Pearl of the Month
Gösta Serlachius' diplomatic passport of the Odessan consul
Diplomatic passport of the Odessan consul belonging to Gösta Serlachius
At the turn of August and September in 1918, while the first World War still continued, Gösta Serlachius ventured on diplomatic and commercial assignments in Ukraine. The Finnish Senate had granted Serlachius a diplomatic passport. It enabled him to establish trade relations and find new markets for Finnish paper that had suffered losses on closure of the Russian market during the revolution.
The Ukraine had declared its independency on 22 January 1918 after the Russian revolution and a multifaceted series of events. Herman Gummerus was chosen Finland’s representative for the embassy to be established in Kiev. He had participated in the operations of ”The League of Peoples Oppressed by Russia” and knew personally some Ukrainian leaders operating abroad. Gummerus also drew up a writing on Finland and its liberation movement that was considered similar to the conditions in Ukraine. It was translated into Ukrainian and published in a local magazine.
The newly established Association of Finnish Paper Mills stressed the importance of organizing the trade of paper with Ukraine. “Two most representative men of the Association”, distinguished in the civil war, Colonel Gösta Serlachius and Major General Rudolf Walden themselves offered to travel to Ukraine. They suspected their task would be considerably easier, if they could present themselves as nominated consuls of the territory.
A consul “ad interim” nominated by Finnish Government, Serlachius travelled in August to Odessa, where he established a consulate. Its management was in practice entrusted to the secretary of the consulate. Walden was nominated a consul in Kiev. The Association of Finnish Paper Mills established an office in Kiev, Odessa, Kharkov and Rostov and, supported by the Senate, was appointed to take care of the paper trade and related exchange trade with Ukraine.
The travel to Kiev was accomplished through Berlin, where the gentlemen Serlachius and Walden negotiated the paper transports’ right of way through the territories occupied by the central powers of the first World War. On August 20 they had dealt with the matter and embarked on the Warsaw express train and “at dinner time on the 22nd we arrived at Kiev, where a ceremonial reception was held at the station” recalled Herman Gummerus.
Soon upon arriving, difficult negotiations were commenced that resulted in obtaining a trade agreement. It said that the Association of the Finnish Paper Mills would sell 10–16 Mio kilograms paper to Ukraine during the year 1918 and that Finland would receive sugar in exchange. Ukraine suffered from a real lack of paper, thus there was an immense desire to buy.
“Every following evening I saw the gentlemen Walden and Serlachius return to the hotel with their eyes shining with joy. They have yet again been able to sell for so and so many millions’ worth”, recalled Gummerus. On the 20th September, when the paper-for-sugar deal was closed, Walden and Serlachius travelled to Berlin to be able to sort out the matter also with the Germans. The instrument for full powers to sign the agreement was signed and it seemed confirmed that a productive exchange of goods between Finland and Ukraine had commenced.
Gummerus wrote diligently reports but doubted, whether there were any foreign affairs’ officials who were interested in the situation of Ukraine. ”Instead of making political reports, I and two most eminent industrialists were send to Kiev because that way the Association of the Paper Mills and hence the whole country would be given an opportunity to earn money and Finland could in return get relief for its food shortage”, he stated.
Gummerus had been looking into being able to close a general trade agreement and it looked promising. “But it had been destined”, that the trade agreement would be buried, as was the case also with the laboriously achieved sugar-for-paper deal. In November 1918, the first paper consignment was sent from Finland, but its transport became impossible because of the armistice in Germany. The paper remained on hold for a while in Riga, where it was robbed by the Bolsheviks in January 1919. The People’s Republic supported by the Russians seized the power in Ukraine.