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 Studia Historica Septentrionalia 51
Kari Alenius, Olavi K. Fält (toim.),

Johtaja ja kansa.

Pohjois-Suomen Historiallinen Yhdistys, Rovaniemi 2006, 230 pages


Sinikka Wunsch, Minister for Foreign Affairs and his newspaper. Interplay between Eljas Erkko and Helsingin Sanomat during Erkko’s ministry. Johtaja ja kansa. Studia Historica Septentrionalia 51 (2006), 91–106.

My article deals with cooperation between Minister for Foreign Affairs Eljas Erkko and Helsingin Sanomat during Erkko’s ministry, which began December 12, 1938 and ended when the Winter War began. Leading foreign policy and influencing public opinion through the newspapers merged in the role of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in a manner that was rare in Finland’s circumstances.

I also examine training of propagandists and establishment of crisis period information organizations in Finland in 1939.
Although the primary newspaper is Helsingin Sanomat (HS), at times I also refer to newspapers that were the main organs of their respective political parties. As reference material I use the New York Times (NYT) and the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN).

Before Erkko was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs in December 1938, Helsingin Sanomat had often written critically about the government’s foreign policy. The further the year 1939 progressed, the clearer it became that the replacement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs had brought the government the support of the nation’s largest newspaper. This seamless cooperation continued until the end of Erkko’s ministry, i.e. the beginning of the Winter War.

In contemplating the events leading to the Winter War, it is naturally necessary to consider the allegation presented later, that the Winter War was ”Erkko’s war”, brought about by the Minister for Foreign Affairs’ poor sense of reality.

It was a question of an incurred war in the respect that Finland could have avoided it by assenting to the Soviet Union’s demands. But, the fact that not only Erkko, but also a majority of the government, above all Prime Minister A. C. Cajander and Minister of Defence Juho Niukkanen, supported an unyielding policy has received less public attention. Public opinion in Finland also remained unyielding, but it was influenced at the same time by organized maneuvering of opinions.

Successful implementation of propaganda is nevertheless not the whole truth. One can look for the reasons behind the unyielding attitude far back in the history of conflicts between Finland and Russia and in the picture of Russia as the enemy that was created in Finland. Neither should one forget that, by the late 1930s, the Finns had already often witnessed that assenting to the demands of greater powers did not save small nations from harsh fates.

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