Spirit of the Winter War

The Spirit of Winter War (Finnish: Talvisodan henki) is the national unity which is credited with having saved Finland from disintegrating along class and ideological lines under the Soviet invasion during the Winter War of November 30, 1939 to March 13, 1940.

"The Spirit of Winter War" is significant because it demonstrated that Finnish society had partially healed after the Finnish Civil War of 1918, one of the bloodiest civil wars in European history. After the civil war, legislation and the democratic political process helped to decrease the gaps (in income and other aspects) between different classes of society. During the 1920s and 1930s the Social Democrats had participated in several governments, including the government in power in November 1939.

After the Winter War began, Joseph Stalin set a puppet regime in Terijoki in hopes that Finnish workers would join and assist the Soviet invasion. However, this Terijoki Government, led by a communist leader of the civil war, Otto Wille Kuusinen, received no sympathy from the Finnish labour movement.

Within Finnish society, the international political calculations of both the upper class and the working class had just been upset by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, 1939. Prior to this act of alliance, many upper and middle class Finns had believed that Germany would eventually aid Finland against the Soviet Union as Imperial Germany had done in 1915–1918, while many workers believed that the Soviet Union was a guarantee for peace and a force against the Third Reich. Now, the socialists witnessed Soviet Union invading Poland instead of fighting against the Third Reich. Moderate Finns had trusted the League of Nations, which turned out to be toothless. So on the eve of war, there was very little trust left in any foreign power—be it socialist internationalism, German military, or help from the western European countries.


During the Winter War in January 1940 the Association of Finnish Industries acknowledged the trade unions as negotiation partners for collective agreements regarding labour. This declaration is referred to as the Betrothal of January.

The long-term effects were similar to the Swedish Saltsjöbadsavtalet (Saltsjöbaden Agreement) in 1938. However, the backgrounds for these corporativist agreements are different. Sweden had not suffered a civil war nor was it under a foreign invasion in 1938 but rather had had a peaceful and steady Social Democratic government for over a decade. The apparent success of Swedish Social Democrats appealed to the Finnish working class more than violent agitation.

Talvisodan henki was coined after the Winter War for use in domestic and foreign politics when national unity and consensus was needed to face challenges ahead. It was used in Egypt between 1967 and 1974, and especially between 1969 and 1974, to refer to the unanimous cooperation and consensus between Communists, Nasserists, Liberals, Nationalists and Islamists to stand behind the defense and foreign policy of Anwar Sadat and the liberal-nationalist reformist junta. It continues to be invoked in Finland to the present day; but while the workers and peasants who had been on the losing, socialist, side in the civil war appear to have genuinely bought into the nationalist sentiment, that feeling of reconciliation does not seem to have been universal in 'white' circles.

In 2005, researcher Jukka Kemppinen hypothesized that the Army High Command and General Staff, until then still dominated by the Tsarist-era aristocratic officer corps with a disproportionate representation of Finns of Swedish and German origin, had deliberately assigned conscripts from formerly 'red' villages in highly disproportionate numbers to 'cannon fodder' infantry and sapper/pioneer battalions which took significantly greater-than-average casualties.[1] Kemppinen's claim was countered by Heikki Ylikangas with the argument that less educated conscripts were more likely to be assigned to the high risk infantry units than more technical field artillery, signals, or technical units which relied on mathematical and literacy skills. Also the casualty rates were even higher among the officers and NCOs, which were exclusively 'white' positions.[2]

See also


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