Heikki Ritavuori

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Heikki Ritavuori Heikki Ritavuori.jpg
Heikki Ritavuori

Heikki Ritavuori (23 March 1880, Turku – 14 February 1922, Helsinki; surname until 1906 Rydman), was a Finnish lawyer, a politician from the National Progressive Party, a member of the Parliament of Finland and Minister of the Interior. He was the closest colleague of Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg and was Minister of the Interior in J.H. Vennola's first and second cabinets from 1919 to 1922 for a total of 526 days. [1] Heikki Ritavuori is a unique figure in Finland's political history because he is not remembered for his life's work, but instead for its end. Minister Ritavuori was shot dead at the door to his home in Helsinki in February 1922.

Turku City in Southwest Finland, Finland

Turku is a city on the southwest coast of Finland at the mouth of the Aura River, in the region of Finland Proper (Varsinais-Suomi). The region was originally called Suomi (Finland), which later became the name for the whole country.

Helsinki Capital of Finland

Helsinki is the capital and most populous city of Finland. Located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, it is the seat of the region of Uusimaa in southern Finland, and has a population of 650,058. The city's urban area has a population of 1,268,296, making it by far the most populous urban area in Finland as well as the country's most important center for politics, education, finance, culture, and research. Helsinki is located 80 kilometres (50 mi) north of Tallinn, Estonia, 400 km (250 mi) east of Stockholm, Sweden, and 300 km (190 mi) west of Saint Petersburg, Russia. It has close historical ties with these three cities.

Finland Republic in Northern Europe

Finland, officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country in Northern Europe bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, and Gulf of Finland, between Norway to the north, Sweden to the northwest, and Russia to the east. The capital and largest city is Helsinki. Other major cities are Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Oulu and Turku.



The murder of a government minister is such a rare occurrence in Finland that it has almost completely overshadowed Ritavuori's achievements as a builder of Finnish society. The Turku-born lawyer, member of parliament and government minister was one of the most notable politicians in the early years of Finland's independence. He was dedicated to justice, equality among citizens, and a unified nation.

Lawyer legal professional who helps clients and represents them in a court of law

A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney, attorney at law, barrister, barrister-at-law, bar-at-law, canonist, canon lawyer, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, counsellor, solicitor, legal executive, or public servant preparing, interpreting and applying law, but not as a paralegal or charter executive secretary. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services. The role of the lawyer varies greatly across different legal jurisdictions.

A member of parliament (MP) is the representative of the voters to a parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, this category includes specifically members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title. Member of Congress is an equivalent term in other jurisdictions.

Social equality is a state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group have the same status in certain respects, possibly including civil rights, freedom of speech, property rights and equal access to certain social goods and social services. However, it may also include health equality, economic equality and other social securities. Social equality requires the absence of legally enforced social class or caste boundaries and the absence of discrimination motivated by an inalienable part of a person's identity. For example, sex, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, origin, caste or class, income or property, language, religion, convictions, opinions, health or disability must absolutely not result in unequal treatment under the law and should not reduce opportunities unjustifiably.

Defending these values took a great deal of courage in the unstable times following the Finnish Civil War, when radical groups sought their own ends by any means necessary. Ritavuori was frightened of neither the extreme left-wing nor the extreme right, but instead implemented the reforms he felt were necessary as K.J. Ståhlberg's most trusted man. He took particular care in defending the civil rights of red prisoners of war kept in prison camps, and advocated laws to pardon them.

Finnish Civil War 1918 civil war in Finland

The Finnish Civil War was a civil war in Finland in 1918 fought for the leadership and control of Finland during the country's transition from a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire to an independent state. The clashes took place in the context of the national, political, and social turmoil caused by World War I in Europe. The war was fought between the Reds, led by a section of the Social Democratic Party, and the Whites, conducted by the conservative-based Senate and the German Imperial Army. The paramilitary Red Guards, composed of industrial and agrarian workers, controlled the cities and industrial centres of southern Finland. The paramilitary White Guards, composed of farmers, along with middle-class and upper-class social strata, controlled rural central and northern Finland.

Prisoner of war Person who is held in custody by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict

A prisoner of war (POW) is a person, whether a combatant or a non-combatant, who is held captive by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict. The earliest recorded usage of the phrase "prisoner of war" dates back to 1610.

Ritavuori was already familiar with social questions when he became Secretary of the Foundation Board of the Parliament of Finland in 1907; he was especially interested in land-owning rights and the position of peasants. As a lawyer, he liked to handle communal cases in defense of the poor. He was elected as a member of the parliament from the Turku Province southern election circle first in 1913, and then again in 1919.

Peasant member of a traditional class of farmers

A peasant is a pre-industrial agricultural laborer or farmer with limited land ownership, especially one living in the Middle Ages under feudalism and paying rent, tax, fees, or services to a landlord. In Europe, peasants were divided into three classes according to their personal status: slave, serf, and free tenant. Peasants hold title to land either in fee simple or by any of several forms of land tenure, among them socage, quit-rent, leasehold, and copyhold.

The acceptance of Finland's republican form of government in June 1919 is largely because of Ritavuori's work as chairman of the Foundation Board. The dispute about the form of government between the royalists and the republicans had been holding back governmental activity for months. To stop the unhelpful "temporary situation", the republican government of Kaarlo Castrén proposed a law establishing the new form to the Parliament of Finland in June; it was written by the President of the High Court, K.J. Ståhlberg.

A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered a "public matter", not the private concern or property of the rulers. The primary positions of power within a republic are attained, through democracy, oligarchy, autocracy, or a mix thereof, rather than being unalterably occupied. It has become the opposing form of government to a monarchy and has therefore no monarch as head of state.

Kaarlo Castrén Finnish politician

Kaarlo Castrén was a Finnish politician and Prime Minister of Finland. He represented the National Progressive Party.

For the parliament to be able to accept the proposed law, it had to be classified as urgent by the meeting order. One vote more was needed for the required five-sixths majority, and so the reform of the government was about to be delayed again. It was then that Heikki Ritavuori involved himself in the matter, and only a couple of days later he gave his own proposal for a new governmental form (which he had already submitted for consideration earlier) to the parliament. The members of the parliament were amazed, but now the proposal was classified as urgent, and based on it, the parliament accepted the new form of government on 21 June 1919. Thus, Finland became a republic.

Ritavuori, having served as Minister of Internal Affairs twice, was frequently confronted by activists representing the extreme right-wing. Because of the laws to pardon red prisoners of war, he was branded the "red minister", one who threatened the legacy of white Finland. Supporting Ståhlberg as the opponent of Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim in the presidential elections in summer 1919 and opposing the independence of the protection guards in the crisis of 1921 made Ritavuori even less liked in right-wing circles.

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim Finnish military leader and statesman

Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim was a Finnish military leader and statesman. Mannerheim served as the military leader of the Whites in the Finnish Civil War, Regent of Finland (1918–1919), commander-in-chief of Finland's defence forces during World War II, Marshal of Finland, and the sixth president of Finland (1944–1946).


The site of the murder RitavuoriMurderScene.jpg
The site of the murder

Ritavuori's fate was sealed by the Eastern Karelia crisis in the winter of 1921-22, when he served as minister responsible for the border guard and handled his job in a direct manner as instructed by President of Finland K.J. Ståhlberg. Based on falsified news sent from Eastern Karelia, right-wing newspapers started a smear campaign that destroyed Ritavuori's reputation and eventually caused his death. Heikki Ritavuori was shot dead at his home in Etu-Töölö, at Nervanderinkatu 11, on 14 February 1922.

Ernst Tandefelt, who had fired the murder weapon, was a mentally underdeveloped black sheep of a noble family. He stated that based on newspaper reports, and particularly Hufvudstadsbladet information supporting Swedish-speaking activists, he had concluded that Ritavuori was indeed a danger to the country, and thought he had to be eliminated. In court, Tandefelt said he had acted alone, and he was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor as partially legally insane. Afterwards, Tandefelt implicated several people, including the pharmacist Oskar Jansson and the general-major Paul von Gerich, who he said were involved in planning the murder. Research done by the chancellor of justice in 1927-30 did not result in any evidence that would have caused further actions in the matter. The decision was an understandable solution in the increasingly right-wing atmosphere of the time. However, many facts pointed to the theory that the initiative-less Tandefelt was supported by, if not a full conspiracy, then at least radical political actors, mostly Finland-Swedish Civil Guard activists, who encouraged Tandefelt to kill Ritavuori by giving him the murder weapon and some money.

Other notes

Heikki Ritavuori, only 41 years old at the time of his death, was a heavy-duty government figure whom several parties saw as a potential new president.

Heikki Ritavuori fennicised his name in 1906. His younger brother Eero Rydman was a member of parliament from the Progressive Party, the mayor of Helsinki for 12 years, and a presidential candidate of the People's Party of Finland in 1956. Ritavuori's grandson, professor Pekka Tarjanne, was the chairman of the Liberal People's Party, a member of the parliament, a government minister, chairman of the board of the Post and Telephone Bureau, and chairman of the board of the ITU.


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  1. "Council of State - Ministers of Interior". Valtioneuvosto.fi. Retrieved 27 December 2017.

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