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09. Let us singers inspire one another with song

In the late 19th century, the cultural organizers found their strongest support among the wealthy landowners in the rural areas. Prosperous country folk allied themselves in the name of the fatherland with the educated classes of the cities. Official cultural policy became the domain of the bourgeoisie, though serious efforts were made to bridge the social gap in many projects.

The gap between festival addresses and reality, between the landless and the landed population, widened further; labour began to feel its strength and organize. Soon new choral songs echoed in the workers’ clubs. As if unawares, the country had divided into two camps, the propertied class and the workers, the political right and the left. This ominous development came to a head when civil war broke out in 1918.

After the civil war, most workers’ choruses no longer took part in the song festivals of the Society for Culture and Education, at which the ‘tribal ideology’ of a union of all peoples speaking Finnic languages was urged, sometimes quite aggressively. A consciously militant tone was set at the Sortavala song festival of 1924. President Lauri Kristian Relander attended together with the Minister of Defence and the Commander of the Armed Forces. The principal speaker, writer Artturi Leinonen, blustered: “Does anyone catch a whiff of the dream of Greater Finland, a dream supposed to be buried and forgotten? It will never be forgotten!”

The workers’ faith in the power of song was just as unshakeable as that of the middle class. Evert Konttinen wrote in Työn Sävel (The Melody of Labour) in 1921: “Let us singers inspire one another and the entire suffering working class with song to an ever sterner struggle against the capitalist society, built on oppression and injustice. Our motto: “The art of song to the workers!”

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