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Ukraine war boosts interest in Finnish history

The war in Ukraine has spurred international interest in Finland's past, particularly its Winter War with the Soviet Union in 1939-40.

Ilmakuva Talvisodan Monumentista Raatteentien risteyksessä Suomussalmella, vihreä kenttä jolla risteileviä käytäviä ja pieninä pisteinä näkyviä kiviä
The Winter War Memorial in Suomussalmi seen from the air, with paths winding through fields dotted with 17,000 boulders. Image: Yle / Rasmus Tåg
Yle News

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has aroused increased interest in the events of the 1939-1940 Finnish Winter War, both among private individuals and the international media.

The Winter War Museum Raatteen Portti in Suomussalmi, in the northeast of the country, has seen a sudden surge in inquiries from abroad.

"Three weeks into this conflict, there was just zero. Then last week and this week, there have been inquiries from Poland, the Czech Republic - which is entirely new for us - and Sweden," said museum operator Reima Haapoja.

Finland's military history has also recently been of renewed interest to the international media, with parallels being drawn between the Winter War and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Recent items comparing the two conflicts have included those published by The Times (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Mail Online (siirryt toiseen palveluun) and The Atlantic (siirryt toiseen palveluun). Crisis readiness in Finland and its historical roots were also the focus of an extensive article in the Financial Times (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

Near the eastern border in the region of Kainuu, the Winter War Museum is visited by about 30,000 guests a year, most of them from Finland.

Now though, it is gaining wider attention. Two weeks ago, Haapoja was interviewed by Slovakian radio.

"They had found out from somewhere about the similarities between the Winter War and the war in Ukraine. They wanted to hear from us how we see it," he explained.

Haapoja himself does see similarities in the experiences of Finland and Ukraine - the propaganda of the enemy, the winter conditions and the strong will to defend one's homeland.

Nature still biggest attraction

After the invasion of Ukraine began, Finnish companies in the tourism sector started reporting cancellations over concerns about the safety of visiting a country that borders on Russia.

"When the Russian attack started, so many were afraid of the effects it would have on tourism," said Kristiina Hietasaari, senior director of the tourism promotion organisation Visit Finland.

According to Hietasaari, the increased concern was understandable, but now the situation has calmed down.

According to Visit Finland, even with the show of increased interest, military tourism destinations are not an especially big draw for international visitors. The country's appeal still rests on nature as its main attraction.

Local interest

The war in Ukraine has also aroused a new surge of interest the interest of many Finns in their past.

Lauri Haavisto, exhibition manager at the Military Museum of Finland in Helsinki, says that the exhibition held on the day commemorating the end of the Winter War, 13 March 1940, was very popular.

"On a normal winter Sunday, we have more or less 100 visitors. Now there were 300. There was also a lot of talk among visitors about the war in Ukraine," she said.

According to Haavisto, some were military history buffs while others represented a new kind of visitor. As summer is the museum's peak period, Haavisto expects the upward trend in visitor figures to continue.

"It depends, of course, on how the situation in Ukraine develops, but I think it will be reflected here," she told Yle.

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