Häyhä - Just a Street Name
Streetnames are the city´s memory register, they provide an orientation and navigation system through spaces and their infrastructure. By bearing names of certain themes such as e.g. poets, fairy tales, nature, history, personalities and many more, streets and places relate to peoples memories, knowledge and phantasy, which triggers thinking processes and generates recognition values.
Groups of streetnames form entire theme-areas and neighbourhoods, that are being associated with specific subject-matters, defined by characters and keywords, through the people´s knowledge about the indicated topics.
Since streetnames are directely related with the city as well as the nation´s history, they are being used as tributes to prominent personalities as a sort of honoration or monument.
Though these monuments can be short-lived depending on political changes and circumstances the names are being replaced and the streets renamed.
Who decides which names and personalities are worth being honored, and does this mean that the honoration goes along with a common and public accordance? How much can one streetname or a theme define the place and the people´s perception of the area, and how far does it effect the inhabitant´s relation to it?
In a country which always found itself in a geopolitically complicated two-sided/or neutral position, with a conspicious nationalistic notion, claiming its certain right of innocence, an artist group went on the quest for a streetname with a meaning-twist in it, that we could challenge due to the before mentioned questions and catchwords.
There are many things that could suggest that the street is named after
Simo Häyhä. First of all, he seems to be more well-known, at least in
our time and especially among the older generations. As it is registered in the city´s street name archive, Häyhäntie was named after a Finnish writer and teacher, who lived during the 19th century, and about who almost nobody knows and information is very rare to find.
Simo Häyhä is known internationally, which can be ascertained from the myriad articles and pages in different languages that can be found searching for his name on the Internet. What his fame is based on is put forward in a clear manner in the song by the Swedish power metal band Sabaton: “Hundreds of kills, a man and his rifle, embody the sisu of Finns”. Sisu is Finnish for something that would translate to stamina, spirit or resolve.
It is difficult to know for certain but Simo Häyhä was probably widely known in 1954, only 9 years after the end of the Continuation War, when the name of Sammaltie (Mossvägen in Swedish, literally translates into English as Moss Street) was changed to Häyhäntie (Häyhävägen, Häyhä Street). The war interpretation of Häyhäntie is aided by the history of the site. It is part of an old defensive perimeter made up of trenches and bunkers that were built by the Russian Empire to protect the then capitol of St. Petersburg. These bunkers are now being used by the locals as boiler rooms, saunas and storage space so they are very much part of their everyday lives.
An interesting parallel can be drawn from the locals reclaiming these wartime spaces to them reclaiming their surrounding street names.
Because of Simo Häyhä (or alternatively, affecting the interpretation of Häyhäntie as being named after Simo, not Johannes) the other street names of the area start to appear as wartime references the prime example of which is the Parikkalantie. It was the site of an important battle in the war but officially it belongs to the name group of archeological sites
and ancient settlements (also Humikkalantie). The other name group for this particular area is famous Eastern Finnish folk researchers (Häyhä, Raussi, Klami).
Rautjärvi, where both Häyhäs originate, is also on the Finnish-Russian border and the Häyhä farm, said Johannes in his autobiography, was always burned down during wartime because it was by an important
road. These wartime connotations seem to pop up everywhere when investigating this area and the Häyhäs. Of course this could also be our research question completely guiding our perception and making it impossible to see the possible conflicting evidence even if it were in front of our eyes.