“Finlandization” used to be a dirty word in Finland. Attitudes are changing, but Finns still squirm over their history of deference to the Soviet Union.
The term formerly described a nation’s subservience to a greater power. But as the Soviets open to the West, Eastern Europeans now look to Finland as a model for free cooperation with the superpower.
“Finlandization” is losing its slavish connotations.
A reminder of how deeply the Soviets were involved in Finnish affairs is being published in the memoirs of Ahti Karjalainen, a former prime minister, alleging Soviet interference in the 1982 presidential election.
The book, “The Minister of the President,” has recently hit the stands, setting off an unusual furor in this nation of consensus politics.
Karjalainen disclosed the existence of a letter from then-Foreign Minister Paavo Vayrynen, his colleague in the Center Party, about a 1981 meeting with Soviet Embassy official Viktor Vladimirov to discuss Moscow’s help for Karjalainen’s presidential bid.
Vladimirov reportedly told Vayrynen that the Kremlin could influence Finnish Communists and other pro-Soviet factions to support Karjalainen against the Social Democratic candidate, Mauno Koivisto. Moscow also could manipulate its trade with Finland to make Karjalainen, a senior trade official, look good.
Vayrynen, now the opposition leader, claimed that the letter was misinterpreted and threatened legal action. But he admitted that such talks with the Soviets were routine.
“Those discussions were similar to the discussions that most Finnish politicians at that time had with Soviet representatives,” he said on Finnish television. “Fortunately, habits have changed from eight years ago.”
The actual extent of Soviet involvement was not disclosed, and Koivisto won the election.
The episode recalled days when no major policy was adopted without consulting the Soviets, or at least considering how they would respond.
In domestic affairs, Finnish politicians often would play “the Moscow card,” getting a Soviet nod for a particular position to gain leverage over their opponents.
Erkki Kauppila, who retired last year as editor of the Communist Party newspaper Kansan Uutiset, said: “The Soviets used to say openly what they would accept or not accept. Later they discovered that was not the best policy. After that, things were done in political corridors.”
Finland shares a 793-mile border with the Soviet Union. During World War II, a subdued Finland ceded the Karelia isthmus and relocated 400,000 Finns. Under Soviet duress, the two countries signed a friendship and cooperation treaty in 1948 that is still valid.
Urho Kekkonen, Finland’s dominant postwar president who retired in 1981, fashioned a neutral foreign policy designed to reassure the Soviets that Finland would never become a military threat, thus buying continued Finnish sovereignty.
The term “Finlandization” first appeared in the 1960s in West Germany to refer to a country intimidated by the Soviet Union to adopt acquiescent policies.
Eastern Europeans today use the term to mean a promise of political sovereignty and economic freedom, alongside respectful neighborliness with the Soviet Union.
Prime Minister Harri Holkeri, on a visit to Washington in May, 1988, lost his temper when asked by reporters about the aspirations in Eastern Europe for Finlandization.
“I hate that word Finlandization. From the depths of my heart I would like that word to be abolished,” he said.
But a senior Foreign Ministry official said recently, “The word doesn’t bother us anymore, though the comparisons with Eastern Europe or the Baltic states miss the point.”