Docent of Contemporary History and the longest serving Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Erkki Tuomioja is behind the initiative to establish Historians without Borders in Finland as an NGO. He has acted as Chairman of the Board of HWB Finland since the founding meeting in the summer of 2015.
“Understanding history is immensely important. Not understanding where we come from makes seeing the future more difficult”, explains Erkki, a long-term member of the Finnish Parliament, the idea behind the initiative. “While working as Minister for Foreign Affairs I continuously saw how history is being misused to cause and foster conflicts around the world. If the past is not properly dealt with as a part of the post-conflict resolution process, it can return to haunt us later on”, he says and continues: “The difficult history of Finland from 100 years ago is something we can fortunately now examine constructively. We have no history wars to fight with our neighbouring countries, which encourages us to share our experience in over-borders cooperation”.
Erkki sees the HWB as bridge builder between the academic world and decision makers. “Our aim is not to produce new research but rather to bring historians’ knowledge to a wider use in societies. Defusing historical conflicts requires a deep understanding of the different historical narratives and viewpoints that affect the discussion”.
The core of HWB’s activities in Erkki’s opinion is developing history dialogues. “The first history dialogue process begun in January 2017 when we invited Ukrainian and Russian historians in Helsinki to discuss the countries’ joint and parallel histories”. The dialogue process between Ukrainian and Russian historians continued in September 2017 with an extended list of participants.
“During HWB’s short existence we have raised and discussed many interesting and difficult historical issues”, Erkki says. “I have had the remarkable opportunity to educate myself on various issues and meet numerous interesting people from all around the world”.
Erkki has especially noticed that historians themselves usually are not the ones who misuse history but their work is often abused by third parties. “It’s important that historians themselves actively work against the misuse of their work in fostering conflicts and disputes”.