high level attacks inside the political system included
demands for abolishing Sk organization in the Finnish Parliament
and demands for stopping or cutting State funding to Sk organization.
At municipal/town levels, the political left -wing majority
could end funding to local Sk, but not much else. The dirtier
method used by some extreme left-wingers was "työmaaterrori"
(workplace terror) which included ridicule, and even physical
assaults against their co-worker Sk-members and White Army
veterans of the Civil War. The Left-wing press also remained
active against Sk organizations until the Winter War. Until
the 1930s, the Finnish Social democratic party strongly opposed
defense spending and largely even believed that further wars
could be suppressed with non-violent methods like general
strikes. In contrast, some educational establishments and
firms favored Sk members when accepting students and hiring
In many countries the great depression starting in 1929 boosted
the popularity of extreme political groups and Finland wasn't
an exception. Around 1929 - 1930, political violence perpetrated
by the extreme right took a strong rise. The most dangerous
of these extreme right- wing organizations was "Lapuan liike"
(= Lapua movement) whose basic form of political violence
used was "muilutus": Persons with unwanted political ideals
were forced to cars, transported to the Soviet border and
forced into crossing it. Typically, beatings and sometimes
even homicides happened during and/or after "muilutus". The
Leadership of Sk-organizations tried keeping Suojeluskuntas
separate from these Lapuan Liike, but the methods used were
not terribly effective. Using Sk uniforms in political events
was forbidden in June of 1930. On the 7th of July 1930, Lapuan
liike organized "talonpoikaismarssi" (= "peasant march") which
was a demonstration of its12,000 supporters in Helsinki demanding
actions against Communists. In November of 1930, the Finnish
Parliament enacted the so-called "Communists Laws" (including
"protection laws of the Republic"). Basically, Communist organizations
and activity were made illegal in Finland, but even that was
not enough for the worst right-wing hot-heads. The situation
didn't calm down and the worse was still to come.
On the 27th of February 1931, the well known Social Democrat
Dr Mikko Erich was to make a speech in a Workers House in
Ohtola in the municipality of Mäntsälä. Demands
forbidding the event had been made to the Finnish Government,
but it had refused getting involved. The Country Governor
had sent police officers to secure public order in the event.
The speech was interrupted by about 400 extreme right-wingers,
some of whom were wearing Sk uniforms, surrounded the building
and interrupted the speech. Lapuan Liike took over the command
of the Mäntsälä men. Two days later ( the 29th
of February) its leaders sent a statement to Finnish President,
in it they demanded the Government either to accept their
demands or they would destroy the Government and its representatives.
The rebellion had started and basically the Lapuan Liike lead
Mäntsälä men now threatened the Finnish political
leadership with new Civil War. Among the rebels were also
armed Sk members and it soon become clear that the rebels
tried to mobilize more Sk members for their support. The Commander-in-Chief
of Sk organization, Malmberg, and many other high-ranking
Sk-organization leaders did their best to keep Sk members
from taking part in the rebellion. The main method used in
this was forbidding Sk members from taking orders from anybody
else except their own superiors. Finnish President Svinhufvud
(who was a well known Sk member) also repeated the same message
in his radio speech during the rebellion.
"Protection laws of Republic" originally enacted against Communists
were now turned against this extreme right- wing rebellion.
The Government and President were preparing to use the military
against the rebels. The rebels had managed to gather about
700 men in Mäntsälä and also slightly smaller
groups in some other towns and municipalities. On 3 March,
a Presidential HQs was formed, its members were : Defense
Minister Lahdenlaakso; Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Army
General Hqs, General-Major Oesch; Commander-in-Chief of Suojeluskunta,
Malmberg; Chief of Military Forces Sihvo; and Inspector of
Infantry, Östermalm. The Finnish Military surrounded
Mäntsälä, but the rebels managed still to mobilize
some more troops but failed gathering them into Mäntsälä.
The rebelllion withered and finally the rebels gathered inside
Mäntsälä also scatted peacefully. The Leader
of Lapuan Liike, who had lead the rebellion, surrendered on
the 6th of March. Lapuan Liike was abolished on 24 March 1932.
The Left-wing press
loved to portray the Mäntsälä rebellion as
rebellion of Suojeluskunta, but how true was that? Only about
1% of Sk members took part in the rebellion, but if we look
at the number of Sk officials taking part, the numbers are
bit more alarming. The Finnish legal system punished rebel
leaders and some Sk officials received punishments , but Sk
organization also handed out its own punishments for its officials
who had participated in the rebellion. Sk organization handed
these punishments to 54 of its officials, when at that time
Sk had only about 1 official per 100 members. This number
seems a bit large compared to the amount of Sk members among
rebels. The official stance of Sk organization was difficult
when it came to Lapuan Liike. It was clear that Lapuan Liike
had support inside Suojeluskuntas and taking a hard stand
against Lapuan Liike would have certainly harmed unity inside
Suojeluskuntas. Maybe the Leadership of Sk organization and
especially its Commander-in-Chief Malmberg took this sitting-on-a-fence
too far: The orders issued during the Mäntsälä
rebellion only hindered Lapuan Liike from mobilizing large
numbes of Sk members for its use, but the orders never directly
attacked the rebellion situation. A large number of Sk-members
had also belonged to Lapuan Liike. It seems that even if members
of Lapuan Liike had been a minority in Suojeluskunta, Sk-members
had been a majority in Lapuan Liike. Still it is difficult
to say how many of them supported Lapuan Liike during the
Mäntsälä Rebellion. When the rebellion started
Lapuan Liike had already been losing its popularity. Enactment
of the Communist Laws had been accomplishment enough for many
of its members. Due to the excesses such as muilutus of the
previous Finnish president Ståhlberg and his wife in
October of 1930, the public opinion had already turned against
Lapuan Liike. Suojeluskuntas survived the Mäntsälä
rebellion basically intact, but the incident didn't do any
good to the reputation of Suojeluskuntas.