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White Guard

The White Guards is one translation of the Finnish term Suojeluskunta (plural: Suojeluskunnat, Finland-Swedish: Skyddskår) that unfortunately has received many different translations to English, for instance: Security Guard, Civil Guard, National Guard, White Militia, Protection Guard, Protection Corps and Protection Militia.

Similar paramilitary militias existed in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, i.e. in lands like Finland being under Russian sovereignty until the end of World War I. These militias didn't cease to exist until World War II, partly evolving towards Home Guards[?]. The phenomenon should be distinguished from the Freikorps established in Germany after her defeat in the first world war, although some similarities exist.

The following text intends only to cover the situation in Finland.

The roots of these militias lie in a major conflict between Imperial Russia and the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, which commenced in 1899 with the attempted Russification of Finland[?]. As one consequence Finland's army was abolished. Tensions during Russia's failed war against Japan led, among other things, to a General Strike in 1905, during which "Red" (Socialist) "Protection Guards of Workers" were organized, but also "White" (anti-Socialist) "Security Guards". The White and Red Guards were typically disguised as fire-brigades, which suddenly became a matter of great national concern in Finland.

In an attempt to quench the general unrest in Finland, universal suffrage was introduced. This soon led to close-to 50% turnouts for the Social Democrats, but no improvements for their voters, as legislation was "shared" between the Parliament and the Russian Tsar (in his role as Grand Duke of Finland).

The first violent clash between Red and White Guards was already in July 1906 in Helsinki, but the renewed Russian oppression ment a common enemy, why serious conflicts would wait until after the February Revolution in Russia 1917. Finland's Senate[?] was a broad coalition-cabinet led by Oskari Tokoi[?], Social Democrat and Trade Union leader. His cabinet's attempt to gain increased autonomy failed, according to Leftist points of view chiefly due to secret resistence from the non-Socialists, and their collaboration with the revolutionary but bourgeois "Provisional Government" in Russia.

The Senate's agreed view was, basically, that the personal union[?] with Russia was finished after the Tsar was dethroned. They expected the Tsar's authority to be transferred to Finland's Parliament, which the Provisional Government of Russia couldn't accept. The non-Socialists in the Senate were confident. They, and most of the non-Socialists in the Parliament, where less than enthusiastic for the Social Democrats' bill on Parliamentarism (the so-called "Power Act"), deeming it too far-reaching and provocative for Saint Petersburg and politically too radical and dangerous for Finland. The bill restricted Russia's influence on domestic Finnish matters, but didn't touch the Russian government's power on matters of defence and foreing affairs. For the Russian Provisional government this was, however, far too radical.

It turned out that from the point of view of the poorest Finns, Oskari Tokoi's Senate's attempt was equally much a failure, as the universal suffrage. New elections were announced, and during the election campaign political violence increased, conducted by what was labled as "Rouge Reds" and "White Butchers" (already before the October Revolution the Police in Finland was virtually abolished by the Russian Provisional Government), leading to even worse polarization. Subsequently the Left lost their absolute majority in the Parliament. The February Revolution, and even more so Lenin's Bolshevist October Revolution, ignited hopes also in Finland. The polarization and mutual fear between Leftists and Rightists in Finland had increased dramatically. About 30 political assassinations were reported. Subsequently a pure non-Socialist cabinet was appointed, which after the Bolshevists had seized power in Russia felt squezed between increasingly revolutionary Socialists at home and aggressive Bolshevists in Saint Petersburg, proximate to Finland's border in South-East. Numerous Russian troops stationed in Finland made bad things worse, as they too were enthusiasmed by the revolutionary frenzy, which they called their "svoboda" - their freedom. And on top of all this: a General Strike in Finland.

After the October Revolution the political positions in Finland are reversed. Now it's the non-Socialists who are eager for maximal autonomy and even independence of Russia, and the Social Democrats who belive the Bolshevists to be possible allies against the Capitalist opressors. The Senate, led by the national hero Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, proposed a Declaration of Independence, which the Parliament adopted on December 6th, 1917.

Declaring independence is one thing, exercizing control over the territory is another. Svinhufvud's "White Senate" had noting but the "White Guards" to rely on. The 42,500 Russian soldiers had to be disarmed and sent back to Russia, and the Red Guards had to be kept in check. Unfortunately the neccessary confidence was lacking, and the Civil War of Finland was ultimately ignited when Svinhufvud's Senate authorized Carl Gustaf Mannerheim to form a new Finnish army on the basis on the White Guards (the Suojeluskunta militia), which already had begun to disarm the Russian garrisons to stop the flow of weapons into the Red Guards.

The first serious battles were in the night of January 19th, a week later followed by the Senate's declaration on January 25th transforming the White Guards into the Army of Finland, and on January 26th the order of rebellion was issued.

Typically Suojeluskunta organisations were local, with roots in "Security Guards" established during the General Strike of 1905, but it was the svoboda of the Russian troops, which really got most of the White Guards established. The svoboda appeared for the Finns as the Russian military going off control. They were intoxicated, they looted, they acted violently and they executed their officers.

Neither the Red Guards, nor the White, were trained for combat. A structure of the armies had to be built in extreme haste. The White Army could profitize on the Finnish Jaeger troops which could act as instructors and officers, and on Finnish officers from the Russian Tsarist units, who returned home after the October Revolution.

The defeat of the Red Army, after four months of bitter Civil War, the White Guards were recognized as one of the key agents in the victory.

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