Sunday, April 24, 2011

Finland during the Cold War

Easter Sunday starts beautifully in Helsinki, and I find Financial Times Weekend in the nearest seven-eleven store, the K-Market Pietarinkatu. Because today is holiday the boss himself, Mr. Mikko Länsiluoto, is taking the shift. The tall boss goes by the nickname "Little Mikko" with a similar sense of humour as "Little John" in the legend of Robin Hood.

In the morning sun at Café Ursula I find the article on Finland by Tony Barber, FT's specialist writer on international affairs, called "Frustrated True Finns feed Europe's very own Tea Party". The article is intelligent and Tony Barber seems to understand a lot of what is going on here. Many of us have lost with the globalization, and many blame it on the EU. These are real concerns that need to be faced seriously, not populistically.

To Mr. Barber's analysis I would like to add that the Perussuomalaiset (True Finns) party was founded in 1995 to directly to continue the activity of a previous populist party, Suomen Maaseudun Puolue (The Finnish Rural Party) (SMP), founded in 1959. Timo Soini, the chairman of the True Finns, was also a veteran of the SMP, led by the charismatic Veikko Vennamo. Vennamo was and Soini is a top orator with a great sense of humour admired also by those who oppose their views.

A famous slogan of the SMP was "For the Forgotten People". Tony Barber comments on "Finland's rapid modernization after the end of the cold war", but the most rapid modernization took place already in the 1960s when agrarian Finland turned into an urban Finland. The SMP tapped into the reality of those who were forgotten in that devastating structural change. Now the True Finns have won by a landslide much bigger than SMP ever did. But it is impossible to handle globalization with provincialization.

Digressing from the True Finns phenomenon Tony Barber discusses the Finnish condition during the Cold War reverting to the term "Finlandisation" claiming that it was "taboo, for instance, for politicians, bureaucrats, and the media to criticise Soviet policies. Books and films considered to be anti-Soviet were removed from circulation".

Certainly that is a partial truth, but during the Cold War it was always evident to everybody that Finland was a Western liberal capitalist society, and President Urho Kekkonen even said that even if the rest of the world would turn socialist Finland would stay capitalist. There was a surface liturgy of slogans that were exchanged, but on all sides it was known what was really thought.

The media was predominantly anti-Communist and anti-Soviet, and also in the neutral Finnish Broadcasting Company events like the crushing of the Prague Spring were memorably reported.

The most devastating anti-Soviet influence was the reality of the USSR itself. On the popular conducted tours to the USSR there were no Potyomkin villages in Eastern Karelia. Even a child could see at once the disastrous condition there and realize how incomparably better the condition was this side of the border in Western Karelia.

The most terrible treatment from the USSR was suffered by Finnish Communists. During the Great Terror of the 1930s Stalin got almost all of them (some 20.000) murdered in Eastern Karelia. Stalin had as many Finnish Reds killed as the Whites after the 1918 war. The best = the worst anti-Soviet jokes were famously told by Finnish Communists.

Jokes such as: "One morning at the Lenin Mausoleum it was discovered that Lenin had disappeared. The KGB was assigned to investigate. After a thorough research they found on the wall a writing in invisible ink: 'Comrades! Last night a took a stroll around the city. I have now retreated to the underground. Comrades! We need to start everything from scratch."

There were a lot of anti-Soviet books available in Finnish and in foreign languages without difficulty in bookstores and libraries. As a schoolboy in the 1960s I read classics of Koestler, Orwell and Solzhenitsyn, as well as Finnish anti-Soviet books such as the best-selling works by Arvo Tuominen. The books of Alexander Solzhenitsyn were published by the Tammi publishing house with the exception of The Gulag Archipelago, self-censored by Tammi and published in Finnish by Kustannuspiste (and the first volume in Finnish by the Swedish Wahlström & Widstrand) with great success. It was the most prominently displayed book in the city of Tampere where I then lived.

The end of the Cold War in Finland did not mean that we got access to some new information that we did not have before. But it meant the end of pretense. It is good to be able to say consistently what one thinks, without double-speak!

The least popular films were Soviet propaganda films, whose true impact was, however, to function as unintentional anti-Soviet propaganda. It was relatively hard to see them, as it was also to see non-propagandistic films from Eastern Europe. The Western hegemony was strong. The film societies tried to correct the balance for those that belonged to them.

On cinema there was real political censorship in Finland. Cinema was the only media regulated by legal preventive censorship. Certain Cold War films from the West and the East were banned, but other films were distributed, such as Animal Farm, Dr. Zhivago, the James Bond films, and L'Aveu (The Confession) by Costa-Gavras. The last instance of political censorship being considered for a movie was in the year 1985 when Renny Harlin's Born American was first banned, then released. It was already the age of glasnost. The Cold War period in the Finnish media ended then, not first in 1991. The Cold War cinema censorship in Finland was a stupid cat-and-mouse game where the USSR played the role of the ridiculously clumsy cat.

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