Finnish Peasants

First, a word of caution: This is a gross generalization. It does not universally apply to everyone, especially young people, but these mentalities were, and even are present in Finnish society even now. Some people were more fully part of them, some people reacted against them, but even in the cities they were most definitely around.

The Finnish mentality of pre WW2 is the mentality of the peasant Finland was a developing country, that was not really industrialized. The vast majority of people lived in the countryside, and were involved in agricultural work: Either subsistence/dairy farming, and especially in the thick woodlands of the Suomussalmi area, in logging/the forest industry More often than not, both.

The generic Finnish peasant might not have been ignorant - everyone had had 4 years of mandatory school, and were thus literate - but he or she didn't generally respect education, poetry or to make a crude generalization, the "finer things in life." Perhaps one of the foremost reasons why urban people often found peasants distressing was that your basic villager was extremely suspicious of outsiders, especially city-dwellers, and was instilled with a deep antagonism towards the authorities. Thus, those who were seen to be or to represent the rich and powerful were despised and resented.

Outside reporters often remarked on the matter-of-fact, sans bells and whistles approach of Finnish soldiers to war, and life in general. This was to a great degree tied to the realities of life for most Finnish peasants. Especially in the densely wooded East and the North, the terrain was eminently unsuited to agriculture, and the growth season was short - people had to struggle to survive, and routinely endured severe hardships, food shortages and back-breaking labour. Additionally, practically every man hunted moose and bear in the woods for additional food or money, or trekked the woodlands in the summer as axemen, harvesting the "green gold" that was for most of the 20th century Finland's prime export, in one form or the other. This tended to produce hard, practical men and women fit from a lifetime of strenuous labour, and with a knack for survival and an intimate knowledge of the surrounding woodlands.

The average peasant was also not particularly romantic. Romance and love did have their own place, but that was the realm of the private Even holding hands, or kissing in public would have been seen as indecent behaviour - especially men were expected to act with great self-control and dignity in every possible situation. It is perhaps an unfair observation, that the peasant was a loveless, harsh individual - even if especially men very rarely betrayed visible signs of affection, this is not to say that real empathy didn't exist for them.

The villager may not have been a particularly educated or dreamy sort, but he did have his pride; people were intensely proud, and protective of their particular farm, village, region, and ultimately country. He was also a conformist, and expected his fellows to be, as well: People took care of each other, and participated in collective work parties to help build houses and sow fields for their neighbours But they also watched each other closely, and gossiped and ostracized everyone who was not willing to conform to their rather rigid, Lutheran morality and values. Individualism had little place here - people who emphasized themselves too much were held to be selfish, and shut out from the community. Accordingly, outsiders and "special" people (the insane, drunks, or otherwise antisocial individuals) were distrusted, and even reviled.

Lastly, the peasant was above all things economic. All the frills, luxuries, and above all free time available to a well-off city-dweller were unavailable to him, and consequently, he did not hold them to be of much value. Everything in excess, every new invention that was not perfectly suited to his life was scoffed as being useless, and anyone not constantly occupied with useful labour held to be lazy, and unproductive layabout. The peasant did not suffer fools, partly because he was depending on his fellows as well. Someone not doing their share for the community quickly found himself the subject of that most effective mechanism of social control.

(with thanks to Matti)

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