Bridging the Gap of Civil War
During the one week in Helsinki, the 24 participants of the Eustory Youth Academy got to explore and study World War I and the Finnish Civil War as a part of it. The approach to the topics as well as the methods of dealing with them varied greatly. In some projects the participants from 11 European countries got to take a national perspective on WWI, for instance, whereas for other assignments they were asked to try and find similarities between their home countries’ ways of dealing with the war, or to think about the effects of the war on Europe as a whole.
When discussing national identity, on the other hand, the participants got the chance to take a very personal perspective as well as to think about it more from a political point of view, e.g. what unites a nation. In order to digest these complex topics the participants heard experts, interviewed local people, explored an interactive exhibition and of course discussed and debated with each other.
The first day of the academy was dedicated to getting to know each other. After this, the participants started to warm up to the week’s topic by working in groups, discussing the situation in their home countries before, during and after World War One.
The basics of the Finnish Civil War were presented on the second day of the academy, when two experts came to give a presentation about the main reasons and consequences of the war. In addition to these basics, the presentation made clear what a controversial and delicate matter the Civil War still is in Finland: after more than 90 years there is no consensus even on the name of the war.
On the third day of the academy it was time for the participants to explore the Finnish Civil War in a more concrete way. The group left Helsinki and took a day-trip to the city of Tampere, where they got to visit an exhibition about the Civil War. Although technical and tactical aspects, such as battle plans, weapons and uniforms of the Finnish Civil War were displayed in the exhibition as well, its main idea was to show the human side of the war. The participants remarked that especially the pictures of child soldiers who fought in the Civil War and the stories of child victims shocked but also touched them. One of the participants described that seeing the pictures and hearing the stories of real people who were involved in and injured during the war made her realise that from a human perspective it does not matter which side you are on – consequences of the war, such as death and especially the suffering of children, affect everyone equally.
On the fourth day, the participants dealt with the topic of the Finnish Civil War from yet another perspective. First, they heard a presentation about the Fennoswedes (Swedish speaking population of Finland) in the Civil War and learned that amongst the youth the war is not as controversial as within the older population. In fact, there seem to be quite a few young people whose knowledge about the Civil War is very thin. This information was surprising and seemed almost unbelievable to many of the participants.
After the presentation they got to find out themselves what the Finnish youth think about the Civil War and whether or not they really are as uninterested in the topic as was claimed in the presentation, when a group of students from Ressu Upper Secondary School in Helsinki joined them in a discussion about the war. The results seemed to support the preceding presentation. In order to avoid leaving the impression that WWI or the Civil War would be completely forgotten topics, the participants were taken on a tour around Helsinki to see some of the memorials of these wars. Later they got to take a national perspective to remembrance when they told the others how World War I is remembered in their home countries.
The fifth day of the academy presented the final perspective to war: what happens after it? During the morning the participants got to meet another group of Finnish students, with whom they were to discuss and debate the questions of what unites a nation and how national identity is formed. It was clear that there were both national and personal differences in the participants’ and students’ approaches to these questions. Some of them, for instance, found national identity to be very important to them and they put great value on national symbols and traditions, whereas others found the idea of a strong national identity excluding and preferred a European identity instead.
After handling the topic from a personal point of view it was time to hear what the experts of crisis management and nation building had to say. For this purpose the group visited the office of Crisis Management Initiative. This meant the biggest surprise of the week, as the Chairperson of the Board of CMI, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari paid an unexpected visit to the group. President Ahtisaari gave the participants a chance to ask him questions, and as a result to this he got to tell, for example, about what motivates him to keep working at the age of 76, why he cannot even think about retirement and in what way being aware of history can help in crisis management.
Noelia from Spain commented: |…| if I had to pick a specific moment, that would have been the day we visited CMI. I particularly loved that day because I was really interested in the "How to build a nation" topic. The visit itself was really interesting, but having the opportunity to meet President Ahtisaari in person was incredible. I was shocked, speechless. I took home his quote ("Live your day as if it was your first one, not your last one") and started the year with a new philosophy. He was truly an inspiration.
On the sixth day, the participants divided into groups in order to work on their final presentations. After six hours of work there were four presentations: interviews with people of different nationalities about their national identity, a speech which painted a picture of what Europe would have looked like today if WWI hadn’t happened, a film about nation building, and an interactive play which stated that one of the underlying causes for WWI was that the different parties didn’t understand each other. After the presentations the participants formed the academy’s final chair circle and got to name one thing which they would take with them from the week. For some it was difficult to choose only one thing: someone had noticed, for instance, that the position of their home country during WWI wasn’t what they had believed before, while others named learning new ways of studying history as the main lesson of the week. No one had the problem of not being able to come up with anything to say.
Noelia from Spain: I was amazed by a really efficient way of working. I learned history like I've never done before. That could be explained by the fact that we had the chance to visit the main places we were talking about, meet experts on the topic, know the actual perspectives of Finnish people and discuss as a group the different opinions and points of view. I consider that History is much more than a long book the teacher reads to a bunch of students.
Katarina from Slovenia: It really surprised me (and I really liked it) that the atmosphere was very relaxed and that we experienced different ways of learning. I'm very impressed by the group work we did.