By Elvira Tamus, Research Assistant

On 21 June 2023, the Centre for Geopolitics hosted a book launch in which Professor Henrik Meinander (University of Helsinki) talked to Rt Hon Charles Clarke about his book, Mannerheim, Marshal of Finland: A Life in Geopolitics (Hurst Publishers, 2023).

Field marshal and statesman Gustaf Mannerheim (1867-1951) was the most acclaimed and the most hated Finn of the twentieth century. After three decades of loyal and distinguished service in the Russian Tsarist army, he returned to his homeland in 1917 to defend its new independence. This iconic figure led the Finnish forces as Commander-in-Chief during both World Wars, then ended his career as President of Finland. This new critical biography sets Mannerheim’s entire life’s work, and his often nerve-wracking decisions as a Finnish leader on the world stage, against the backdrop of his elite upbringing and lifestyle, his adventurous imperial career, his outspoken anti-communism, and his keen instincts for great power politics. Professor Henrik Meinander charts the complex legacy of this nationalist cosmopolitan who found himself fighting on the same side as Hitler. Meinander paints his portrait with strong contrasts and bright colours. This is the story of a multicultural Russian empire, a newborn nation-state treading warily between Europe’s military titans, a front of the Second World War not easily reduced to moral binaries – and, above all, a shrewd political operator playing many a dangerous game.

In his introductory talk, Professor Meinander outlined the most important pieces of the existing literature on Mannerheim, and explained that his own contribution to scholarship lies in the wide range of primary source material and languages as well as the broad scope on which his work is based. He examined Finnish history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the activities of Gustaf Mannerheim with a particular attention to his character, Northern European events in the interwar period and during World War II, the Easter Front in 1944, and relations between Finland and Eastern Europe in the course of the Cold War. In doing so, Professor Meinander’s insightfully analysed the life of his book’s protagonist in the broader context of Finnish and European history in his time. Questions concerned Mannerheim’s relations with the Russian elite as well as Józef Piłsudski, Marshal of Poland; his pursuits in Poland; the Jews of Finland; and his perception by Finnish people today.

As Finland joins NATO, Professor Meinander’s well-received biography of Marshal Mannerheim is a timely, useful, and enlightening read for scholars and professionals as well as anyone interested in the modern history of Finland and the Baltic region.

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