Five Centuries of Violence in Finland and the Baltic Area

Heikki Ylikangas, Petri Karonen, and Martti Lehti
Foreword by Eric H. Monkkonen

Most Americans associate Nordic countries with peace, tranquility, civility, high living standards, and generally progressive social arrangements. It is these very qualities that get Nordic countries rejected as policy models because they are too peaceful—what happens there is too remote and too easy compared to the harsh American world.

The contents of this book should help reverse these opinions.  Sweden and Finland were once quite violent, and even today their Baltic neighbor Estonia in some places has homicide rates that parallel those of America’s cities. Lacking urban decay, even lacking cities of any size, early modern Finland had rural traditions of knife fighting and suffered aggressive male violence in ways as grimly predictable as in the late twentieth-century United States. In both Sweden and Finland, cities led the way to social pacification, becoming less violent before the countryside. Contemporary Estonia, however, has high rates of violence among its Russian population, rates that point to enormous social gulfs in a country Americans would see as homogeneous and “white.”

These profoundly rural places in hard climates populated by peasant farmers and woodcutters, with tiny cities no larger than what we would call villages today, all had better record keeping than most contemporary nonindustrial nations. The contributors have drawn extensively on these records to address issues of policy and history. They make it clear that personal violence can lodge like a virus in many different host organisms; although American violence is a unique problem in some ways, it is not due to some peculiar set of conditions limited to America. From the historical point of view, we can see how Finland’s experience can give hope: how entrenched traditions of personal violence can change; how history, like circumstance, is not destiny.

Heikki Ylikangas is a professor of legal history and Roman law at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Helsinki, and professor of the Acedemy of Finland. Petri Karonen is a professor of Finnish history at the University of Jyväskylä. Martti Lehti is a scholar at the History of Criminality Research Project, Helsinki.

Dec 2000
Criminal Justice
224 pp.  6 x 9

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