Arndt Pekurinen and the birth of the Finnish non-military service law 1931
On 5th of November 1941, at the warfront of Suomussalmi, citizen Arndt Pekurinen was executed. According to his believs shooting a person was always and in every situation wrong. Before the execution he was sentenced to prison four times: first for four, then six, then then for nine and finally, after the Winter War started, for two years. The reason for the prison sentences was that he refused to fulfill his military service and to participate in the war.
”I am ready to serve my country in a useful way” Pekurinen wrote in his defence speech as
he was waiting for his third prison sentence, ”If I am allowed to carry it out as civil work speparate
from the war institute. I am ready to carry it out for a much longer time than in the army in the place of military service.”
The refusal of Pekurinen was most of all about principle, but it was also political. He was
knowingly provoking the system to have law changed. If he would have wanted to go the path of
the least resistance, he could’ve omitted his public appearances and avoid the police that way.
After he was arrested he could have referred to religious reasons and avoid the punishment. He
could’ve done his service unarmed – after his second prison sentence he was offered the chance to
carry out his service in civilian clothing, although in the army. He refused that too. During the war,
to save his life, he could have taken a weapon if just for the sake of form. But the goal of Pekurinen
and his supporters was not to go the easy way but to take the legislation concerning Finnish
conscientious objectors to the level of other Nordic countries.
”My ideological conviction forbids me from serving the war institute in any form and I see it as my
duty to act for peace. I do not see anything unlawful or deserving of punishment in my actions.
Even the Finnish gorvernment, with an international agreement, declared war as illegal and has
committed not to use it as a tool for national politics. If war has been declared illegal, how can I see
denying to serve the war institute as unlawful.”
In his article ”Man, army and resistance” Ville Kivimäki analyzes the case of Pekurinen in the light
of critical male history. According to Kivimäki, Pekurinen is a walking paradox that shouldn’t have
existed. ”As a hardworking, absolutist and conscientious father of a family who held on to his
principles unwaveringly, he actually was the ideal man that the school institute and patriotic civic
organizations wanted to raise.” Defying death he set his principles, ideological battle and public
actions before his family. ”Only that Pekurinen’s principle was the incorrect one – he lacked the
readiness for weaponized national defence, that should have self-evidently been a part of this
Kivimäki points out that in Pekurinen’s case, confusion was also caused by his proletariat
background and his lack of formal education. The academic pacifism of the figureheads of the
pacifism of his time, writer Arvid Järnefelt, professor of mathematics Felix Iversen and geodesist
Karl Nickul could be understood as harmless daydreaming of the learned class. But Pekurinen’s
pacifism was protelarian, and as such, dangerous
Childhood and youth
Pekurinen was born in the great rural municipality of Juva in Southern Savonia 29.8.1905 in a
tenant family with seven children. As a child he was described as lively and playful and easily
making contact with people of all ages. Due to a social father and lively children their home was
one of the meeting places of the village where there always was neighbouring children and other
Pekurinen acquired his pacifistic ideology by reading books, especially the Bible, Leo Tolstoy and
Arvid Järnefelt. He was not only a pacifist but also a Christian of conviction, an earnest smoker of
tobacco and an absolutist when it came to alcohol. At the doctor’s checkup he told that in his youth
he was often hot-tempered but attempted to beat it with self-education.
He did not get farther than folk school in education even though his diploma was excellent. He read
throughout his life and completed studies at the workers’ institute of Helsinki. He joined the social-
democrat party, the sobriety society Riento and the trade lodge of delivery workers. In 1936 he
appears in the meeting picture of the gorvernment of the Peace union of Finland. At the age of 22 he
was chosen to be a part of the leadership of the more radical anti-militarist union of Finland and as
the chairman two years later. During the same time he resigned from the church because he viewed
the church acting un-christianly by supporting the army.
Imprisoned for two years and Albert Einstein’s plea for Pekurinen
The Police delivered Pekurinen to the conscription office of Helsinki on 15.11.1929 where he denied to serve the military and the physical examination. During the following days he was forced to a physical examination three times and a single mental examination after which he was ordered to serve in the penal company of those obligated to work in Kustaanmiekka situated in Santahamina of Helsinki. In Kustaanmiekka they tried to violently clothe Pekurinen in a military uniform. It required three sergeants and two hours before he was fully clothed in uniform. After this Pekurinen walked away and took the clothes off. Simultaneously he started a hunger strike until he got the right to wear civilian clothing. Pekurinen was held in custody where he was a week without a jacket only with military trousers and shoes.
After five days the event leaked to the public and the Finnish Social Democrat-magazine had the
following three-part title of the front page: ”Ostentatious refusal of military service. Person with a
pacifist ideology already five days in a hunger strike. Taken to a sanitarium, penal company and sits
now in main guard.” On Christmas eve he finally got the permission to use civilian clothing and he
ended his hunger strike. He was held in custody until the end of the year, after which he was
sentenced to four months of imprisonment.
The Pekurinen case had lively correspondence. The Finnish minister of defence received a plea
signed by professor Albert Einstein, writer H. G. Wells and Henri Barbusse where it was pointed out that: ”By taking into account both your and our countries have signed the Paris treaty, we think that it be an agreeable task to free the person, whose only crime is his loyalty to his principle of peace.” Two more letters written by Einstein arrived. The latter says, among other things: ”By morality and reason it has to be insisted that the defier of war is only assigned to work that has nothing to do with the war institute.”
The second letter was signed, among other, by the chairman of the administrative court of appeal of
Germany A. Freymuth, professor Theodor Lessing and vicar E. Thraswelt: ”We view Arndt
Pekurinen as a trailblaizer of achieveing international peace and we respect his high ethical
conviction. We would find it desirable that men like these would not be sentenced to imprisonment,
who due to their own conscience can not serve in the military and we believe that you, minister, are
doing your country a service by freeing Arndt Pekurinen.”
Even this high level of international sympathy ahd no immediate use to Pekurinen. After serving his
prison sentence in Ilmajoki in september 1930 he was taken from his prison guard and assaulted by
nine men, taken hands bound and with signs hanging from his neck to the train station of Seinäjoki
to be publically humiliated.
Pekurinen had been pressured, insulted, interrogated and assaulted. He had been on a hunger strike, forced into repeated physical examinations, taken to a sanitarium, closed into confinement for two weeks and put into prison for two years. After this he had felt what was the law of Lapua.
Lex Pekurinen and the war
Pekurinen’s three consecutive prison sentences and the discussion in the press birthed by it and the international pressure finally led to that on 14.4.1931 the Finnish parliament accepted a law to those draftees whose conscience prevented them from completing armed service. In practice this meant accepting Pekurinen’s demands and the birth of non-military service.
Pekurinen was released from prison (as a fully served second class draftee) but not until January of the next year. After this he got to live eight years in peace. He worked as a janitor during the summers and as a driver during winter. He met Aleksandra, they married and had two children, Säde and Juhani.
The Winter War began 31.11.1939. Because the law caused by Pekurinen was not in effect during wartime he was once again ordered to serve, and he refused. Pekurinen was now sentenced for the fourth time to imprisonmnent. He was released due to good behaviour in Ocotober 1941, but because the Continuation War had already begun he was taken to the headquarters of the civil guard of Helsinki and from there to the warfront where he was executed.
In his last defence speech Pekurinen wrote the following: ”I have noticed the meaninglessness, defilement and the culture destroying nature of war by studying history, social studies and economics. I have familiarized myself with the inner nature of war noticing it as bestially raw and insulting to higher values of life. I have gotten to know the many descriptions made by militaryexperts about the warfare of the future with its aerial attacks, poison attacks and fire and explosion bombs that soldiers have to use to destroy cities and centers, their civilian populace, the defenceless elderly, women, children and the sick of the ”enemy”. A person can not take part in this kind of warfare and its support in a form or another.”
Pekurinen’s case was forgotten for decades until Erno Paasilinna brought it up by writing a book about it at the end of the 1990’s with the name ”Courage – The life and execution of Arndt Pekurinen” (Rohkeus – Arndt Pekurisen elämä ja teloitus). In the year 2001 Seppo Parkkinen wrote the play ”War denier”(Sodankieltäjä) about Pekurinen and from 2005 a lecture play about Pekurinen has been presented at the non-military service center in Lapinjärvi. In 2005 in Pasila of Helsinki a park next to the station of peace was named the park of Arndt Pekurinen.
This text has been published for the first time in the Rauhan Puolesta -magazine and in a book called Väkivallattomuuden voima – Kertomuksia Rohkeudesta. Translation: Mikko M. The first picture is form Erno Paasilinna’s book Rohkeus: Arndt Pekurinen and his wife Alexandra and children Säde and Juhani from the summer of 1939.