Foreign minister Rudolf Holsti (1881-1945) resigned from the government on November 17, 1938. He had been Foreign Minister already 1919-1922 and an architect of foreign policy of a young republic. He served as the Envoy in Riga and Tallinn from 1922 to 1928 as well as Finland’s representative in the League of Nations from 1928 to 1940.
Holsti’s second term as a Foreign Minister was based on the recommendation of Prime Minister Kyösti Kallio (the Agrarian union). He wanted to improve relations with the Soviet union based on the worsening of the security situation in Europe. He needed ”an expert minister” for dangerous times. Holsti was appointed on October 7 and paid a working visit to Moscow already in February 1937. No Finnish foreign minister had visited the Soviet Union before the wounds of the Civil War had constituted an obstacle for the stable relations between neighbors. Holsti’s visit was criticised by the German Envoy Wipert von Blücher and not without problems to Holsti. Later on, Blücher managed to get in Finland’s right-wing parties to attack Holsti for his foreign policy.
In his letter to the President Risto Ryti on October 11, 1942 from Riverside in California, which was received by the author of this blog recently, Holsti, who had moved to the United States in the Autumn 1940, describes the character of Blücher calling him as the most cunning envoy he had ever met. Holsti explained in the letter that Blücher, who had began the Envoy in Helsinki in 1935 had established for himself a strong position in the political communities and high society in Helsinki before he was appointed to minister. ”After my arrival, Blücher started hounding me in front of me and in particular behind my back”.
A German professor of history, Michael Jonas has vindicated these negative sentiments of Holsti in his dissertation about Blücher in 2008. German Envoy had his Finnish trusted contacts in the foreign ministry, in the media, parliament and military who assisted him in his campaign to get Holsti sacked. Nazi-Germany was waging a hybrid warfare before the concept was introduced decades later on. Finland gave in on November 17, 1938. Concerning the grounds of Holsti’s resignation, the hounding operation of Nazi-Germany to overthrow Holsti was without any doubt the most important cause which lasted two years. Blücher wrote in his report after the resignation that ”our campaign (Aktio) of two years has been completed successfully”. A deep-rooted stand is still insisting that the cause of the resignation was Holsti’s ”diplomatic misstep” during the diplomatic dinner in Geneva on September 26, 1938 during which he would have insulted Adolf Hitler. In connection of the resignation there were also rumours that Holsti would have broken tax law and enjoyed double-salary. Based on the documents which the author of this blog has been able to read quite recently at the National Archives in Helsinki, these accusations were to be confirmed unfounded in December 1938 and early 1939.
Hitler had delivered a major speech at the Sports Hall in Berlin on the same day as the dinner party took place in Geneva. After the dinner, former Prime Minister of France, Paul Boncour asked Holsti, his friend, to translate excerpts of Hitler ̈s speech from an English version to French and he did. The host of the dinner was the President of the Council of the League of Nations, an Irish diplomat Eamon de Valera, whose staff had already prepared an English version. The name of Hitler did not pop up during the dinner but after the dinner in connection of Holsti’s translation of the excerpts of the text. Somebody had ”misunderstood” Holsti’s translation and mixed Hitler's hostile words to be Holsti’s own words about Hitler.
Finland’s Envoy in Berlin, Aarne Vuorimaa was summoned to the foreign ministry (Auswärtiges Amt, AA) more than one month later, on November 1, to meet state-secretary Ernst von Weizsäcker, who was a member of NSDAP and held a rank of SS-Generalmajor, to discuss Holsti’s behaviour and comments during the fatal dinner in September. State-secretary accused Holsti for insulting ”State Chancellor” (Reichskanzler) with flagrant comments and insisted that his source was most reliable. ”In case the government of Finland does not draw a proper conclusion, the relations between our two countries will be frozen”. Although Vuorimaa had informed Holsti about the meeting in AA, and agreed with Holsti’s denial of the German version, he prepared a confidential report on November 7, which was given to President Kyösti Kallio and Prime Minister A. K. Cajander.
In his report Vuorimaa insulted his own minister and conveyed Weizsäcker’s comments without any reservations. The author of this blog received Holsti’s own version, an original denial and his description of the translation last summer from Canada, which confirms Vuorimaa’s report totally false. Vuorimaa fell for the trap of SS-General. President Kallio trusted his foreign minister until the bitter end but the Cajander government was afraid of the repercussion of Nazi-Germany and wanted Holsti to resign. Holsti himself had suffered a heart attack after reading Vuorimaa’s report and insisted based on his doctor’s view that it would be better for him to return to Geneva.
The resignation of Holsti had a very bad timing. The previous week the world witnessed pogrom in nazi-Germany as 30 000 Jews were arrested, 7000 shops own by the Jews were destroyed and 1300 synagogs burned to ashes by the SS troops throughout Germany. Vuorimaa made a report on November 11, and stated that ”the attitude of the German state concerning the Jews is well known and it is no reason to write about that anymore”. The Finnish envoy made a remark that ”these events will damage the reputation of Germany worldwide”. He was right. The resignation of Holsti was also interpreted ”as a diplomatic victory to Germany”, as Max Jakobson wrote in his famous The Winter War of the Diplomats in 1954. Holsti’s successor, Eljas Erkko, a publisher of Helsingin Sanomat, was trying to strengthen the policy of neutrality but in real terms he pursued ”a policy of neutrality for Nazi Germany”. He concentrated foreign policy decision making to his office and made a number of fatal mistakes during the coming months.
In his letter to president Ryti on October 11, 1942, Holsti complains that in Finland the international situation has not been followed objectively - partly because the Finns get news through German News Agency DNB which is colouring the real developments in the world. Today we could say that the Finns were often reading ”fake news” through DNB in their newspapers during the Continuation War 1941-44. Holsti warns president about a possible situation that reminds of the year 1918 when Finland trusted Germany too long time thus causing a situation where Finland was at the end of WWI on the side of loosing Germany. He made an appeal that Finland should get rid of the war as soon as possible to avoid the repetition of the situation of 1918.
One could ask whether Finland would have avoided the Winter War in case she would have pursued a more skillful diplomacy during the years 1938 and 1939? Yale Professor Stephen Kotkin has insisted in his Waiting for Hitler (2018) that ”Finland fought an avoidable war in 1939-40”. His analysis is based on the original archives of the NKVD about the secret negotiations of Holsti and NKVD officer, number two of the Soviet embassy Boris Jartsev from April to October 1938. The members of the Cajander government participated in the talks during the absence of Holsti in the summer 1938 which complicated the process as Holsti mentions in his unpublished memoirs. Kotkin does not mention the role of Holsti which is a minor problem in his analysis.
During the critical weeks of the negotiations between Finland and the Soviets in the Autumn 1939, Generalkeutnant Oscar Enckell wrote a memo stating that strategically only the Baltic states constituted a real threat to Leniningrad. The negotiations were difficult based on the request of foreign minister Vjatseslav Molotov on October 5. Erkko was very stubborn and did not order his negotiators to find a real compromise with Molotov. Veteran diplomat and conservative politician J. K. Paasikivi who was in charge of the Finnish negotiating team, asked president Kallio to replace Erkko with minister Väinö Tanner (Social democrats) as a last effort to find a compromise on October 30, 1939. A few days before, Holsti had advised Helsinki in his report to order Paasikivi to find a solution which would have postponed a possible military conflict until the following Spring. One can question whether Holsti should have been called back to foreign minister instead? Erkko did not change his orders enough and the war broke out on November 30.
Foreign Minister Eljas Erkko was dining with his friend, Colonel G. Taucher on November 29, 1939. The head of the political department of the foreign ministry, Dr. Aaro Pakaslahti was in the National theatre when he was called to come immediately to the ministry where he read a cable from Moscow that the Soviet union had cut diplomatic relations with Finland. Pakaslahti tried desperately to get Erkko to come to the ministry but phone calls were not received by the host of the dinner. Finally, at midnight an angry minister arrived at the ministry. After having been briefed by Pakaslahti about the Soviet decision, ”Erkko was unable to act”. He finally understood that his strategy had failed. We will never know whether there was an alternative, with other words a diplomatic solution for the avoidance of the war. However, this cannot be ruled out either. Erkko resigned on December 1, 1939 and was replaced with Väinö Tanner. It was ”Erkko’s war”, as Paasikivi lamented.
"The more you understand the world, the higher your chance of shaping it".
Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
Valtiotieteen tohtori, suurlähettiläs, tasavallan presidentin entinen neuvonantaja, professori ja kirjailija.
Kirjoituksia saa lainata. Lähde on mainittava.