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Finnish illusion of neutrality

  • Finnish minister of culture and sport, Paavo Arhinmäki, giving a face to Finnish NATO-debate on 3rd of March, 2014.
    Finnish minister of culture and sport, Paavo Arhinmäki, giving a face to Finnish NATO-debate on 3rd of March, 2014.

Finland is a non-NATO country, which shares about 1340 kilometers of border with Russia, and has a very distinctive history with its neighbour. As a Finn, I think I can give you an idea why this crisis probably feels a bit different to many of us Finns, than to the majority of Central or Western European citizens.

What was

Finland used to be a punching bag between Swedish and Russian empires for hundreds of years. After our declaration of independece in 1917, things got slightly better. However, Finnish politics were still heavily influenced by the bolshevist state, and we had our own communist and socialist movements vouching for the superiority of the Soviets.

In the late 1930’s, when first steps towards the World War II were taken, an idea of hostile action by the Soviet Union was shrugged off as ridiculous by most of Finnish politicians, who blindly caressed an idea of neutrality in otherwise so unstable Europe. Thus in 1939, when the Soviet Union launched a false flag operation later know as the shelling of Mainila giving the USSR justification to begin hostile invasion of Finland, our army was very poorly equipped. Eventually our idea of neutrality was shattered and we had to negotiate for an alliance with Nazi-Germany, a strategic move which spared us from the calamities that hit Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and other countries unfortunate enough to be suppressed under the iron fist of the Soviets later on.

By the year 1944, when peace agreement between Finland and USSR was finally signed, we had lost huge chunks of our territory, and massive war reparations, to the aggressor. Heavy Soviet influence, Finlandization, dictated our domestic decision making until dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and even beyond.

The Russians have systematically tried to control Finnish domestic policies, legislation and public opinion through shameless propaganda and intimidation since the dawn of our history.

What is

Today the Russian propaganda machine has concentrated on depicting Finns as russofobes with fascist ideals, and Finland as a country with very poor human rights situation, especially considering Russian citizens. This is despite the fact that Finland is year after year assessed in international surveys to be the complete opposite. Talks about anything fascism-related are dealt with, swiftly and remorselessly, even to a brink of paranoia where satire about sleeve patches can get you fired from your job and have one publicly shamed. Generally Russians are a liked Finnish minority, who are unfortunately made a liability for us, and themselves, by the Russian government and it’s doctrine of protecting its citizens abroad against imaginary threats.

In 2007 we had a big scandal as our acting minister of defence at the time, Kari Häkämies, stated the obvious: ...given our geographical location, the three main security challenges for Finland today are Russia, Russia and Russia. Even though Häkämies held true to Finnish political doctrine by not taking a clear stand on NATO membership, many thought that he had crossed the line, and was demanded by the public to hand over his position as the minister of defence to amend the potential harm he caused to Finnish-Russian relations.

Talks about joining NATO have continued periodically since the later part of 20th century, but the persistent mantra by our politicians is that neutrality is above everything, and that as long as we keep to ourselves, we’ll be out of the harms way. Those few pro-NATO-opinions have been labeled as ramblings of people in ”NATO heat”. Meanwhile the Scandinavian Defence Cooperation revolves around some few hundreds of voluntary troops, group discounts on military gear, and training exchange, without real answers to military threats.

On another note, Finland has practically fulfilled NATO requirements for years, for example by attending to NATO operations like KFOR in Kosovo and ISAF in Afghanistan. We just don’t pay the ”membership fee” to get the ”membership benefits”, which would include security and stability brought by belonging to a large military alliance. Georgia and Ukraine didn’t get NATO to back them up, but in 2007 Estonia did when Russia started a full scale propaganda and information war against Estonian government over relocation of a bronze statue erected by the Soviets some 60 years before. Two of these countries are not NATO allies, one of them is, need I say more?

Even Finnish politicians, who support pursuing NATO membership when surveyed anonymously, will only refer to the ”NATO option” when asked directly about the issue. The ”NATO option” is a Finnish political paradigm, which suggests that if a military crisis arises, we just call NATO headquarters and help will be on the way. A survey done on 5.3.2014 reveals that even after recent events, 92 of Finnish parliament representatives oppose NATO membership, only 26 supported while the rest didn’t know or didn’t want to give their opinion on the matter. 152 representatives out of 200 were reached for the survey.

Russia has now launched an invasion on sovereign state of Ukraine, and is occupying the Crimean peninsula. Despite very good reports by media correspondents in Ukraine, Finnish media has had tremendous trouble identifying thousands of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil, several siege scenarios and otherwise an extremely volatile situation as ”occupation”, ”invasion” or ”aggression”. The best the Finnish media can dish out is ”crisis”. We even had one of our National Broadcasting Company journalists state on a prime time talk show that ”Russia isn’t in here [Crimea] by their own will rather than being summoned here. Crimean Russians called for help and Russia answered”. Connotation behind that sentence is the same you can catch from the Russian media; Russia didn’t have a choice on this matter, they mobilized reluctantly and are actually victims.

Judging by all the reports from Crimea, it is clear that Russia was prepared to invade way before they actually did. Their justification is the same ridiculous doctrine of protecting Russian nationals on foreign soil, which lead to war in Georgia’s South Ossetia in 2008.

I’m confident to say, that a common consensus on the situation is that Russians who feel threatened by the new Ukrainian government, which hasn’t shown any aggression towards Russian nationals, are free to return to Russia any time. Also, not many can see the value of Crimean peninsula, if you compare it to the economical shortcomings of war and the huge PR fiasco this invasion has become for Russia.

But Putin has showed, that he doesn’t operate on common terms of logic. To me it seems that Putin does what he does just because he can, and that’s truly terrifying.

So what’s my point? Finland has a history of unpreparedness, naivety, false assumptions on neutrality and Russian propaganda. The Russians have demonstrated eagerness to meddle and intimidate beyond any reason. Add the swift nature of today’s military crisis’, and sheer despotism and megalomania of Russia’s leaders into the mix, and you have one weird soup boiling right there.

Despite these facts, Finns actively refuse to have a debate over the obvious: Finland has never had a true luxury of neutrality in the time of crisis, and as a small pawn in global politics, will never have. We need to choose our allies while we have a chance to do so on our own terms. If we are to find ourselves in the middle of a crisis, it’s probably too late to shop around for reasonable options.

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Käyttäjän taistolainen kuva
taisto vanhapelto

Since having written in English you probably expect comments in English.

The reason for the world famous Finnish inactivity comes from our great love for AVERAGE. We want to be average people in an average country in the average world and therefore we accept only average opinions, average politics, average marriage, average love, average success. Any side step from generally and officially accepted AVERAGE is dangerous cause you may find yourself in thinking which every real finn definitely wants to avoid.

Jouko Koskinen

Mielikuvia luodaan puoleen ja toiseenkin omien lyhytnäköisten tavoitteiden takia. Myös Venäjällä. Realistit molemmin puolen rajaa näkevät sen mahdollisuutena menestykseen - ei väkivaltaan.

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