Finland and Finlandization
Sakari Sariola looks at the relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union.
The term ‘Finlandization’ coined by the German political scientist Richard Lowenthal in 1961 in the wake of the Berlin crisis. He used it to warn about the Soviet Union's efforts to gain influence in Europe by the same oppressive methods they used on Finland. The term has since been used in a generalisable and even 'hysterical' connotation reflecting Western anxieties over the shift in the world balance of power feared to follow from the Soviets dealing bilaterally with any given West European country which does not belong to NATO or otherwise does not fall under American protection. In this application Finlandization entails a gloomy prospect of a future 'when West European nations may discover themselves militarily surrounded, economically beleaguered and psychologically isolated... having to draw the consequences', as Walter Hahn has put it.
Finland's case demonstrates, the 'Finlandizisers' argue, that tolerance to Soviet pressure inevitably results in a partial loss of independence without necessarily putting Communists into power in the 'Finlandizised' country. As Finlandization in this meaning cannot be a 'natural' response in foreign policy, the Atlantic Community must meet the challenge it presents by regaining confidence in its ability to become once more the master of its own destiny.
On the other hand there are writers who minimize the generic aspect of Finlandization and stress the unique aspects of Soviet-Finnish relations. These writers point out Finland's proximity to the Soviet Union, and that as a country it stands alone and therefore does not possess resources and capacities comparable with those available to the allied west European nations. The capacity to withstand Soviet pressure, they maintain, calls for political strength, self-confidence, a knowledge of functional deterrent in case the present detente breaks down, and other prerequisites that Finland lacks.
The following characteristics of Finland's position have been pointed out: the Finns stay out of international alignments unless the Soviets approve of these; Finland seeks a balance in its cultural and trade relations between East and West; the Finns practice self-censorship when dealing with Soviet affairs in their mass media; Finland does not oppose the Soviet foreign policy in the international arena; and Finland accepts in principle a commitment, upon mutual consultation, to side with the Soviet Union in the hypothetical event of a European war.
'Finlandization' has also been put to an opposite use as a projected solution to the Soviet Union's security problem in Poland and in other Warsaw Pact countries, as well as in Afghanistan. In this reverse application, the argument goes as follows. Since it is the Soviet Union's wish to maintain in the West a 'glacis' of European border countries which do not militarily or politically act under foreign compulsion, the Finnish model has proved that their security needs can be fulfilled even if a 'glacis' country enjoys substantial sovereignty, or adheres to the free-market system, or otherwise opts for a democratic way of life.
All these applications of 'Finlandization' overlook the historical context of the development of Russo-Finnish relationships. Since its early history, Finland's destiny has depended on its relationship with Sweden, Russia and Germany. In the years prior to the Russian Revolution Finland became fatally split on issues relating to its ties with these countries. Whereas the Finnish bourgeoisie envisioned Scandinavian-type independence and ties with Germany, the socialists envisioned worldwide revolutions arising from the collapse of war-torn capitalist states: first in Russia and thereafter in Finland.
By 1918, with assistance from revolutionary Russian soldiers stationed in Finland, the revolutionary wing prevailed among the Finnish socialists. Both the 'Red Guard' and the 'White Guard' tightened their organisation. The 'Jaegers', a Finnish voluntary battalion militarily trained in Germany, were secretly brought home. As a civil war broke out, Carl Gustav Mannerheim, Finnish-born Lieutenant General with the Russian army of the Interim Government in Russia, took charge of the White Guards in Ostrobothnia. In Helsinki, the Reds formed a Council of People's Commissars, under which soviets were formed to be in charge of the local administration.
Mannerheim, although anti-Bolshevik, looked upon the Germans as a threat. Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, Head of the White government, seeing in a Finnish Leftist revolutionary victory a stepping stone towards world revolution, and failing in his attempt to form a Nordic alliance against Bolshevik Russia, turned to the Germans for assistance. He engaged the Germans in a plan to militarily intervene in Finland to expel from there the remaining Russian troops. In April 1918, when Mannerheim won a decisive victory over the Red Guards in Tampere, the Germans marched toward Helsinki, where they staged a victory parade.
Under Mannerheim, however, Finland dissolved its dependency on Germany. His successor in the presidency, K.J. Stihlberg, recognised Petrograd's safety and frustrated the Finnish ultra- nationalists' plans for military intervention in East Karelia. In 1920 this area was organised into a Workers' Commune and in 1923 it became the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Karelia.
The defeated Finnish Red leaders escaped to Russia, where they organised into a Finnish Communist Party in exile and gained key positions both in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Comintern. Whereas Finnish communism became associated with subversion, parliamentary-revisionist social democracy, under Vaino Tanner, made gains among the Finnish working class.
In the 1920 Tartu peace talks, the Soviet Union first brought up the issue of Leningrad's security, asking that the Finns pull back westward the frontier across the Karelian Isthmus and cede to Russia the islands in the Gulf of Finland. The Finns denied the request. However, when Maxim M. Litvinov, Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, worked out a network of mutual agreements of non-aggression and co-operation between the Soviet Union and its small border states, the Finns signed in 1932 a non-aggression agreement and thereby became partners in Russia's security policy along its western borders.
A violently anti-communist movement spread within the Lutheran fundamentalist rural communities in Ostrobothnia. It expanded into a nation-wide anti-communist crusade with its parliamentary arm in a fascist-style 'Patriotic Folk Movement'.
In the mid-1930s the Russians paid serious attention to a rumour of an agreement whereby the Germans promised Finland military assistance against possible attack by the Soviet Union, Boris Yartsev, Stalin's special emissary at the Soviet Embassy in Helsinki, tried to draw the Finns into mutual agreements involving frontier adjustments, Soviet participation in measures to guarantee the defence of the Aland Islands, and a renewal of the pact of non-aggression. The Finns refused these suggestions. At a time when France sought rapprochement with the Soviet Union and Great Britain agreed to assist the Soviet Union in case of 'direct or indirect' aggression by Germany against the countries in the Soviet sphere of interest, Finland, in case of war, would militarily depend on Germany. Rupprecht von Keller, Aide at the German Embassy in Helsinki, assessed Finland's isolated position realistically: In case of Russian aggression, he reported to his government in 1937, Finland would still rely on Germany for assistance. 'Politicians determine the trend in times of peace', he wrote, 'but military considerations and military traditions determine it in times of war.'
In August 1939, Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact: secret clauses in this pact assigned Finland, Estonia, Latvia, most of Lithuania and the eastern part of Poland to the Soviet sphere of interest. The Soviet Union sent invitations to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to negotiate demands for military co-operation and these countries signed pacts involving the establishment of Soviet military bases in their territory. When Molotov, in early November 1939, sent an invitation to the Finnish Ambassador in Moscow to negotiate on 'concrete political issues', the Finns prolonged the discussions in Moscow and refused to permit the Russians to build a naval base in Hanko, near Helsinki. As Berlin, Stockholm and London advised the Finnish government to make 'wise concessions', the political climate in Finland was imbued with a belief in justice, in Finland's mission as the 'outpost of the West' and in the basic vulnerability of the Soviet system. Negotiations in Moscow reached an impasse, and the Finnish Communist exile Otto W. Kuusinen convinced the Russians that Finland was on the brink of revolution and that a military solution was called for.
The possibility of intervention in Finland took a political dimension in the Soviet thinking as a continuity to the Finnish Civil War. Moscow's decision to invade Finland was hastened by the Soviet military's conviction that unless the Soviet Union secured control over Finland, the Germans would do it first. Stalin no longer looked for alternatives other than war. The Finns installed a new government willing to reopen negotiations with Russia but .it was too late to stop the war. In late November, the Soviet Union set up a Finnish People's Liberation Government under Kuusinen at Terijoki, a Finnish frontier town overtaken by the Russians. The Finns, more convinced than ever that the Soviet invasion was politically motivated, braced for war. The Finish Left had not recovered from the shock it received when Hitler and Stalin made a pact in 1939; the Right was disappointed by the Germans' callousness in the face of Finland's predicament. As the war proceeded the Soviet Union, however, failed, in their plans to cut Finland in two by moving towards Oulu in the north and marching on the capital in the south. They only maintained their superiority in the air. Making use of a respite in the war operations, the Finns fought for time, and the government intensified its efforts to enlist assistance from abroad.
On March 5th, 1940, the Finnish government decided to accept the Soviet Union's terms including the release of Hanko as a naval base for thirty years, the concession of the Karelian Isthmus and the areas West of it up to the old frontier line of Peter the Great, and the conclusion of a mutual Pact of Assistance. It is possible that Stalin had decided to drop the Kuusinen government and to bring the war with Finland to an early end in order to forestall Western military intervention in northern Scandinavia.
In the autumn of 1940, Goering's envoy General Theo Veltjens secretly arrived in Helsinki to discuss an arms' purchase by Finland from Germany. Nickel concessions in the Petsamo region on the Arctic and a transit permission for German troops through Finnish territory to Norway were also discussed. Subsequently the Finnish generals Paavo Talvela and Erik Heinrichs discussed in Germany, on a 'hypothetical basis', the possibility of Finnish participation in Hitler's 'Operation Barbarossa'.
Finnish-German discussions led to a joint military plan of attack on the Soviet Union projected to include three advance lines through Finland. From Lapland, a German operation was to be launched to secure the control of the Petsamo nickel mines and later the blockade of Murmansk. Further south, a German attack was to intercept the Murmansk railway. On the Finnish front to the southeast, Finnish troops were to be deployed to obtain Leningrad's encirclement from the north and northwest while the Germans would attack the city through the Baltic area from the south.
Plans for Finnish participation in 'Operation Barbarossa' violated the 1939 German-Soviet Pact of Non-Aggression. When Molotov pointed out the violation to Hitler in mid-November 1940, the latter's response was evasive. Germany did not wish a new conflict in the Baltic, Hitler said; however, as long as the war lasted, he was interested in the supplies of nickel and timber from Finland. Hitler did not deny that according to the German-Soviet Pact Finland fell under the Soviet sphere of interest; but he brought up the moral impact of the Finns' bravery in the Soviet-Finnish Winter War, which had gained the sympathies of the whole world. Hitler had opened a protective umbrella over Finland.
The Soviets too, even before the Germans, had made demands about the Petsamo nickel mines. The choice, for the Finns, was one between Germany and the Soviet Union. This choice was to be made at a time a war between Germany and the Soviet Union appeared imminent. Whereas J.K. Paasikivi, Finnish Ambassador in Moscow advised his government against belief in German victory, the Finnish military believed in it and had their way. In 1941 Finland's 'Co-belligerence' with the Germans was sea- led by members of the Finnish military staff who committed Finnish forces to advance in the direction of Lake Ladoga within two weeks after the Germans had started their 'Operation Barbarossa'. The Finns carried out their part in the plan, but German losses south of Leningrad prevented the German-Finnish 'hand- shake' on the River Svir and the consequent full encirclement of Leningrad from materialising. On the Lapland front too, the Germans failed to penetrate toward the Murmansk railroad.
At no time in these negotiations did the Finns, neither the military nor the politicians, consent to attack Leningrad or to assume any responsibility over the city in the event of German occupation. The Finns conceived of the war as a defensive 'Continuation War' aiming at regaining the territory they lost in the Winter War to the Soviet Union in 1940. To the Finns it was a limited war without political alignments and without an intention to contribute to Russia's defeat. Statements of war goals other than these, including an early one by Mannerheim, were officially disclaimed.
On Ribbentrop's pressure, Finland broke-off its relations with Great Britain. The country was now left to depend solely on Germany, not only for military supplies but also for food, and by 1942 the Finns found themselves trapped between the Germans, who pressed for an agreement from the Finns not to conclude a separate peace, and the Soviet Union, which demanded Finland's surrender on Soviet terms. President Risto Ryti was forced to promise the Germans that Finland would not make a separate peace with Russia. At the same time Stalin advised the Finnish government, through the Russian Ambassador in Stockholm Alexandra Kollontai, that the Soviet Union did not wish to invade Finland unless the Finns forced them to do so, and that Finland should dissociate itself from Germany and accept peace on the Soviet Union's terms. As the wording of the Soviet offer implied surrender, the Finns rejected it. Only in late 1944, after Ryti resigned and Mannerheim assumed the presidency, was Finland able to disentangle from the war.
The Social Democratic leader Vaino Tanner remained through the war Finland's leading exponent of unyielding policy toward the Soviet Union. His voice was especially important by 1943, when there was widespread confusion among the Finns as to their military presence in East Karelia and when war resistance among the troops and parliamentary war opposition emerged. Parliamentary opposition became organised around Interior Minister Urho Kekkonen, an Agrarian who privately conferred with ex-Ambassador Paasikivi on the urgent need to drastically reorient Finland's foreign policy by breaking away from Germany and by stopping the country's long-standing collision course with Russia. From these discussions emerged a new Finnish foreign policy later known in Finland as the 'Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line'.
Upon replacing Ryti in the presidency, Mannerheirn made a commitment to deploy the Finnish Army to drive the Germans out of Lapland. The firmness the Finns showed in expelling the German troops from their territory spoke strongly in their favour in Moscow, for Stalin now envisioned entire armies, as in Romania, switching sides, instead of the modest military contribution to war by small resistance groups.
With an armistice negotiated between the Soviet Union and Finland, the Finns obtained terms similar to those in 1940. A Soviet Control Commission, under Andrei Zhdanov, took charge of Finland's transition to peace time. Implicit in the newly gained Soviet-Finnish rapport was the notion of the mutuality of interest in preserving peace in the Baltic. A clause on Finnish-Soviet military co-operation was eventually incorporated in the Pact of Mutual Friendship and Co-operation that the two countries concluded in 1948.
Paasikivi, Prime Minister under Mannerheim's presidency and President after the latter's resignation in March 1945, did his best to dispel Soviet suspicions about Finland. Foreign policy, as Paasikivi saw it, must take precedence over domestic policy. The Communist Party of Finland was legalised; a Communist was appointed to a cabinet post; political prisoners were freed and patriotic paramilitary organisation; were dissolved, Paasikivi prompted the Finnish industries to meet the war-reparations clauses of the armistice punctually; under his chairmanship, a Finland-Soviet Union Friendship Society was founded. New faces were encouraged to assume public duties; figures from the period of the war, from all walks of life, chose to step down. On Zhdanov's advice Finnish Communists established a broad political party for nation 'The People's Democratic League' with Communists in key positions. In March p945, President Paasikivi called on Mauno Pekkala, a People'; Democrat, to serve as prime minister. With Urho Kekkonen, then Minister of Justice, as the liaison between the: Control Commission and the Finnish government, a Finnish court of justice was appointed to deal with war crimes. The Finnish Communists, pressing for ii broad definition of 'war guilt', demanded that the Finns clearly demonstrate a break with their 'fascist' past.
The Communists' reappearance on Finland's political scene was in the nature of a recall from the grave. In the Stalinist purges of the 1930s they had lost their contacts with the colony of Finnish Reds in Russia. In its inflated post-war role, the Communist Party was no longer limited to protest attacks on the government from the outside. The Communists were to engage the Social Democrats and the Agrarians into a broad communist-backed government coalition similar to the 'popular fronts' of workers and farmers in the East European countries. Such a coalition government of the 'Big Three' emerged in 1945. It declared its anti-fascist stand and its commitment to try the 'war criminals'. It also announced its intention to nationalise Finland's big capital 'to the extent necessary.'
The post-war years brought extensive unionisation in the large governmentally controlled corporations established to meet Finland's war indemnity payments. In the ensuing power contest between the Social Democratic and the Communist unions, the former reaped convincing victories. A turning point came in 1947, when the Finnish Federation of Labour won an indexed system of wages – a Social Democratic project – at a time when the Communists called for wild-cat strikes.
At the 1946 Paris Peace Conference Molotov and Andrei Vyshinski presented to the Finns the essentials of the future Soviet policy toward Finland: the Finns should not try to resort to assistance from the West in order to move their frontier closer to Leningrad; Fin- land should not become an arm against Russia in the hands of other powers. Once the Finns learnt this lesson, the Soviets implied, friendly relations with the Soviet Union would be secured.
With the intensification of the East-West tensions, the Finns concluded, with Paasikivi, that they probably would have to be on the side of the Russians, certainly not against them and, if at all possible, maintain strict neutrality. The first test of their having learned their lesson came in 1947, when Finland along with other western European countries was invited to participate in discussions to formulate an organisation to help the economic recovery of Europe with the economic aid of the United States. Finland's Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs accepted the invitation, but on a word from the Control Commission Paasikivi hastened to counter-rule the committee. Finland, wanting to remain outside world conflicts, he said, would not participate in these discussions.
Shortly after the 1948 coup in Czechoslovakia, Stalin sent a note to Paasikivi, proposing that Finland sign a pact of mutual assistance with the Soviet Union. Since Romania and Hungary had just signed similar agreements, Stalin said, the radically improved relations between Finland and the Soviet Union would allow Finland to follow suit. The note shook the Finns. All but the People's Democratic press expressed fears for the country's loss of neutrality; yet contrary to these fears, the Russian negotiators let the Finns formulate the clauses on military co-operation in the 1948 Pact of Mutual Friendship, Co-operation and Assistance which ensued from these negotiations and which, prolonged twice since, became the cornerstone of Soviet-Finnish good-neighbourly relations.
The Czechoslovakian coup and the tension around the Soviet-Finnish treaty however stimulated Scandinavian movements towards defensive action. The Norwegians considered military aid from the United States; Sweden, Denmark and Norway discussed the possibility of a Scandinavian defence pact. The Swedes, concerned with the disastrous impact such an alliance would have on Finland's relations with the Soviet Union, rejected it. The Swedes' neutrality, inasmuch as it is seen to arise from motivations similar to those of the Finns, has since induced some observers to apply the term 'Swedenization' in reference to the Swedish East policy. Denmark and Norway, however, upon the shelving of the Scandinavian defence alliance pact, joined NATO.
In Finland's tense political climate in 1948, weary with undisciplined Communist-led strikes, the Agrarians and the Social Democrats withdrew from the Popular Front. With rumours of Communist preparations for a coup, the People's Democrats lost some of their popular appeal. In an obvious attempt to help the People's Democrats, Stalin on the eve of the 1948 elections lowered Finland's remaining war-reparations deliveries by 50 per cent.
Finland's new foreign policy (the 'Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line') was based on the premise that Finland could never by military means gain back its old geographical frontiers and that after the war the country's pre-war foreign policy was obsolete. The Line was interpreted to conflict with what was known in Finland as the 'drift-wood' theory on the 1941-44 Soviet-Finnish war, i.e. the theory implying that Finland's part in this war had been inevitable. Since the country was led into the war by its erratic leaders, the Paasikiki-Kekkonen liners held that post-war accommodation towards Russia and the abandonment of the 'mentality of those who have not outlived the trenches of the Winter War', in Kekkonen's words, were both natural and of a permanent nature.
With Kekkonen as the prime mover, new features were added to the 'active peaceful politics of neutrality', as Finland's policy of detente with Russia was formally called. Under this policy the Finns were able to stay outside the Cold War, and could freely deal with both the East and the West. Urho Kekkonen, first elected to the presidency in 1956, used the powers inherent in his office more widely and more personally than any of Finland's previous presidents. He mobilised support for the principles of the 1948 Pact of Mutual Friendship and Co-operation and implemented his policies with support from the Agrarians and from individuals in other parties. With aid from historians and social scientists, and by his own prolific writings and speeches, Kekkonen introduced to the Finns a new self-image of their role in world history. For years not only the Finnish Right but also the Social Democrats resisted the new foreign-policy orientation. Only in the early 1960s, after the Social Democratic Party had became internally split over these issues, did Vaino Tanner and the other right-wing Social Democrats realise that by isolating themselves from the Kekkonen Line and by letting the Communists monopolise the cultivation of relations with Moscow, they gave the Communists an advantage.
The Soviet Union has intermittently reminded the Finns about their new role. In 1948, when K.A. Fagerholm, a Social Democrat, formed an Agrarian- Social Democratic government without Communists, the Soviet press warned the Finns against the 'Third Way' of Western social democracy. The Soviets attacked the Finnish Social Democrats for welcoming Vaino Tanner back into politics; they disapproved of Fagerholm making overtures toward Washington. Fagerholm's government survived this first Soviet 'Frost', at the cost of a virtual breakdown of diplomatic relations with Moscow.
The next 'Night Freeze' came in 1958, when Fagerholm once more formed a government without the People's Democrats and when the Soviet Union became aware of the United States Central Intelligence Agency operations in Finland. Without explanation, the Soviet Union imposed sanctions on Finland and suspended negotiations on a projected reconstruction of a canal through the territory ceded to Russia – Kekkonen's favourite project. With backing from the Agrarians, Kekkonen forced Fagerholm to resign, and a government more explicitly supportive of the new foreign policy was installed.
The Kekkonen Line was put to a test once more in 1961, when the Social Democrats decided to back the Conservative presidential candidate Olavi Honka. The Soviet Union handed Finland's Ambassador in Moscow a note proposing consultations in accordance with the 1948 Treaty. Honka hastened to withdraw from the presidential race; he declared himself in favour of the Finnish-Soviet friendship. But the situation was settled only after Kekkonen in person held discussions with Khrushchev. Shortly before the note, the German Defence Minister Josef Strauss had travelled to Denmark and Norway to discuss the possibility of a joint American-German-Nordic sea command within NATO. The Russian note most likely was intended as a warning not primarily to the Finns but to the Swedes and to the rest of Scandinavia.
A turning point in Kekkonen’s political career came in 1956 as the result of Soviet backing for his 'peace candidacy'. At that time he narrowly won the presidency over Fagerholm, then labelled 'the friend of America'. Khrushchev in the Spirit of Geneva had concluded at the time that the Soviet Union would gain goodwill in Sweden and elsewhere by returning to the Finns the naval base they held near Helsinki. In return Khrushchev required from the Finns a twenty-year prolongation of the 1948 Soviet-Finnish Treaty. When President Paasikivi and Prime Minister Kekkonen went to Moscow to discuss the issue, the negotiations were timed so that the announcement of the concession could influence the presidential elections in Finland in Kekkoaen's favour.
Instead of isolating the Finns, Kekkonen said in 1967, their active peaceful politics of neutrality would enable them 'to fully participate in all international activity that has linkage with Finland, and by political means to defend their country's rights and its independence'. Kekkonen talked about the 'Finnish paradox' – that the Finns' ability to participate with the West depend. on the extent that they earn confidence in the East. Finnish foreign policy succeeds only to the extent that the Soviets recognise the Finns' need to maintain their free-market economy, without restrictions on their economic and cultural affiliation with the West. In 1955 Finland joined the Nordic Council. In 1956 the Soviets changed their vote on Finland's admission to the United Nations, and Finland was admitted to the world body. In 1962 Finland entered a Nordic co-operation pact, which aims at an extensive unification of legislation and economy, including labour legislation, between Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
Finland refrained for many years from applying for membership in the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation; yet in 1961 it joined the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) as an associate member, In 1973 Finland became associate member in the European Economic Community (EEC). The Finns joined the EEC only after a project for an Economic Commission of the Nordic Countries (NORDEX) had failed and after they had concluded an agreement on co-operation with the Soviet Council for Mutual Assistance (COMECON).
The Eastern trade is to the Finns' benefit. Since the 1960s over 20 per cent of Finland's trade has been with the Soviet Union. Vast industrial construction projects in Russia and in foreign countries have been undertaken under Finnish-Soviet co-operation" In the recent attempts at the multilateralisation of economic relations between the EEC and COMECON Finland ha,. played a central role in helping to overcome the political, psychological and organisational difficulties involved in widening and deepening the East-West co-operation. In 1974 Soviet gas began flowing to Finland. Long-range programmes for scientific, technical and cultural co-operation have been launched between the two countries. Under Kekkonen, the Finns took the initiative to convene, in 1975, in Helsinki, the Conference on European Security. At this conference, thirty-five heads of state signed a charter endorsing the inviolability of the post-war frontiers in Europe, and the principles of non-intervention and of human rights. Kekkonen's advocacy for the Soviet initiative for a nuclear-armament free zone in the North has received attention in Scandinavia.
Last year Kekkonen announced his intention to retire from the presidency, and has recently been replaced in that position by Mauno Koivisto.
Sakari Sariola is Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas.
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