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Honorary Doctorates

Selected eight recipients of honorary doctorates from our faculty

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Born June 4, 1867, Askainen. Died January 27, 1951, Lausanne, Switzerland
Honorary doctorate 1919

Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Born April 26, 1865, Pori. Died March 7, 1931, Stockholm
Honorary doctorate 1923

Otto Manninen
Born August 13, 1872, Kangasniemi. Died April 6, 1950, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1927

Frans Emil Sillanpää
Born September 16, 1888, Hämeenkyrö. Died June 3, 1964, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1936

Ilmari Kianto
Born May 7, 1874, Pulkkila. Died April 28, 1970, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1957

Lennart-Georg Meri
Born March 19, 1929, Tallinn. Died March 14, 2006,Tallinn
Honorary doctorate 1986

Esteri Hellen Vapaa-Jää
Born August 24, 1925, Kärkölä. Died November 22, 2011, Espoo
Honorary doctorate 1994

Mirkka Elina Rekola
Born June 26, 1931, Tampere. Died February 5, 2014, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 2000

Photo: Faculty of Arts
Written by Tero Juutilainen and Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Ilmari Kianto—White Anarchist Writer

The literary career of Ilmari Kianto lasted over sixty years, during which time he published over sixty works. The picture we have of his life and career is very much defined by the legend he himself cultivated. His life and works included criticism of the intelligentsia, contemplation of sexual questions, and opprobrium towards the church, religion and politics.

Kianto was born in Pukkila to a clerical family named Calamnius, with long traditions as priests and officials extending to the 17th century. He went to school at the Oulu Lyceum, where he matriculated in 1892.

His early career plan was to become an army officer. He volunteered to complete his national service in the 4th battalion of snipers in Oulu between 1892 and 1893. The military was a great disappointment to Kianto, and he gave up his dreams of becoming an officer. Instead, these experiences and disappointments created a writer with an anarchistic streak, and it was the military that was to be the subject of his first novel, Väärällä uralla (‘On the wrong track,’ 1896).

At university Kianto studied Finnish and Russian. As a student he was also involved in founding the Finnish Association of Fiction Writers. Kianto graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in 1898, but continued studying Russian language and literature in Moscow between 1901 and 1903. During those years he travelled extensively within Russia, and his travelogue Kiannan rannoilta Kaspian poikki (‘From Kiantajärvi lake across the Caspian Sea,’ 1903) offers an interesting look at the Finnish view of Russian society.

Kianto became radicalised in many ways during the years he spent in Russia. Criticising the church and sexual morality in particular became central themes in his worldview. He left the church upon returning from Russia in 1904, and he became the first Finn in his time to openly speak for free love and sexuality. That same year he married Hildur Molnberg. The couple were married in a civil ceremony in Helsinborg, Sweden, because Kianto was no longer a member of the church and no civil marriages were performed in Finland at that time.

Upon returning from Russia, Kianto briefly worked as a Russian teacher at a school in Kajaani and as temporary editor-in-chief of the newspaper Kajaanin Lehti. However, he had to resign from both positions because of his social activism, becoming a freelance writer in 1906. That year he also actively participated in the movement to Fennicise surnames, and on May 12th, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Johan Vilhelm Snellman, he changed his name from Calamnius to Kianto, after the old name of his home county.

The anarchistic attitude Kianto had towards society became public knowledge with the publication of the 1908 novel Pyhä viha (‘Sacred hatred’). It was followed by Punainen viiva (‘Red line’), in which Kianto depicted the 1907 parliamentary election and came to the conclusion that the new system abused the downtrodden poor just as much as the old one. In one way or another, most of his works dealt with his home region of Kajaani.

Tribal warriors on a military expedition in Karelia, 1918. Writer Ilmari Kianto on horseback in the centre. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

During the Civil War Kianto sided, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, with White Finland. His loyalties were also evident in a poetry collection entitled Hakkaa päälle! (‘Cut them down!’), which presented views very different from his earlier output. A decade after the end of the Civil War, he published his war journal, Elämän ja kuoleman kentällä (‘On the field of life and death’). The most striking feature of the book is the anxiety caused by the cruelty of war.

Outspoken social criticism mixed with his knowledge of Russian brought much trouble for Kianto. In 1940, he and his family had to flee ahead of advancing Russian troops. Kianto had left a cigar box in the entrance hall of his home with a message written on the cover in Russian requesting that his house not be looted. He had also added a suggestion that the soldiers should move on to the house of his sister, with whom he had an extremely toxic relationship. This message was interpreted as attempted treason, and Kianto was sentenced to six months hard labour and the loss of his citizen’s rights. The Union of Finnish Writers was one of the learned societies to revoke his honorary membership, which they had had given him in 1924.

The writer’s tarnished reputation was restored after the war, although he did have to wait until the 1950s for the injustice he had suffered to be publicly recognised. Various cultural societies also restored his membership. He permanently regained his good name in 1957 and was recognised for his long literary career. That year the University of Helsinki granted him an honorary doctorate.

Ilmari Kianto was put on a stamp in 1974. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.


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