September 2001

Children of Brezhnevites

Finnish-Soviet relations have been under constant scrutiny ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many pro-Soviet Finns have been expressing regret for their previous sympathies, many pro-Western Finns have been enjoying a feeling of superiority for having always been opposed to "Communism". Now a new angle has been added to this self-exploration, that of the children of ex-Brezhnevites.

The Green weekly newspaper Vihreä Lanka (24 August 2001) has published a feature article about children who had grown up in a very political and pro-Soviet atmosphere and then were perplexed as their parents suddenly gave up their ideology and declared new political allegiances. How did the children cope?

Vihreä Lanka interviews writer Laura Honkasalo who has just published a novel based on the experiences of such children. Called Sinun lapsesi eivät ole sinun (Your children are not yours), the book tells the story of Nelli and Juri who grew up in the 70s as members of the communist pioneers organisation, became adolescents in the market-orientated 80s and slowly became adults in the 90s. Honkasalo explores these children's difficulties.

"Apparently at least, it has been easier for adults to forget the ideologies which they earlier saw as important and to change their views perhaps to opposite to what they believed in their youth. Children, on the other hand, retain in their minds strong emotions of the era — the political conflicts between good and bad, right and wrong."

For Honkasalo herself, her parents change of world view was a dramatic experience. She and her brother disapproved when their parents no longer wanted to participate in the First of May marches.

Honkasalo says that through fiction she wanted to present an alternative viewpoint to the current debate on Finlandisation. She complains that only negative phenomena have been talked about, and often only a parody of the era has been offered. For Honkasalo, part of the experience of the 70s was a feeling of communality, friendship, caring for others, tolerance and solidarity.

"In spite of all, I think it was great that children were taught what is right and what is wrong in society. Nowadays it seems often that parents dare not teach any kind of morality to their children, fearing that they will brainwash them."

Honkasalo's observations create an impression that many ex-Brezhnevites' children have retained some of their parents idealism even after their parents world view collapsed.

Another peculiar echo of the pro-Soviet movement of the era was the re-emergence in the 90s of an interest in the agitprop culture of the 70s. Vihreä Lanka interviews an historian, Jukka Relander, who says that this phenomenon cannot only be explained by a nostalgia for a "golden" childhood or ideologically simple thinking on the conflict between good and bad. Relander thinks that for some, the 70s ideological world is fascinating because it fulfils many vacuums of the present time.

"The need to belong to something and feel committed to some issues are missing from the present. For young people they are, however, extremely important experiences which are now being sought by feeling nostalgic about the 70s."

See also:

The legacy of communism

30 January 2001

From the shadow of Russia to a nation among nations

5 November 1999

Was Finnish media silenced by the Soviet Union?

February 1999

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