Lapland’s Dark Heritage at Biennial Conference of the Finnish Anthropological Society

On Thursday 22nd of October, project’s researcher Eerika Koskinen-Koivisto will present a paper at the Biennial Conference of the Finnish Anthropological Society “Landscapes, Sociality and Materiality” in Tieteiden Talo, Helsinki. She attends the panel “Landscape and memory” with a paper  entitled ” Reminder of Lapland’s Dark Heritage – Norvajärvi German Cemetery as a site of commemoration”.

The abstract of the session is:

Landscapes anchor, embody and evoke social memory and are intrinsically tied to the formation of people’s identities. They are understood to do so not as passive platforms onto which meanings are pasted and through which they are articulated, but rather as themselves formed through engagement with particular people, their cultural practices and memories. In this sense landscapes may be regarded as mnemonic devices to recall a shared history and to act as moral guides. In remembering landscapes, natural elements – such as mountains, hills or rivers – or human built forms – such as ruins, shrines or monuments – may be used as mnemonic tools and arenas of moral debate that enable people to remember and talk about the past. For groups of people removed from the places they remember through migration or diaspora, this commemorative aspect of landscapes becomes particularly significant and may engender various kinds of pilgrimage and memory travel. Another area where the connection of landscape, identity and memory is pertinent is the debate concerning heritage. Heritage sites as loci of commemorialization often dramatize the history of a nation/place or commodify its past, while material objects like monuments and memorials are tied in complex ways to social discourses of remembering.

This panel invites papers that ethnographically examine issues related to the ways in which landscapes and their memories are tied to people’s identity processes as well as papers that explore the commemorative aspects of landscapes such as heritage, memory travel, or material triggers of memory. More theoretical analyses of the above issues are also welcome.

Eerika’s abstract is:

After the Finnish-Soviet ‘Winter War’ (1939–40), Finland turned to Germany for help and came to cooperate with Germany’s 1941 attack on the Soviet Union. Some 200,000 German troops were based in Finland, mostly in the northern parts of the country. Towards the end of WWII, Finns turned against their former German brothers-in-arms, which led to the so-called ‘Lapland War’ and large-scale devastation of northern Finland when German troops ended up ‘burning down Lapland’. As a result, about 15 000 German soldiers died in Finnish frontiers.

The question of Finnish-German relations has remained a sensitive topic for a long time and only recently become critically reassessed. This heritage of a difficult and traumatic period is largely unvalued, ignored and intentionally forgotten. Nonetheless, the remains of German sites and material do constitute an element of northern landscapes that locals and tourists have come across and lived with since the war. Recently, the value and meaning of that German material heritage has also become subject to public discussion in northern Finland.

In this presentation I scrutinize the experiences of Finnish people who visit the only official monument of WWII German presence in Finnish Lapland, the Norvajärvi German cemetary located in Rovaniemi found in 1963. I analyze blog writings and virtual travel diaries as well as interviews and writings of the visitors of the cemetery. What motivations drove them to visit the site and how do they describe the experience? How do they see and relate to Lapland’s dark heritage?