History of the Committee of 100 in Finland

How did the Committee of 100 in Finland come about?

On 6th August 1963 around sixty young people gathered for a meeting in a snug in a place owned by Primula in the corner of Mannerheimintie and Lönnrotinkatu in Helsinki. A representative of the security police watching over the proceedings summarised the meeting in his report: “A group of pacifistic idealists holding differing political opinions who consider Bertrand Russell as their ideological role model founded an organisation called Sadankomitea (The Committee of 100) and chose Kalevi Suomela as their chair person.” The first thing that the new organisation decided to do was to order ‘magpie leg signs,’ peace symbols, from abroad as they seemed popular.

Why Committee of 100? There were plenty of peace organisations in Finland already. There was Rauhanliitto (the Peace Union) that had Christian inclinations and was distinctively bilingual, operating in both Finnish and Swedish. There was also Rauhanpuolustajat (the Peace Defenders) that was founded after the Second World War and leaned towards the extreme left and the World Peace Council that was directed by the Soviet Union.

The rising generation of the sixties felt alienated by the old organisations. They wanted their own organisation that would be clearly separated from the archaic Rauhanliitto as well as Rauhanpuolustajat that seemed communist-oriented.

Sadankomitea was born out of the concrete fear of a coming nuclear attack. Nuclear weapons had been part of the reality of international politics since the end of the Second World War and their numbers seemed to increase while the Cold War made it look like using them was not so far away. Role models for Sadankomitea were the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, an organisation founded in England in 1958, and the Committee of 100 that had separated from it for their more radical approach.

In the rules of Sadankomitea in Helsinki it was written that the organisation would aim at creating a permanent state of peace by, for example, opposing to rearmament, increasing public awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons, contributing to the scientific study of peace, and supporting the disarmament of single parties.

Sadankomitea had a good start. It was the first organisation for a single cause and within a couple of years it had a sort of hegemony among the youth: it set the societal questions that others needed to find answers to.

The Difficult American war in Vietnam

Sadankomitea started breaking apart towards the end of the decade. The key question was the war in Vietnam. The former French colony was in the middle of a war of independence and the United States of America became involved. Many peace organisations sided with the Communist rule in Vietnam without question and were even prepared to give arms to the heroes fighting against imperialism.

Sadankomitea was divided in the question of Vietnam. The so-called ‘marchers’ wing’ wanted strong support for Vietnam while the ‘researchers’ were calling for a more analytical discussion on questions regarding the Third World. The researchers won the inner battle and thus many of the marchers moved into the ranks of Rauhanpuolustajat. The rival peace organisation looked at the Third world conflicts through the lens of Lenin’s communist theory of imperialism and accepted the armed struggles of emancipation of oppressed peoples without question.

Although Sadankomitea started the Union of Sadankomitea as a national umbrella organisation for all the local cells in Finland and started publishing the ambitious Ydin (Nucleus) magazine in 1966, its popularity among the young radicals started to wane.

In the annual meeting of 1968 there were mere 60 people present which was the record low. According to the security police, there were “students and some artist types.” According to the observer of the security police the members of Sadankomitea had “recently become more sophisticated and but also more reserved and in their ideology moved towards some kind of scientific research phase, producing the carefully thought-through professionalism.” According to the observer this has led to the slight decline in the number of members as “advocated of pop culture keen on tumult have found other things to do.”

Surprise trials

Sadankomitea came back to the headlines again in the late sixties. Doing the civil service at the time required processing your case in the investigative committee of the Ministry of Defence. Sadankomitea demanded the abolition of this procedure considering it senseless, and the possibility of completing an unarmed service in a task that contributes to peace, for example within the fields of development aid, peace research or social and healthcare.

In February 1969 Fredrick Schüller held a speech that started the so-called incitement process in the Old Student House (Vanha ylioppilastalo) in Helsinki. Within the discussion of conscientious objection he urged everyone present to decline arms regardless of the decision of the committee. In addition he made it clear what kind of a crime this instigation for conscientious objection was and even asked the representatives of the police force who were present in the meeting to report their superiors about what he had said. They did as told and Shüller was charged. There was immediately a movement to support him and to commit the same crime as he had done. A petition to decline arms was signed by over a hundred people quickly before his trial. The paper signed by prominent Finnish public figures, including Kaj Chydenius, Jörn Donner, Paavo Lipponen and Ulf Sundquist, was handed both to the media and the security police.

Shüller’s trial proceeded and in the end he was sentenced to prison for his speech at the Old Student House for over a year which was a remarkably harsh conviction. The Incitement Process produced also numerous other convictions that ranged from minor fines to over a year-long prison sentences. Among others Ilkka Taipale, a Finnish politician and pacifist, pleaded guilty openly: “I have distributed a document on the street to two unknown women who are released from military service in front of the headquarters of the Security Police before we took the list of names inside. The distribution will be testified by Erkki Tuomioja who in no way attempted to prevent my atrocious crime.” He was sentenced to prison for one year and three months and Tuomioja got a month less.

All in all Sadankomitea considered their cause as having made process during this campaign; the state authorities had had to yield in the face of the ridiculous trials and revise the dusty legislation. The given sentences were reversed in higher court instances and President Kekkonen pardoned the rest. Incitement to conscientious objection was no longer a crime.

The silent seventies and the END Movement

The internal quarrels of Sadankomitea in the beginning of the seventies led to serious struggles over the direction and leadership of the organisation in the annual meetings. Following some tight votes Sadankomitea remained separate from the Taistoist movement, a pro-Soviet undertaking that had spread within the organisation of Sadankomitea.

Sadankomitea stayed ‘independent’ but the activity of the organisation withered to near extinction in the seventies. The current on the left from Sadankomitea was so forceful that it had to stand aside while the anti-imperialist rhetoric of Rauhanpuolustajat found its audience in the Taistoist youth; and also near all the political parties in Finland tried to establish links with the organisation to improve their relations with the Soviet Union.

Sadankomitea remained as an independent grass-roots actor and Rauhanpuolustajat became a semi-official peace organisation that included also the Centre Party and Social Democratic Youth in its membership.

Sadankomitea managed to rise again only at the end of the seventies when the founding members first set out to save the Ydin magazine and then to revive the activities. Sadankomitea also got some external help: The European Nuclear Disarmament Movement (END) that aimed for a nuclear-free Europe made independent peace movements fashionable once again.

The END Movement was against the nuclear weapons of both the East and the West which suited the aims of neither the Taistoist movement nor the official Foreign Policy of Finland. Their campaign against all middle-range missiles raised awareness among the ordinary Finnish people and the demonstrations against the Euro Missiles gathered hundreds of thousands of people. Such peace marches had never been seen before.

The new missiles were placed in Europe against the objections. From the end of the eighties and through the whole nineties there was another downturn for the peace movement. Sadankomitea did not have to completely revise their goals like Rauhanpuolustajat did; the end of the Soviet Union marked the revision of their idea of the goal and purpose of their action. Since then Rauhanpuolustajat has been searching for new perspectives for example from within the movement critical to globalisation.

The economic slump in Finland in the beginning of the nineties cut the governmental support to peace organisations to a half. The state had supported peace work in the eighties and the work had been grown more professional and international, and for example literature of peace was blooming. The organisations had been highly dependent on public funding and recovering from the cuts took years. The funding has not since reached the same level although some members of Sadankomitea have reached the top positions of the Finnish state, most importantly Tarja Halonen, former President, Erkki Tuomioja, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Paavo Lipponen, former Prime Minister and Chair of the Parliament.

New Rise of the Peace Movement

The new rise for peace movements had already started earlier but gained momentum from the terrorist attacks in New York in September 2001. The organisations firmly condemned the attacks but soon the war in Afghanistan, oppression of human rights under the guise of the War on Terror and the new and more hegemonic direction in the foreign politics of the United States of America started to bother them. The majority of the membership could not accept the bombings in Afghanistan and in Finland there were the biggest peace marches in decades.

In the autumn 2002 the attack on Iraq was starting to look likely the marches continued. During the spring 2003 there were the largest peace marches since the eighties not only in Finland but all over the world. These demonstrations against war signalled the renewed need for peace organisations. Although marching is only a small part of the actual work of these organisation one could talk about a new boom. The renewed interest to the peace movement showed in the amount of new members to the organisations, in increased activities, and also amplified political power.

Sadankomitea had a significant role in the No Attack on Iraq (Ei iskua Irakiin) network that coordinated the demonstrations. For example the mass demonstration on 22nd March, 2003 was hosted by the Secretary General and the Vice Chair of Sadankomitea; over 20, 000 Finnish people took part. Within the network Sadankomitea emphasised the importance of disarmament of weapons of mass destruction and a peaceful solution to the crisis. It tried to direct the message that the network gave to the outside world into an analytical direction rather than straightforward preaching and it also tried to prevent the most aggressive outbursts of hatred towards all things American.

Questions of war and peace were also prominent in the general election in 2003. The demands of the network against the war in Iraq reached another level when the opposition leader Anneli Jäättenmäki of the Centre Party accused the government for siding with the USA too eagerly. The pressure from the peace movement paid out when the government condemned the attack on Iraq, if only after the start of the war. This was not an insignificant achievement because out of the five Nordic countries only Sweden did the same.

The popularity of the peace marches derived from the open politics of war of the USA and the Finnish disapproval of this. The political hierarchy was unclear to no one when the American President George W. Bush wanted to attack Iraq and would not allow the United Nations to solve the crisis peacefully. The claimed weapons of mass destruction were never found, the connection to the Iraqi oil supply started to look obvious and most importantly the UN Security Council did not approve of the acts of war.

Overriding the Unites Nations gave the peace movement as well as the Finnish government a powerful political tool against the war in Iraq. It was easier for ordinary people to join in when both the UN and the government opposed to the war. The number of participants however quickly decreased as the war proceeded and the Americans achieved a military victory. The peak in the activities against the war lasted for only two months when the threat and acts of war were the main news items.