I’m not a war buff but every Finn should know that war is part of their history. Finland had to fight for its independence and I’m not sure if people in countries like Sweden always appreciate their independence  the same way Finns do. My parents’ generation experienced the war first hand, and my generation grew up during the cold war so we know that independence is not something you can take for granted.

In the trenches
In the trenches

Thus it was that today when I drove to Punkaharju to photograph the beautiful ridge of Salpausselkä, I ended up in the trenches of the Salpa Line which had been partly restored. Apparently they had only restored them a few years ago, so I had never seen them before although we would drive this way every weekend in the summer when I was a kid on our way to the cabin.

Finland lost a lot of territory (and military installations with it) to the Soviet in the Winter War which was fought during the early years of World War II. Thus they needed to build a new line of defence along the new border, and the Salpausselkä ridge (part of which runs in Punkaharju) was a natural place for the trenches and fortifications. The Continuation War never reached Punkaharju though, so after the war they partly covered the trenches which thus became just a footnote in the history books.

Walking around in the narrow trenches got me thinking that the war is part of my history, as well. Not first hand, or even second hand, but I remember the stories my parents have told me and I remember having the Soviet Union as a neighbour and I remember the highway 6 curving so close to the border that I could see the Russian watch tower from the car, and back in the 70’s they even had signs by the road that forbid photography there. And most of all, I remember a visit to Vyborg in 1992 after the Soviet had broken up and Russia had opened the border so you could do a day trip without a visa. On approaching Vyborg, there was this big and sinister building on top of a hill and I asked my parents if it was a prison. No it’s not a prison, it’s the hospital. Seeing Vyborg in the dilapidated condition that it was came as a shock to me – I was innerly grateful for all the brave Finns who fought to keep our independence and saved the country from the same rot that had destroyed the Soviet Union. Donating money to the WWII veterans was a priviledge after that visit.

People sometimes ask me if I’m going to change my nationality now that I’ve lived in Sweden for such a long time. I’ve never even considered it, for one thing the nationality doesn’t make any practical difference and secondly, because I’m proud to be a Finn.

This is my history and I won’t give it away lightly.

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