Vasarahammer takes the reader through 60 years of Finnish recent history, starting with the very beginnings of “Finlandization”. Offering a rare Finnish perspective to the country’s political domination by the Soviet Union, Vasarahammer shows the effects “Finlandization” has had on Finland’s own political system, the academy, media and the public at large. KGS
When Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen apologized for the publication of Muhammad cartoons in Suomen Sisu website, he became the first and only Western leader to publicly grovel in front of radical Islam because of the cartoons. Some may wonder why a Finnish Prime Minister would do such a thing. Finland has little experience with Islam and a relatively small Muslim minority especially compared to other Nordic countries like Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
Of course, the simple explanation is the fact that a Finnish company Patria, was in the middle of concluding an arms deal with Kuwait. However, there is another side to the story, which brought back memories from another, not so distant period of Finnish history.
Finlandization as a term was invented in Germany back in the 70’s and used first in political discourse by the late Franz Josef Strauss in order to oppose normalization of relations with the DDR (East Germany). Finland was used as an example, because Finnish foreign policy was completely subservient to the interests of Soviet Union. Appeasement was the default mode and only option in Finnish foreign policy up to the disintegration of the USSR in 1991.
Road to Finlandization
Some people in Europe and the United States remember Finland from the Winter war of 1939-40 during which brave Finnish soldiers resisted the Soviet invasion without outside assistance. Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany had agreed in the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that Finland would be part of the Soviet sphere of influence. Finnish government unaware of the existence of the pact declined the Soviet demands of ceding territories and allowing the Soviet Union to have a military base in Hanko. The Red Army attacked after staging an event called “Mainilan laukaukset” (Shelling of Mainila), at which Finnish military allegedly shot to the Soviet side of the border in the village of Mainila. This event bears a striking resemblance to the way Russians “responded” to the Georgian aggression in South Ossetia.
What non-Finns usually don’t know is the fact that Winter War was followed by the Continuation war between 1941 and 1944. During that war Finland allied itself with Nazi Germany to gain back the territories lost after the Winter War. This war ended in defeat for the Finns but Finland managed to agree to a separate peace with the Soviet Union before the fall of Nazi regime.
The conditions of the peace agreement were harsh. Finland had to cede Karelia and Petsamo regions to the Soviet Union and the Soviets also gained a military base in the Porkkala peninsula, which is located very close to the capital city of Helsinki. Allied commission led by Andrey Zhdanov arrived in Finland to monitor Finnish compliance with the conditions of the peace agreement.
In post war Finland there was a great fear of Communist coup d’etat, which failed to materialize despite the fact that the Communists scored a landslide victory in the first post war parliamentary elections and managed to occupy key positions in the government including the Ministry of Interior and State Police (Valpo). The failure of the Communists was not mainly due to their incompetence, since the Finnish democratic system of government had remained intact during the war years. The key Communist politicians were either imprisoned or living in exile in the USSR. They had little ability to mobilize the crowds or make the state bureaucracy compliant with their goals. In addition, Social Democrats that had supported Finnish war effort were effective in their attempts to counter the Communist influence in trade unions and major industrial workplaces.
The 1948 election resulted in a heavy defeat for the Communists and they have remained a marginal political force ever since. However, the key event in Finnish post war history took place in the following year. Finno-Soviet friendship treaty (Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance) sealed the relations between the two countries for decades to come. It included the so called military articles, which made Finland a de facto military ally of the Soviet Union.
The treaty also paved the way for continuing Soviet interference in Finnish internal affairs, since the parties of the agreement tried to use the treaty to pursue different goals. The Soviet Union tried to use the treaty to push Finland closer to itself, but the Finnish side utilised the agreement to pursue neutrality in international affairs. In the end, both sides failed to achieve their targets.
During the Kekkonen years all opposition to Kekkonen’s foreign policy, the main theme of which were friendly relations to the eastern neighbor, was crushed. Having first gained control of his own party, the centrist Agrarian League (later Center Party), he turned on the Social Democrats, who at the time were led by people who had supported the war against the Soviets and remained sceptical to Kekkonen’s policy towards the USSR.
The attempt by Social Democrats and the conservative National Coalition Party to overthrow Kekkonen in 1962 presidential election was subverted by a Soviet “note” presented by the Party leader Nikita Khruschev explaining the threat from Federal Republic of Germany and the countries allied with it. The content of the note bore little resemblance to reality but it was worded according the articles in Finno-Soviet Friendship treaty and the purpose of the note was to make sure that Kekkonen was elected for the second term.
The note made the candidate of Social Democrats and Coalition Party, Olavi Honka, withdraw from the presidential race leading to a landslide victory for Kekkonen. It also made Social Democrats change their attitude towards Kekkonen’s foreign policy leaving the Coalition Party the only one of the three major political parties opposed to Kekkonen’s policy.
60’s radicalism Finnish style and the heyday of Finlandization
Finland also has a ‘baby-boom’ generation which was born during the post war years and was larger than any other generation before and after. In the 1960’s students revolted in Finnish universities like in any other European country. However, by the beginning of the 70’s the radicalism took a worrying turn towards pro-Soviet Communism quite unlike in other European countries.
The movement was called Taistolaisuus (‘Taistoism’) named after the leader of the pro-Soviet faction of the Finnish Communist Party, Taisto Sinisalo. Several prominent politicians and even corporate leaders in today’s Finland have their roots in the Taistoist movement. In addition, political activism was rife in other parties as well. The current Finnish president, Tarja Halonen, was active in promoting the recognition of the DDR and opposing the trade agreement with the then EEC (today’s EU).
During the 70’s a generation of politicians with no experience of the war grew up and they did not share their parents’ reservations concerning the USSR. The Soviet Embassy in Tehtaankatu 5 became the place to forge contacts with the eastern neighbor and boost one’s foreign policy credentials. The state broadcaster YLE became a mouthpiece of pro-Soviet propaganda etc.
However, the larger Finnish population remained immune to the excesses of Finlandization. Good relations to the Soviet Union were seen as a necessity but this would not translate into support of communism as such. Many people had visited the Soviet Union and seen the inferior standard of living and the police state. Few excluding the die hard communists wanted to have such a system in Finland.
During the dark days of Finlandization there were excesses but nobody was sent to Gulag for dissent. However, the politicians who did not agree with Kekkonen’s foreign policy were marginalized and could not hold key government positions. The Soviet defectors that crossed the border were routinely returned unless they managed to reach Sweden. Politically the most important thing was the marginalization of the conservative Coalition Party, which was sidelined from the government for decades because of “general reasons” meaning that the party was considered unreliable by the Soviet Union. The situation was changed as late as in 1987 when Harri Holkeri of the Coalition Party became the Prime Minister.
Post Cold War situation
However, the Finnish political elite had grown accustomed to Finlandization and showed little desire to break free from the Soviet influence. This was best shown in the meagre support to the independence movements in the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. At this stage the current Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen comes into view. Vanhanen was a latecomer in the era of Finlandization but the op-ed piece he wrote in 1985 shows he has internalized the rules of the game. In his op-ed Vanhanen criticizes the Baltic emigrant groups who organized a demonstration in Helsinki. I quote one part of the article (translated by me):
“There are many people in Finland who have concerns over our brother nations (meaning Fenno-Ugric peoples in general) within the Soviet society. In my opinion, the better cooperation among brother nations is done by linguists, who work in Komi Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic among Fenno-Ugric languages. In addition, the enormous Tallinn Song Festival proved that there is a strong national culture within Soviet Estonia. And in the history of brother nations spanning thousands of years the difference between communism and capitalism is insignificant.”
Vanhanen expresses his disapproval to the aspirations of Baltic emigrants that organized the rally. Personally, he might have sympathized the plight of Baltic nations, but he considered Finnish foreign policy more important. And according to the logic of Finno-Soviet Friendship Treaty there could be no sympathy expressed by a Finnish politician for the fate of nations living under Soviet oppression.
Finlandization and immigration
There are two factors that distinguish Finland from neighboring Sweden, from which the Finnish welfare state model has been copied. The one that I have mention in this article, Finlandization, is an important factor but the other is a history of emigration that continued up to the 70’s. Due to the population growth and resettlement of refugees coming from territories ceded to the Soviet Union, there was a surplus of young people in the late 60’s and early 70’s. This population growth resulted in the migration to the Finnish population centers and to Sweden that still needed immigrant labor.
In the 70’s Finland was also significantly poorer compared to Sweden, and this situation only changed during the 80’s and 90’s. So Finland avoided the mass immigration that Sweden has greatly suffered from. Finnish immigration policy remained strict during the 80’s, even though there were calls from the media and the leftist academics to loosen the “refugee policy” as immigration policy was called at the time. But foreign policy and friendly relations towards the USSR remained the focus of Finnish political establishment, which partly prevented mass immigration from taking place.
Ironically, it was the collapse of the Soviet Union that forced Finland to face its first wave of Muslim immigration. Trainloads of Somalis arrived by train and by ferry from the Soviet Union in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The immigration wave was due to the collapse of Mohammed Siad Barre regime in Somalia. The Somalis that arrived were mostly studying in Moscow and were left stranded by the economic collapse of the Soviet State as well as the disintegration of the Siad Barre regime.
The Somalis arrived in the early 90’s in the middle of the heaviest economic recessions ever experienced in Finnish history. The authorities were baffled and had no idea what to do with the refugees. Eventually the Somalis were allowed to stay, not because of political correctness, but because the authorities did not know what to do about them. This situation gradually changed towards more mainstream European refugee and immigration policy.
In today’s Finland multiculturalism and political correctness rule the day the same way as in other Western European countries. But because of the short history of mass immigration, the societal development together with other effects of immigration lag behind. Finland is roughly 20 years behind in the development of “multicultural” society. However, if the current academic, media and political elite have their way, the situation may change very rapidly.
Prime Minister Vanhanen has talked a lot about the so called “New Finns” meaning that his party will look for “New Finns” as candidates in upcoming elections. In addition, his Center-Right government has named Astrid Thors of Swedish People’s Party as the Minister of Immigration and European affairs. Together with immigration friendly bureaucrats this has brought a new policy called “work-related immigration”, which looks nice in theory but in practice means loosening of refugee and asylum seeker policy of previous governments.
The policy towards Islam has also changed. After 9/11 Khodr Chehab, the leader of a Finnish Muslim community, appeared together in Senate square with the Finnish Lutheran Archbishop Jukka Paarma. The significance of the moment was lost by many, but it first showed, how the Finnish establishment was eager to appease Islam the same way Finnish establishment appeased the Soviet Union.
But it was the cartoon crisis that finally exposed the attitude of the Finnish political elite. Not only did Prime Minister Vanhanen apologize for the publication of the cartoons but the police started an investigation concerning the publication of Muhammad cartoons by Suomen Sisu. The publication was followed by fierce calls of exercise of “responsible freedom of speech” as well as outright calls to the authorities to prosecute the publications in all manners provided by the law. The choir was lead by Coalition Party MP Jari Vilen, who stated:
“It is extremely unpleasant that there are people in our country that are ready to endanger national security. It has been made clear to all that the publication of the cartoons deeply offends Muslim religious sensibilities.”
Vilen himself represented a party that had been banned from government due to “general reasons” during the 70’s and 80’s. Suomen Sisu organization were never prosecuted, since the State Prosecutor concluded that the intent was not to offend but to present a political statement for freedom of expression. This freedom was not, however, taken seriously by the Finnish mainstream media who have so far never published the cartoons in full.
It is not yet clear, if the Finnish public in general has bought the line of islam as a religion of peace. The political elite lead by the leading islamic scholar Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila try their best to portray islam in a favorable light. At the same time, there is no political party dedicated to anti-immigration or anti-jihad the same way as in other Nordic countries. The main Finnish anti-establishment party Perussuomalaiset (the True Finns) has its roots in anti-Kekkonen activism of the early 70’s and has not taken a firm stand against islamization and mass immigration with the exception of former Finnish MP Tony Halme (better known in the US as all-star wrestler Ludwig Borga) who screwed up his political career in one boozy night in his Helsinki home in the summer of 2005.
Halme’s political career is over, but he managed to attract voters from Helsinki suburbs that were affected by immigration and had not been politically active before Halme’s ascendance. Today, the best known anti-immigration and anti-islam activist comes from the academic circles. His name is Jussi Halla-aho and this doctor of Slavic studies is the best known and most consistent critic of mass immigration and Islamic supremacism Finland has ever seen. Halla-aho’s ascendancy to fame has been made possible by the internet but this has not yet made him a permanent feature of Finnish political establishment.