TUVJ 9/2014 Russia as a Neighbour s. 104-105
A Legacy of Finlandisation and Russia
Timo Vihavainen, professor, University of Helsinki
Associated with the history of Fenno-Soviet relations during the period of so-called Finlandisation, i.e. mainly the 1960s to the 1980s, and also a key component of it, was a political culture that saw Soviet concepts and a Soviet frame of reference being used in Finland, a capitalist country, and attempts being made to promote both Finland’s and one’s own party’s political success also through maintaining direct relations with our neighbouring country.
Two things that I would personally distinguish between as precisely as possible in this context are the political collaboration line, which was both largely dictated by circumstances for Finland as a state, and also in many respects useful, and the side effects that this phenomenon gave rise to in circles of political culture.
What is clear in any case is that, examined in hindsight, many of the phenomena of that era prompt negative reactions ranging from embarrassment all the way to moral outrage. This understandably leads to a striving to disown the heritage in question and often also to unreasonable condemnation, which is founded on an insufficient understanding of history.
It is a typical feature of history that assessments of the merits and failings of various eras are developed using a formula of excesses trending in opposite directions. What is condemned today will become a focus of praise tomorrow, and vice versa. And the day after tomorrow everything will be different again. This is understandable and for all we know inevitable.
Typically enough, there is no desire at the moment to find anything positive about the era of so-called Finlandisation, or at least it is very rare to see such an attempt being made. However, vigorously taking distance from events then and condemning the entire era can easily mean wasting the positive legacy that we have. This can cause clear harm to the whole country.
It is worth, namely, remembering that the era in question bequeathed to Finland a considerable stock of goodwill on the part of Russia, something that emerged in special circumstance and with the support of a totalitarian mechanism. As a Russian study (A. Rupasov) shows, after the 1950s Soviet newspapers gave up writing negatively about Finland and their coverage became positive instead.
This was included in the fringe benefits of the so-called shop window policy and no other country enjoyed a comparable benefit. To this could also be added the esteem that Finland has enjoyed in broad strata of the population as a result of the prowess as soldiers displayed during the Second World War. The cruelties that are always part of total war likewise remained relatively few during the two conflicts between Finland and the Soviet
Union, especially because Finland for its part limited its warfaring activities to some degree.
The fact that Finland enjoyed both esteem and liking among Soviet citizens is a legacy that also foreigners notice and which it would be silly to lose. On the contrary, maintaining it demands efforts, because nowadays Finland has already lost the special position on the propaganda front that it once had.
Neutrality, a reputation as a dependable and irreproachable neighbour whose honesty is legendary, can be a force that is worth many divisions also in today’s world. It is possible that the Finns no longer have what it takes to preserve and cherish this kind of capital, because a desire to sit at big tables in the company of circles belonging to a larger frame of reference is in many ways too powerful to withstand and the intellectual capacity to understand the advantages of other alternatives is not necessarily sufficient, either.
Doubtless also present-day Russia is a lot more unpredictable and uncontrolled actor than was the Soviet Union, the stability of which was regarded as axiomatic and the needs of which with respect to Finland were satisfied so well by a policy centred on the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance that changing the situation there would have been obvious stupidity.
Historically, we are now very close to the situation that obtained in the period between the world wars, more specifically to 1935, when we awoke to the realisation that the international community does not guarantee peace.
In the 1930s we also refused to join a military alliance, but it was apparently imagined that some kind of Germany option existed. A miracle saved the country’s independence in the Winter War, but it can be asked what kind of security accepting Germany’s guarantees in 1939 would have provided, let alone those offered by the Soviet Union.