By Edward Dutton
Most people are surprised when they discover that until as recently as the 1960s it was widely accepted that the Finns originally came from Mongolia. But the Mongolian ‘Origins of the Finns’ is a controversial topic in Finland. The Western-looking academic elite have done all that they can to suppress it and academics that still contend that Finns have ‘Mongoloid origins’ are cast into the wilderness in a ferocious dispute.
Until very recently, Finns were encouraged to see themselves either as ‘eastern’ or at least ‘between east and west.’ It was in the 1790, when Sweden ruled Finland, that German anthropologist J. F. Blumenbach compared Finnish, Sami (the Arctic reindeer herders) and Mongolian skulls and concluded that the Finns were ‘mongoloid’ and not ‘white’ like the Swedes or Finland’s Swedish-speaking aristocracy. This was widely accepted and led to the Turanian theory – that both the Finns and Sami had originally come from the East – as well as strengthening the view, according to Finland-Swede sociologist Nina af Enehjelm, that Finns were somehow ‘other’ and even ‘inferior.’ The ‘Mongoloid look’ is widely noted in Finland today and, there has been research that has compared Finnish religion and history to that of the Greenlandic and Finnish behaviour patterns to those of the Japanese.
Finland-Swede linguist M. A. Castren added to this in 1840s when he investigated the Finnish language and tried to understand which languages were related to the seemingly isolated tongue. He found that Sami, Estonian and Hungarian were from the same family but so were a series of languages across Siberia such as Komi and Mari. And even languages like Mongolian and Greenlandic seemed to have a similar grammatical structure. This led to the ‘Migration Theory,’ arguing the Finns arrived in Europe from Mongolia around three thousand years ago and finally got to Finland 2000 years ago. The more recent discovery of genetics has added further evidence to the ‘Mongol’ claim. Geneticist Richard Kittles found in 1998 that Finns have ‘Dual Origins’ between Germanic and Mongoloid as measured by their ‘Y Chromosome Haplotype Variation.’ Other geneticists estimated that Finns have between 10 percent and a quarter mongoloid genes, more than any other European nation. Twenty-seven percent of Finns carry the eastern ‘Tat C’ marker compared to only seven percent in Norway.
And in 2003, Slovenian geneticist Andrej Marusic observed that the Finnish propensity to alcoholism could be explained by the ADH22 gene ‘which is common in Eastern peoples but almost unheard of Europe.’
There is, he argued, a ‘J Curve’ where this gene is found which parallels areas where Finnish (and related languages) are spoken. For Marusic, ‘this seems to substantiate the theory that the primary ancestors of Finno-Uralics are the Mongols. The Mongols have not traditionally consumed strong alcohol whereas Europeans have for thousands of years, developing a genetic resistance to it.’
However, since a symposium in the 1980s it has become more common – especially in Finland – to argue that Finns are completely Western, with what is called the ‘Continuity Theory.’ According to this view, Finns are ‘Proto-European’ and arrived in Finland between 6000 and 11000 years ago and they arrived from the south. The Finnish ‘mongoloid look’ is explained by Finns being genetically isolated and so retaining the adaptations to the cold of the earliest Europeans. There is even an Estonian anthropologist who argues that the Migration occurred from West to East, making the Mongolians descendants of the Finns. But this new-found ‘European-ness’ has been especially convenient for the Finnish elite.
According to Finnish anthropologist Pertti Anttonen, in his book Tradition Through Modernity, Finns are ‘insecure’ because of historical perceptions of their being ‘not European’ and so ‘inferior.’ He argues that, whatever the symposium concluded in the 1980s, until the 1990s Finland was under the influence of the Soviet Union so being a bit ‘eastern’ was useful. This was reflected in the English-language book about Finland, published every ten years or so by a Finnish publisher, called A History of Finland. From its first publication in 1963 up to 2003, Finns were described as partially ‘Eastern’ in some way. Suddenly in the 2003 addition, all discussion of the eastern origins was dropped from the book.
Anttonen also highlights the work of Finnish historian Prof. Aira Kemiläinen. Now dead, she attempted to persuade Finns that they were ‘European.’ Of the Mongol look she claimed, ‘in fact this book does not exist in Finland’ without providing any evidence for its dismissal, branded academic opponents as ‘racists’, ignored the latest genetic scholarship and, bizarrely, attempted to argue that Finns should be seen as ‘European’ because they were ‘educated.’
‘Ideas of race and civilization are linked, as the “Western Genetic Heritage” of the Finnish population is used as an argument for Finland belonging to Western Civilization,’ summarises Anttonen. He felt that the book was more nationalistic than real scholarship but inexplicably it as published by the Finnish Literature Society, the main Finnish academic publisher.
The Finnish Literature Society has long been criticised for being influenced by a Finnish nationalist agenda. Finland historian William Wilson argued in 1976 that the society was heavily influenced by extreme Finnish nationalism and that it published scholarship on the Finnish folklore epic Kalevala knowing that it reflected a nationalist agenda rather than what was justifiable. It was founded to promote Finnish literature back when Finnish was not even an official language in the, at that time, Russian Duchy and so the now government-funded publisher has always had some kind of nationalist agenda.
And the current view with the Finnish elite is that Finns are Western. As Anttonen puts it, ‘The emphasis on the Western-ness of the Finns is a recent phenomenon’ rendering Finland’s joining the European Union a ‘return to Europe.’ This leaves those who still argue that Finns are originally from Mongolia in the academic wilderness,
Prof. Kalevi Wiik cannot get his genetic work on Finnish origins published with the Finnish Literature Society despite it being published in international academic journals.
‘It would be impossible to publish with them,’ he says of the world’s dominant academic publisher on Finnish culture. ‘They don’t believe in the genetic view and they disregard the genetic facts.’
Wiik recalls how his theories have been met with ‘anger. I kept a big file on it. I was accused of producing voodoo science in one newspaper article!’ He was also accused of having ‘right-wing supporters’ by another emotional critic.
‘The Finns have around a third Germanic genes, a third Baltic genes and a third genes from the east. These are the genetic facts!’ he insists, though the idea that Finnish babies have the ‘Mongol Spot’ seems to be exaggerated. Wiik also argues that Finnish men carry Mongoloid genes to a greater extent than Finnish women and that most of Europe must have spoken a Finnish-type language around the time of the last Ice Age with Finland retaining its language due to isolation from Indo-European invaders.
But at the moment, Wiik’s views don’t seem to fit with how the Finnish academic establishment wants Finland to see itself. Kemiläinen’s book ignored his work completely and even Anttonen terms him ‘controversial.’ Finns were always told they were ‘between east and west’ but now, in the wake of the Cold War, they are being told they are ‘Western.’
For 78 year-old the ferocity of the debate of Finland’s ‘Mongol origins’ proves, whatever Finland’s origins, that Finns are very insecure about whether or not they’re really European. ‘The idea that we Finns are Mongoloid is still with us,’ he says.
Dr Edward Dutton is a British freelance journalist and academic based in Finland. He is currently finishing a book on Finnish culture called The Finnuit.