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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Explained: Why Finland’s air force stopped using swastika symbol

The Air Force’s spokesperson had acknowledged in the official statement that the use of the swastika in the old insignia “had caused misunderstandings from time to time”.

Written by Neha Banka , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata | Updated: July 4, 2020 8:01:21 pm
Finland’s air force, Finland air force swastika symbol, Finland’s air force logo, Finnish air force, Swastika symbol, indian express A close-up of a swastika on the tail of an old Finnish fighter aeroplane, taken at the aeroplane hangar of the Helsinki-Malmi airport. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This week, University of Helsinki academic Teivo Teivainen noticed that Finland’s Air Force Command had suddenly stopped using an old emblem that featured a swastika with a pair of wings, replacing it with a new emblem featuring a golden eagle. A BBC report quoted a spokesperson confirming the move, saying: “As unit emblems are worn on uniform, it was considered impractical and unnecessary to continue using the old unit emblem, which had caused misunderstandings from time to time.”

While the use of the swastika was stopped on planes of the Finnish Air Force after the Second World War, unit emblems, unit flags and uniforms had continued to feature the symbol. The revised emblem had been in use since at least 2017.

Why was this symbol used?

The symbol arrived in Finland in 1918 when Swedish Count Eric von Rosen gifted a Thulin Typ D plane to the Finnish air force, long before the symbol became associated with the Nazis. The plane featured a symbol of a blue swastika on a white background that Rosen would consider a good luck charm and at that time was in no way associated with anti-Semitisim or the crimes of the Nazis.

This symbol then began to be more widely used by the Finnish air force as a representative insignia. Incidentally, Rosen’s sister Carin von Kantzow later married Hermann Göring, who was one of the most prominent and powerful members of the Nazi party. Despite the use of this insignia, researchers say its continued use was not an endorsement of the Nazi party. Finland itself was aligned with Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Where in Finland is the symbol still used?

Finland’s Air Force Academy still uses the swastika in its symbol. Several old aircraft in the Finnish Air Force Museum still depict this symbol. According to local news reports, foreigners visiting the country are often taken aback when they see the symbol on various objects associated with the air force’s history, following which the context is explained to them.

The Air Force’s spokesperson had acknowledged in the official statement that the use of the swastika in the old insignia “had caused misunderstandings from time to time”, attributing it as one reason behind the decision to replace it.

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According to a BBC report, Teivainen believes that for many in Finland, the symbol was another decorative design element and they did not associate it with the Nazi party. Buildings in the country from the 1920s also feature design elements that incorporate this symbol.

The flag of Finland’s president also features the Cross of Freedom in the top left corner in yellow, and upon closer inspection shows that it is actually a swastika, indicating its widespread use in design in Finland.

According to some news reports, there has also been concern that the symbol may be appropriated for use by the growing far-right in the country.

Why is it being changed now?

Although it has been a subject of discussion for the past few years, Teivainen told the BBC that a decision to replace the symbol after more than a century shouldn’t come as a surprise. Perhaps the government is considering how the continued use of the symbol may impact Finland’s youth and how they view the use of the symbol by the military, he said.

Finland’s next door neighbour Russia may negatively interpret the use of the symbol, Teivainen said. However, it was not immediately clear whether Russia had ever objected to or criticised the use of the swastika in various aspects of design in Finland.

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