War-responsibility trials in Finland

War-responsibility trials in Finland

The war-responsibility trials in Finland ( _fi. Sotasyyllisyysoikeudenkäynti) was a trial of the Finnish wartime leaders held responsible for "definitely influencing Finland in getting into a war with the Soviet Union and United Kingdom in 1941 or preventing peace" during the Continuation War, 1941-1944. Unlike other World War II war-responsibility trials, the Finnish trials were not international. The trials were conducted by a special court consisting of the presidents of the Supreme Court of Finland, the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland, a professor from the University of Helsinki and twelve MPs appointed by the Parliament of Finland.


The Moscow Armistice Treaty contained the following article:

Finns initially thought that the trials would be for conventional war crimes. However, as the Moscow Declaration October 30, 1943 made clear, the Allied powers intended to prosecute for other actions as well.

On the negotiations between Communist Party of Finland leadership and Andrei Zhdanov, the chairman of Allied Control Commission the question of removal of Väinö Tanner, the chairman of Social Democratic Party, was raised. In his private notes Zhdanov wrote:"If Tanner is removed, the Social Democratic Party will shatter..." thus opening road to Communist control of the left.

The Allied Control Commission and the Communist Party of Finland raised the issue of the trials repeatedly during the spring and summer of 1945. When the Treaty of London (London Charter) August 8, 1945 defined three types of crimes, "War Crimes", "Crimes against peace" and "Crimes against humanity", it became evident that Finland couldn't be the only country fighting on the German side where leaders wouldn't be convicted. On September 11th the parliament passed a law enabling prosecution of those responsible for war. The Supreme Court of Finland and leading judicial experts protested the law as conflicting with the constitution of Finland and contrary to Western judicial principles, but they didn't comment on the political necessity of it. Also the Finnish public regarded it as a mockery of the rule of law. Juho Kusti Paasikivi, who was the prime minister of Finland at the time, is known to have stated that the conditions of the armistice concerning this matter disregarded all laws.

Only few days later the War Crimes Section of British Foreign Office issued a statement where British government wouldn't wish to prosecute Finnish political leadership for crimes against peace.

The trial

Unlike other nations that were declared guilty, Finland was allowed to conduct the trials in Finland under Finnish (retroactive) law with Finnish judges.

The law limited criminal liability to the highest leadership; only politicians and the Finnish war-time ambassador in Berlin, Toivo Mikael Kivimäki, could be prosecuted.

The trial started at November 15. The Allied Control Commission, which had a tight grip over Finland, set up a committee to observe the trials and interfered on numerous occasions before the trials ended in February 1946.

It is often rumoured that Joseph Stalin personally prevented the Finnish marshal and future president Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim from being charged in the trials.

Full list of the indicted and their convictions:

*Risto Ryti, president, 10 years hard labor
*Johan Wilhelm Rangell, prime minister, 6 years prison
*Edwin Linkomies, prime minister, 5.5 years
*Väinö Tanner, prime minister, 5.5 years
*Henrik Ramsay, minister, 2.5 years
*Antti Kukkonen, minister, 2 years
*Tyko Reinikka, minister, 2 years
*Toivo Mikael Kivimäki, ambassador, 5 years

Reactions to the trial

Many Finns see the War Responsibility Trials as a kangaroo court set up for the Soviet Union in order to discredit the Finnish wartime leaders, and as nothing short of mockery of justice, as ex post facto law was against the Finnish Constitution.

Even worse in the public opinion was the fact that the Soviet leadership, which had conducted an aggressive war, the Winter War, just over a year before, were not indicted at all, making the whole process hypocritical victor's justice.

The conviction of Väinö Tanner didn't shatter the Social Democrats as Zhdanov had predicted; on the contrary, it made him a martyr and hardened the anti-communist stance in the party. Communist sympathizers were ousted from the Social Democrats and control of the labor unions was bitterly contested.

Even President Paasikivi complained to his aide that the convictions handed down in the Trials were one of the biggest stumbling blocks to improving relations between Finland and the Soviet Union.


After the Paris Peace treaty was ratified in the Soviet Union August 29, 1947, the Allied Control Commission left Finland on September 26th, 1947. President Paasikivi paroled Kukkonen and Reinikka in October and Ramsay in December when they had served five sixths of their sentences. The rest were granted parole in accordance with Finnish criminal law when they had served half of their sentences. On May 19th, 1949 Paasikivi pardoned Ryti, who was hospitalized (his health collapsed during the imprisonment and he remained an invalid until his death in 1956). He also pardoned Rangell, Tanner, Linkomies, and Kivimäki, who were still on parole. That day, Paasikivi wrote in his diary:" [It was] ... the most noble deed, I have participated in, in the last five years."

ee also

*Crime against peace
*Nuremberg Trials
*War crime
*Nuremberg Principles
*Show trial


* Jakobson, Max (former Finnish Ambassador to the UN); " [http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Finnish+wartime+leaders+on+trial+for+war+guilt+60+years+ago/1101981482973 Finnish wartime leaders on trial for "war guilt" 60 years ago] " Helsingin Sanomat International edition, 28 October 2005
* Meinander, Henrik: "Finlands Historia. Part 4 pages 279-282, ISBN 951-50-0883-2
* Rautkallio, Hannu: "Sotasyyllisyysnäytelmä", ISBN 951-35-2520-1, Savonlinnan Kirjapaino Oy, 1981
* Rosendahl, Anja & Saija, Olavi: "Ajasta Aikaan - Suomen historian käännekohtia" (Turning points in Finland's history) , WSOY 1995
* Turtola, Martti: "Risto Ryti: Elämä isänmaan puolesta", ISBN 951-1-11783-1, Otava, 1994

Further reading

* Lehtinen, Lasse; and Rautkallio, Hannu; "Kansakunnan sijaiskärsijät" ("Scapegoats of the Nation" [Jakobson References] ), WSOY 2005
*Tarkka, Jukka; " [http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Nobody+wanted+a+cell+near+Edwin+Linkomies/1101981483120 Nobody wanted a cell near Edwin Linkomies] " Helsingin Sanomat International edition, 28 October 2005


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