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Finland's air force drops swastika emblem after century in use

July 2, 2020
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A vintage Finnish Air Force plane bearing a swastika flying at an air show in 2018 - Alamy Stock PhotoA vintage Finnish Air Force plane bearing a swastika flying at an air show in 2018 - Alamy Stock Photo
A vintage Finnish Air Force plane bearing a swastika flying at an air show in 2018 – Alamy Stock Photo

Finland’s air force has quietly removed the last swastikas from unit emblems after over a century in use.

Until recently the country’s Air Force Command emblem depicted a pair of wings around a swastika, a symbol which pre-dates its associations with Nazism.

The change was first observed by Teivo Teivainen, a politics professor at the University of Helsinki, who argued its negative associations made the swastika’s ongoing use politically fraught.

Professor Teivainen, who has written widely on the issue, said using the swastika could cause difficulties for the Nato country, particularly if worn on the uniforms of deployed personnel. 

“I have not found many reasonable arguments to support its military usefulness,” Mr Teivainen wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

The symbol’s association with Finland’s air force dates to its founding in 1918, when Swedish count Eric von Rosen donated a plane painted with swastikas to the newly independent country. 

The German Nazi Party adopted the swastika as its logo in 1920. 

Finland removed the swastika from its aircraft following a postwar armistice with the Soviet Union, but until recently the symbol remained on Air Force Command emblems and some flags and decorations. 

A spokesman for Finland’s air force told the BBC, “as unit emblems are worn on uniform, it was considered impractical and unnecessary to continue using the old unit emblem, which had caused misunderstandings from time to time.” 

The Finnish Air Force Command emblem of a swastika has been replaced by the air force's general emblem - Finnish Ministry of DefenceThe Finnish Air Force Command emblem of a swastika has been replaced by the air force's general emblem - Finnish Ministry of Defence
The Finnish Air Force Command emblem of a swastika has been replaced by the air force’s general emblem – Finnish Ministry of Defence

The current emblem of the air force is a circle of wings around a golden eagle, another symbol used by the force since 1945.

Professor Teivainen has coined a phrase in Finnish to explain how the use of a swastika could be problematic despite its innocent origin. Roughly translated, “visuaalinen natsahtavuusaste” means “how much something exhibits visual cues that are associated with Nazis”.

“This is not a question about manipulating historical records by removing controversial symbols such as the swastika from museums or history books,” he wrote in 2016. 

“This is about the way the Republic of Finland wants to present its armed forces today.”

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