Couple of weeks ago the Finnish national broadcasting company YLE released a film called “Suomen Marsalkka Mannerheim” or The Finnish Marshall Mannerheim. It was made in Kenya by local moviemakers there in the style they make films. Even before it was released it roused a terrible outrage.

What were the people outraged about? Most people were outraged not even having seen the film and most of them openly declared that it was sacriligious to portray Mannerheim as a black man. They actually seemed to think that Mannerheim is such a holy character to the Finnish people he should not be made fun of. And the fact that the Kenyan actor was a black man was totally unhistorical. Well, it is. Is it not? However, I do not remember any outrage from previous film depictions of Mannerheim speaking Finnish, when that is as much unhistorical. The man could hardly read Finnish from paper…

Mannerheim was born into a Swedish speaking aristocratic family and advanced his military career in Imperial Russia as far as the personal bodyguard of the Russian empress, where the court spoke mostly in French.  So he was fluent in Swedish, Russian and French, but did not understand a word of Finnish. The Hollywood film industry continuously takes liberties in making characters of non Anglo-Saxon cultures represent their own languages by these outrageously ridiculous accents. Perhaps it is because they are marketing their products to a largely illiterate audience, but in Finland we are accustomed to films being subtiteled. Hence, there is no other motivation to make Mannerheim to speak Finnish in any Finnish made film, than to unashamedly lie to the audience. To bolster the icon of Mannerheim as an all-Finnish hero. Wich is much more devious, than presenting him as a black man. Is it not?

Wich is a worse twist of historical facts? The one where it is obvious to all the audiences, that what you see is not true, or the one where we are not aware as an audience, that we are lied to?

Many people were so outraged by the fact that a black man would portray Mannerheim, that they declared they would not watch the film and that they thought it was an insult to the Finnish veterans. It seems that what ever a conservative person wants to attack in Finnish culture, he/she draws on the veterans as if they were some form of conservative icons themselves. But the veterans are just humans who sacrificed a lot and most of them not by their own choise. What they sacrificed for, was not the divine person of Mannerheim, but for the ideal of freedom. That in Finland a person may decide for her/his own life and that we as a collective sovereign nation would not be a part of imperialistic Soviet Union where the person of Mr. Stalin had grown into a cult. I would go as far as to say a religion in it’s own right. That vision of freedom is completely opposite to what the cult of Mannerheim seems to represent to some conservative Finns today.

It is tragicomic, that when the great book about the Finns in WWII by Väinö Linna “The Unknown Soldier”  was printed a decade after the war had ended, the conservatives in those days declared loudly, that they would never read it, because it was a shamefull and did not do justice to the valour of the veterans. Like they had an inner knowledge what the book was about even before they had read it. Today the Finnish conservatives of our own time eagerly watch the film version of this book on every Finnish independence day from YLE. The film has become a part of Finnish identity, though it tells of events that happened over 70 years ago.

After having watched the Kenyan version of the Finnish Marshall Mannerheim, I would say it was a fairly good film made with limited budget. It actually goes to show, how a simple but good story carries through even a small scale film. Movies do not have to be about bigger and bigger explosions and more and more famous actors. It was a good depiction of a man behind a legend. It was set in a completely different environment and culture, and it revealed how much we humans are similar. How often it is that when a career makes a person great he/she has had to sacrifice a lot of personal happiness on that altar, and how even a great leader may sidestep and even how easily we may fall in love, when we did not mean to. It was a good movie and I do recommend it.

It is a great angle to portray a man behind the legend rather than the legend. Perhaps it took as much to remove Mannerheim all toghether from the historical timeframe and surrounding culture to show him as a human being rather than a historical character, or an icon to us Finns.

The film was a provocation, no doubt. The emotions people presented were almost religious when they felt their holy icon had been desacrated, but I am happy to say our secular culture does not leave much room for violent demonstrations and perhaps the people who actually were outraged by this were mostly such a minority, that even if they would have had the energy to raise their butts from besides their computers to go out and demonstrate their frustration, it would have been a small group of people indeed. On the other hand,  a lot of people were annoyed by it. Not just because it revealed some hidden racism in our culture, but because it challenged a popular image of history for a lot of people. And even though here in Finland the number of openly racistic idiots is small, the number of people who actually know anything about Mannerheim as a person is very small indeed. People who think they are smart, like for example the movie critics, were disappointed at the film. Many of them wrote that the film should have revealed more of Mannerheims personal life and that it should have had more allegories in it. While most of the open racists expressed their discontent at the fact that YLE had spent money on a film where a black man acts the part of Mannerheim, the professional movie critics were annoyed, that no more money had been spent to make it a big production. I think most of their annoyance came from realizing how little they knew about Mannerheim, but as they could not openly present that, they decided to make complaints about the film not revealing more. As if they knew all about the personal life of the main character beforehand. And they propably did look it up, when the evening press made a fuss about the film – from wikipedia.

Mannerheim is one of those historical characters whose statue stands on shelves in every school here in Finland and his role as a unificator of the Finnish people under foreign agression during the winter war is a widely known image. However, that is not the whole truth. There is the dirty history of him having been one of the Imperial Russian generals sent to Poland to subjucate the Polish people before WWI and then the bloody aftermath of the Finnish civil war where he, as the commander of the winning side, was personally responsible of the concentration camps where literally thousands of Finns were exterminated. It was an obvious war crime.

Mannerheim was a great man. No doubt about that. He was a couple of times in a position to grab power and become a dictator of Finland, but he chose not to. Perhaps, to the retired Imperial Russian general, the idea of being a petty dictator of small Finland was ridiculous. Though he was elected to be the greatest Finn ever, few years ago in a TV gameshow, he was also a candidate for precidency once and lost the elections. He was not loved by his contemporaries as much as he is by the conservatives of today.

Why is it, that people have this need to worship these icons? That they need to believe to the purity of the cause and actions of some particular person? How easily a simple human being who did something extraordinary is lifted to divinity? To such extent, that reminding that person of having had human frailty is seen as blasphemous? Howcome people are so eager to feel one with their heroes, that if these characters are presented as speaking the same language as their worshippers, when they actually did not, that is not seen as distorting history, but right away if they are represented by the wrong skin colour that is seen as an outrage? Why would the actions and causes of these heroes be seen as any less, if we see them just as humans, that they were? And not as some divine entities?