On Sunday 24th September, the Finnish tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reported that the monument erected to remember local Finnish soldiers who fell during the Winter and Continuation wars had suddenly disappeared in the former parish Käkisalmi, nowadays referred to as Priozersk.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time such a violation has taken place against Finnish memorials in the ceded areas. In March 2023, it was discovered that the Heroes Cemetery at Koivisto (now Primorsk) Parish Church was quietly removed by Russian authorities.
What we know
Sometime on the evening of 21st September, images were shared in a local discussion group on the Russian social media, VKontakte, that showed that the memorial was no longer there. The poster reported that they didn’t have any further information but would like to find out what happened.
Aleksandr Soklakov, the head of the Priozersk district of the Leningrad region, received questions from local residents but responded by stating that he did know what happened and that it was not the responsibility of the administration. He also confirmed that no legal investigation was being sought either.
Based on the photos shared on social media, only the stone base that supported the engraved stone plinth remains.
Käkisalmi Heroes Cemetary Memorial
Soon after the start of the Continuation War, Käkisalmi, which had been ceded to the Soviet Union in the wake of the Winter War, was recovered by the Finnish advance. Despite the damage wrought on the town by the retreating Red Army, many of the former residents returned to reclaim their homes.
In the ground of the old cemetery were the remains of five local heroes who had sacrificed themselves during the Winter War, alongside their brethren from the Finnish Civil War. It was decided that a new Heroes Cemetary would be established and architect Armas Lindgren was given the task of designing it. Using a large white cross as its centerpiece, it was raised by a mound of rocks with wild grass allowed to grow from the middle. Between 1941 and 1944, some 130 locals who had given their lives, were laid to rest. Each one was memorialised with a white cross engraved with their name.
When the parish was surrendered again as part of the 1944 Moscow Truce, all symbols of the Heroes Cemetery were removed. It is even reported that the space was used for the burials of the migrants brought in to resettle in the area after the war.
It would not be until the fall of the Soviet Union that efforts to memorialise those left at Käkisalmi would start. In 1996, after five years of negotiations, a steel cross atop a gray granite, masonry base was erected within the church grounds. Dedicated on the 6th July 1996, Field Bishop Hannu Niskanen led the service with some 200 guests in attendance. The plaque reads “This is the resting place of 105 warriors from Käkisalmi who fell in the 2nd World War / The memorial was erected in 1996 by the Käki-foundation”, in both Finnish and Russian.
In 2019 another memorial was dedicated, set only 15 metres from the previous one. Further research has shown that the cemetery at Käkisalmi contained the remains of 130 fallen heroes. The Pro Kexholm association led the new initiative and it received positive support from the local admistration. The unveiling was reported in several Russian media outlets with a optimistic tone. Janne Laine, then mayor of Savonlinna thanked Aleksander Soklakov in a letter.
“History has taught Finland and Russia to be friends. We will help each other as a good neighbour should help his neighbour. Thus, for more than 70 years we have been developing and strengthening the friendship and cooperation of the peoples of Finland and Russia,”; and the local administration’s social media post ended with: “The war separated people. The memory of the war unites. Taking care of preserving memory is our common task.”
What does this mean for the future?
This new desecration just seems to confirm the deteriorating relations between Finland and Russia. It also seems to show the strengthening of the Russian national pride programme instituted in 2014, with many Russians now seeing any memorial or architecture that isn’t expressly Russian as an affront to their history.
Russian social media, encouraged by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, seemed to have exploded with posts about positive messages on citizens of ‘unfriendly countries’. This has resulted in several memorials being defaced and damaged, as well as public outcries of “justifying Nazism” and “heroizing fascism”.
However, not all Russian outcry seems to condemn these memorials. As shown on several posts regarding the Käkisalmi memorial, many citizens just want answers and understand that these actions will only create more tension between the two nations, rather than solve any issues.
Original Iltasanomat article
History of the Käkisalmi memorial
Russian fontanka article on the subject
In Russia, a monument to Finnish soldiers disappeared under unclear circumstances in Käkisalmi – Finland is trying to find out the matter
Käkisalmi stone church’s hero’s cemetery
“This is politics… it’s a pity” Nobody is looking for the monument to Finnish soldiers who died during the Second World War, which disappeared in the city of Priozersk