State Award for Public Information 2019: Seppo Hentilä

1.10.2019
Seppo Hentilä.

Dr of social sciences, professor emeritus in political history Seppo Hentilä for the book Pitkät varjot. Muistamisen historia ja politiikka (Dark shadows. The history and politics of memory)

Professor Seppo Hentilä’s book Pitkät varjot describes the battle for interpretations and memories of Finland’s war of 1918 across the decades. One familiar example of this is the dispute about the name of the war itself. Not long after the war ended, the winners interpreted events as a war of liberation, stifling the voices of the losing side. After the Second World War, the more conciliatory term of it having been a kansalaissota (in Finnish literally a “war between citizens”) emerged alongside the “war of liberation” interpretation and eventually overtook it. This was possible because the image of a united country that had spread following Finland’s experience of the Winter War had hidden the worst brutalities of the 1918 war from view. When it was proposed in the early 1990s that the term should in fact be a sisällissota (in Finnish literally an “internal war”), this once more caused a fuss among supporters of the “war of liberation” interpretation.

The subject of Hentilä’s book is thus up to date, in addition to the fact that it was published in the war’s centenary year. To this day, people in Finland can be pinpointed on the Finnish political spectrum by the way they refer to the war of 1918. However, Hentilä’s book not only describes the dispute about the name of the war but also addresses at a general level how the interpretations of the past in force at different times reflect society. This is what makes the book significant. People’s minds are controlled by means of interpretations of the past. Those who are in charge in society also seek to control interpretations of the past for this reason. That is the politics of history.

More information in the Ministry's press release