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Fact Check-Finnish Air Force swastika not introduced in support of Nazism

Claims are circulating online that Finland is a Nazi country or supports Nazism due to the historical use of swastikas by its air force. The emblem, which holds diverse meanings and in the Western world served as an auspicious symbol before it became synonymous with Nazism after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s, was not introduced in support of the ideology, however.

Online posts come after Finland formally applied to join the NATO alliance on May 18, with Sweden following suit, in a decision spurred by Russia's invasion of Ukraine (here). Finland’s possible entry to NATO inflamed tensions with Russia, which sees the alliance as a security threat (here). Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously cited Ukraine’s desire to join NATO as a trigger for war (here). He also claimed his battle against Ukraine is one against dangerous "Nazi"-inspired nationalists in Ukraine (here).

Social media users are now sharing news reports and photos of Finland’s air force with a blue flag featuring a black swastika and an old emblem of the Finnish Air Force Command -- a swastika between two wings -- suggesting the Nordic nation supports Nazism (here, here, here, here and here).

One user wrote here “This was UNTIL 2020 the flag of the Finnish Air Force. No wonder they are supporting the NE0-NAZl AZOV battalion!”

In another example, a user wrote: “Finland is now threatening to join NATO like Ukraine. There's some connection here. I did Nazi that coming” (here).

However, it is wrong to claim the flag demonstrates Finland condoning Nazism, historians and the Finnish Air Force say; although Helsinki did ally with Nazi Germany between 1941 to 1944 to fight off Soviet invasion (here).

A Finnish Air Force spokesperson told Reuters the swastika in the Finnish Air Force flag featured in the photos was introduced in 1918 – before Nazism rose in Europe.

“The first aircraft of the Finnish Air Force, a Thulin Typ D reconnaissance aircraft, was donated by [Swedish count] Eric von Rosen in 1918,” the spokesperson explained.

“He had painted his personal symbol of luck, a blue swastika, on the wings of the aircraft.”

That symbol, the spokesperson said, then became “the national insignia of all Finnish Air Force aircraft from 1918 until 1945. As the symbol of the first aircraft of the Air Force, a swastika remains featured in Air Force unit flags.”

After World War Two, blue swastikas on aircraft were replaced by blue and white roundels, while the emblem was used in the Finnish Air Force logo until 2017, when it changed the swastika with wings to a golden eagle with a circle of wings, according to 2020 reports (here, here).

Kai Mecklin, director of the Finnish Air Force Museum, affirmed the air force’s comments, saying the swastika was not used to demonstrate support of Nazism but an emblem of Eric von Rosen.

Mecklin told Reuters: “He wanted to mark the plane with his lucky emblem. This was years before Nazis existed. For us it is symbol of freedom and independence.”

Teivo Teivainen, Professor of World Politics at the University of Helsinki, told Reuters that the swastika’s 1918 appearance was “clearly a non-Nazi thing”, given the German National Socialist Party did not exist at the time.

Teivainen addressed the air force’s decision to remove the emblem from its logo on Twitter on June 30, 2020 here .

He added: “It is to be noted that Eric von Rosen, the Swedish count who gave the first swastika airplane to Finland in 1918, was at the time a well-known (far) right person, who would later become one of the leading National Socialists of Sweden.”

VERDICT

False. Swastikas used by the Finnish Air Force do not represent the country’s support for Nazism. It introduced the logo before the rise of Nazism in Europe. The originator of the emblem, became later a Nazi sympathizer, but he was Swedish.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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