14 July 2018 **** Front Page

Sofi Oksanen's misleading account of Finlandisation

By Tapani Lausti

In an article headlined A Soviet shadow looms over the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki (The Guardian, 11 July 2018) Finnish-Estonian writer Sofi Oksanen joins a growing number of commentators who exaggerate how thoroughly “Finlandisation” corrupted much of Finnish politics and culture during the Soviet era. Often they are young commentators, like Oksanen, who did not live through those years. They have no personal experience of the politics in question.

Oksanen offers a view of Soviet-era Finland as a cowed country which was in the Kremlin's tight grip. It seems that she bases this interpretation on the behavior of the part of the political establishment which either believed that the Soviet Union was the future of the world or which opportunistically kowtowed to Moscow in order to advance their own career. Much of the rest of the population did not have strong opinions either way. Most people were not too worried about Russian influence.

One reason for an exaggerated view of Soviet influence was the role of an aggressive pro-Moscow cultural and political elite. This minority movement indeed believed that the Soviet Union was a truly revolutionary country, if not a paradise, at least on the way there. Contrary to Oksanen's claim, this world view collapsed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. She tends to exaggerate the depth of the culture of Finlandisation.

Oksanen gives the impression that the Soviet Union influenced practically every aspect of life in Finland. In this context, Oksanen mentions also the press. It is true that some parts of the press wrote carefully about Soviet affairs, but only the pro-Moscow press used admiring language. Even the majority of the Finnish communist party was doubtful about many aspects of the Soviet model.

The Finnish state radio news office where I worked as a young commentator did not employ pro-Soviet journalists. And during my short stints in Moscow in the late 1970s, I was able to broadcast critical reports on Soviet life and politics. Russian officials didn't complain. I never had a feeling that the Soviets would pose a real danger to Finland. I was familiar with studies which already in the 1970s forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union. The terminal illness of the Soviet system was camouflaged under propaganda which in spite of its lack of credibility seemed to convince many influential Finns.

As to Vladimir Putin's intentions, Oksanen claims that the Russian leader wants to repeat a form of Finlandisation in parts of Europe. She believes that Russia is capable of influencing other powers' decision-making by smuggling in information that leads to pro-Moscow choices. She uses as an example the unproven Russian influence on the US presidential election.

Oksanen is part of the growing trend among some Finnish commentators who emphasise the importance of Finland being a part of the West. Talking about “neutrality” is part of the language of Finlandisation, she claims. Many like-minded Finns rhapsodize about “Western values”. We are told that internalising these values is essential for a feeling of national security. The ultimate aim is to join NATO. The West's crimes against international law and human rights are ignored.

Recently there has been a lot of speculation in the Finnish media about a possible Russian invasion of Finland and even of Sweden through Finnish territory. The commentaries usually have nothing to say about Russian motives for such behaviour or the consequences of occupying hostile nations. Some clear-headed commentators, however, do point out that such military actions would create economic chaos in Russia, Finland and Sweden. But the hysteria about Russian intentions which has spread in much of the West, has influenced also a part of Finnish commentariat. Rational analyses too often lose to a hatred of all things Russian.


Archive: Finland's foreign and security policy, Finland's political history, Russia, NATO


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