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Finlandization – a dissident view

Written by Pertti Koskela

Finland is a special kind of country, for better or worse. We believe that this is part of the reason why the new vision of human history presented on the New History Association’s website was born in Finland.

Why Finland?

By almost all measures, Finland is one of the most democratic, equal, stable and secure countries in the world, along with other Nordic countries. [1] “The Nordic welfare state” is presented as an example by, for instance, the American social figures Bernie Sanders and Francis Fukuyama, who represent the opposite sides of the political spectrum on many other issues.

However, the crisis of democracy is also affecting the most successful countries. The causes and nature of the crisis are most evident in countries where democracy works best. The crisis is not due to individual politicians or parties, individual shortcomings of the national system, etc., but the nature of states and politics in general. Ultimately, it is because even the most democratic systems in the world do not take sufficiently into account of what human is.

The system based on a democratic market economy is the most effective in the world. But not even it will be able to solve the tendency of self-destruction of humanity without far-reaching reform.

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A painting by Eero Järnefelt.
Finland is the happiest country in the world, according to World Happiness Report 2021. PHOTO: Saimi in the meadow, painting by Eero Järnefelt 1892. Wikimedia Commons

The system based on a democratic market economy is the most effective in the world. But not even it will be able to solve the tendency of self-destruction of humanity without far-reaching reform.

The actual problem is the irrationality of humanity, that is, collective self-deception. Why has it taken so long before people have woken up to climate change? Why was the pandemic not prepared for, even though decision-makers knew the threat? Why is the threat of a new financial crisis not taken seriously? Etc.

Finland can offer perhaps the most instructive historical example of collective self-deception: Finlandization in the era after the Second World War. There has been no similar phenomenon in other Nordic countries. [2]

What is Enlightenment? It is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without guidance from someone else. – – Sapere aude! [Dare to know!] Have the courage to use your own understanding is therefore the motto of the Enlightenment.”

From the end of the 1950s, Finland gave the Soviet leadership a right to interfere in Finland’s internal affairs. The result was serious violations of the law by the state leadership and suppression of freedom of opinion concerning the country’s eastern policy. Public slander and social psychological persecution of dissidents was also amazingly brutal. The phenomenon is known by the term Finlandization.

But more important was the relating collective self-deception, which gradually took over a large part of Finnish society, especially in the 1970s: active, even treacherous, serving of the interests of the Soviet Union became a means of promoting one’s own career and trip opponents. The phenomenon is called Self-Finlandization. [3]

In Finland, it is customary to describe the era of Finlandization as a success story. That is a lie. Finland was ultimately saved from internal breakdown by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Finlandization, and Self-Finlandization, in particular, are an instructional experience par excellence when considering the reasons for humanity’s self-destructive tendency towards irrationality, collective self-deception, and how to solve the problems of democracy.

Finlandization: appeasement under external pressure

From the end of the 1950s, the Soviet Union began to put increasing pressure on Finland politically, economically and militarily. At the end of the 1950s, it threatened to break off trade relations unless the composition of the Finnish government was changed. In the early 1960s, it called for consultations about military cooperation leaning on the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (the FCMA Treaty) between the two countries unless the then President of the Republic Urho Kekkonen was not re-elected. From the beginning of the 1970s, it sought to deny Finland’s neutrality. It put forth an interpretation of the FCMA Treaty that Finland and the Soviet Union were de facto in a military alliance.

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Kosygin ja Kekkonen.
Premier Aleksei Kosygin's unannounced visit on a Soviet warship to Finland October 7 - 9, 1968. KUVA: V.K. Hietanen, Museovirasto, Journalismin kuvakokoelmat.

Kekkonen adopted a policy of appeasement: Finland’s political leadership had to “enjoy the confidence of the Soviet leadership”, or Moscow had, based on the FCMA Treaty, a legitimate right to demand negotiations on military cooperation. Moscow got a veto over the most important political decisions and the selection of political leaders in Finland. The Finnish political and administrative leadership, as well as the mainstream media, accepted this open interference in Finland’s internal affairs.

Kekkonen made himself invaluable: only he could guarantee Moscow’s “trust”. In that way, he raised himself above the law.

In its foreign policy, Finland adapted to the Soviet foreign policy – in practice, it contributed to Moscow’s efforts to launch a surprise attack on Western Europe. As a part of the attack, the Soviet Union would have occupied Finland; one may ask whether Finland’s foreign policy was treacherous. But the Finnish economy benefited from the adaptation in the form of favourable trade agreements with the Soviet Union. At the same time, behind the scenes, Finland acquired “hazard pay” in its Western trade, pleading to the pressure from the Soviet Union. [4]

The whole of society was permeated by self-censorship, the view according to which “national interest” required that no “anti-Soviet” opinions should be expressed in Finland, i.e., the Soviet Union and Finland’s eastern policy should not be criticised. The Soviet leadership defined the content of the word “anti-Soviet” and thus the limits of freedom of speech in Finland.

Thanks to Finland’s political leadership, a Nordic welfare state was built in Finland in the decades after the war. The  development was thus very contradictory.

Finland was formally a democracy – there was freedom of speech, free elections, and independent courts. However, the country’s eastern relations were beyond democratic and judicial control. From the 1960s onwards, the most important questions for the nation’s fate were silenced and lied about in all elections and election debates, in the press, and in academic studies.

Kekkonen served as President of the Republic during an exceedingly difficult era. He was subjectively patriotic and rejected some of the roughest attempts by the Soviet Union to interfere in Finland’s internal affairs, e.g., a proposal for joint military exercises. He also managed to secure Finland’s trade relations with the West, which was a praiseworthy and important achievement.

Kekkonen’s health began to raise questions in the 1970s. His problems were hidden from the public, as was the fact that he told his close circle in 1973 he intended to resign. [5] His close associates, including his doctors, persuaded him to continue in office. Despite this, Kekkonen had private discussions with KGB representatives, even without a Finnish interpreter.

Max Jakobson, a diplomat and Finland’s candidate for the UN Secretary-General in the early 1970s, later wrote that due to the President’s deteriorating health, his powers were being used by “others”, meaning people near him. [6] One may ask whether there was some kind of creeping coup in the making.

This happened in the late 1970s when relations between the Soviet Union and the West were particularly tense, and Finland’s position was exceptionally precarious. Eventually, Kekkonen’s condition deteriorated so significantly that it could no longer be concealed, and he was allowed to resign in the autumn of 1981. His successor Mauno Koivisto continued to cooperate with the KGB until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Self-Finlandization: a KGB contact as a status symbol

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The essential feature in Finlandization was not the pressure from the Soviet Union and not even the politics of unprincipled concessions chosen by the Finnish political leadership.

The most essential and fatal feature was Self-Finlandization: [7] a political culture that crumbled Finland’s independence and national self-respect from within. The political and administrative elite and business leaders started to pursue their interests by engaging in cooperation with the KGB. The judicial authorities did not interfere.

The trend became mainstream and spread everywhere, including cultural life, relevant academic research, and the media. A personal KGB contact became a status symbol. The most enthusiastic collaborators reported “anti-Soviet” activities at the Soviet Embassy in Helsinki.

In that atmosphere, criticising the Soviet Union or Finland’s relations to it meant practically a social suicide and a career break in any politically relevant field. Particularly hard hit – discriminated, distorted and slandered – were the members of the members of the leftist youth movements led by Matti Puolakka in the 1970s and 80s (MLG and Itu). They showed who showed the blatant contradiction between the Soviet Union’s official “Marxist” ideology and the totalitarian and imperialist reality and consistently defended freedom of opinion and Finland’s independence. No one in public dared to oppose this persecution of dissidents.

Demonstration of the brezhnevite left movement in Finland in the 1970's.
Young leftists at a May Day demonstration with the Finnish Communist Party, sometime in the 1970s. The banner reads “Long live the Communist Party of the Soviet Union”. PHOTO from a blog in the Left Party newspaper Kansan Uutiset.

The peculiarity of Finnish conditions is illustrated by the fact that Finland was the only Western country where the vast majority of the leftist youth movement born in the 1960s was, from the beginning of the 1970s, blindly and fanatically in favour of the Soviet Union. This movement was part of the traditional communist party of Finland, had good ties with trade unions and was prominent also in cultural life. It served as a spearhead in exposing “anti-Soviet” phenomena.

The Moscow-minded left was in the lead in the “peace movement”, which followed the Soviet foreign policy and had the half-official support of the Finnish government. Thus, their activities against the MLG and Itu were, in fact, under the government’s protection.

In the 1970s, members of the Moscow-minded left took the initiative in the Finnish Parliament to criminalise criticism of the Soviet Union. In practice, it was a demand to criminalise the MLG’s research and publications. The law proposal did not find enough support; political decision-makers did not want dissidents to become martyrs of free speech. Collective self-deception isolated dissidents more effectively than prison walls.

The MLG and Itu conducted research on the Soviet Union, which was unique not only in Finland but also in the West in general. In the early 1980s, Matti Puolakka analytically predicted the coming collapse of the Soviet Union with an accuracy of a year. He created the concept of collective self-deception to explain what happened in Finland – and what can happen in any democratic country.

The pressure of the Soviet Union was an ethical-intellectual challenge to which every societally active Finn had to react in some way. The vast majority chose self-deception.

Self-censorship is a more effective way of suppressing critical thinking and discussion than censorship. Thus, the understanding of the nature of Brezhnev’s Soviet Union was substantially more limited in the independent Finland of the 1970s than was the understanding of the nature of the tsarist Russia during the period of oppression and Russification at the beginning of the 1900s, before Finland’s independence. Self-Finlandization was ignorance actively acquired and maintained.

Finland became a mental semi-colony of Brezhnevism.

Mielenosoitus Solidarnoscin puolesta.
Poland’s Solidarity saved Finland – so to say. Members of the Alternative Movement Itu at a demonstration in the early 1980s. PHOTO: © New History Association.

Finlandization and Self-Finlandization – an unexplored chapter in Finnish history

The most flagrant features of Finlandization that have come to light are now generally condemned by the Finnish public. However, many still claim that Finland’s policy during the era of Finlandization was a success: the Soviet Union did not occupy Finland.

In fact, Finland was saved from occupation by the catastrophic state of the Soviet economy, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of the Polish Solidarnosc movement. They prevented the Soviet Union from invading the West. Finally, Gorbachev’s rise to power and the collapse of the Soviet Union removed the threat.

Eero Kekomäki, who was nominated as a Chief of the Finnish Security Police at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, later stated that if the KGB’s influence in Finland had continued, it would have led to “the destruction of the Finnish system”.[8] The reason was not the efficiency of the KGB’s operations – although they were effective – but the willingness of too many Finnish decision-makers to submit to the KGB.

Self-Finlandization did not end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The worst illegalities of the Finlandization period are essentially unexplored. In the spring of 2004, Max Jakobson stated that “Finland is still one the few countries in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union where the self-critical debate has not gone beyond the beginning”. According to him, the debate will not be easy for all politicians. “Then the truth will come out. We’ll see how far some people were really willing to go.”[9]

The honour of the consistent critics of Finlandization has not been restored. In this respect, Finland is an exception among the countries under the influence of Brezhnevism. Collective self-deception prevails.

On the concept of collective self-deception

The gene pool that determines the individual and group behaviour of humans was formed in the bands of the Homo genus over a period of about 2.5 million years. The development of those species was dictated by animal moral evolution. All individuals had an inherent tendency to improve their position in the hierarchy of the band. Unknown bands were enemies.

The bands were closed communities. Individuals who were forced to leave their band were almost certainly bound to die. Therefore, the bands were conformist. Attempts to change customary behaviour were not easily accepted. For example, the technological development in the bands of the Homo genus was strikingly slow.

One way to improve one’s position in the band was to excel in territorial disputes, for example, by showing special cruelty towards the members of unfamiliar bands.

That gene pool still determines human behaviour – the less we are aware of its effect, the bigger is the effect. Even a modern human wants to feel togetherness and be noticed and appreciated. And even today, that desire causes conformism, aspiration to be like everyone else, to avoid becoming stigmatised negatively, and to excel in defending one’s community against outsiders.

The gene pool born in the bands of the Homo genus is the basis of collective self-deception. It is depicted in a well-known fairy tale about the emperor’s new clothes. It took a child, clueless about adult power games, to say the most important fact that everyone saw: “The emperor has no clothes!”

Politics as a source of collective self-deception

Political evolution is a societal form of animal moral evolution.

Political activity is a fight of interest groups for “the sharing of the cake” – ultimately for societal power. It is a form of “us versus them” attitude. The fight has an ethical side when it opposes societal injustice. And political activity represents fair play ethics when the fight is fought within the law.

Political activity has a tendency – stemming from human nature – to turn into a heated political power struggle. “We” defend ourselves against “them” at least one-sidedly: a habit of giving credit for political opponents when they deserve it is not included in the essence of politics.

In that way, political evolution and political activity always has an inherent tendency to collective self-deception, even in democratic states governed by the rule of law.

Speculative financial capital and collective self-deception

All countries and communities have their specific forms of collective self-deception. But in the era of globalisation, one economico-political trend has become increasingly apparent: the growing influence of speculative financial capital and the pressure on national decision-makers and legislators to give in to its demands. Their situation is totally different from that of Finnish politicians during the Cold War, but it has, nonetheless, led to irrational thinking and self-deceptive decision making.

The pressure from speculative financial capital has led to two forms of self-deceptive attitudes: First, policymakers deceive themselves by imagining that the submission to speculative financial capital is in the nation’s interests, or in any case a part of the inevitable development of globalisation to which there are no alternatives. And second, the politics pursued raises justified distrust among citizens towards politicians and the democratic system. A growing number of citizens engage in collective self-deception and begin to believe in simple solutions to complicated problems or conspiracy theories or other lies offered by demagogic politicians and opinion leaders and, in worse cases, foreign operatives.

Collective self-deception in other democratic countries and globally

In today’s world, collective self-deception is no less common or less irrational than in Finlandized Finland. In most cases, the connection to breaches of the rule of law is clear:

  • Measures to halt climate change are still either ostensible or, in any case, insufficient. States have been sued for failing to adequately protect their citizens from climate change.
  • The WHO and many other experts have stated that no one is safe from the coronavirus until everyone is safe. A common global strategy to combat the pandemic has not been established.
  • All EU member states have accepted the transfer of parts of their administrative and legislative power to the EU. EU officials, on the other hand, are not under sufficient judicial control. There is no criminal code, no prosecutors or police that could prosecute or impeach them when they break the EU Treaties, although the Treaties are above the constitutions of the member states.
  • Bulgaria and Romania were accepted as members of the EU, although it was common knowledge that they did not meet the key criteria for membership defined in the Maastricht Treaty. It was possible precisely because of the lack of judicial control.
  • In the US, none of the executives of the major banks that caused the 2008 financial crisis were held accountable, even though their illegal activities caused great damage to the global economy and millions of citizens worldwide.
  • At the time of the crisis, major international banks were “too big to fail” and had to be bailed out by state action. Yet they have been allowed to grow larger and larger.
  • No leading politician, central banker or economic expert can seriously claim that a new financial crisis is not possible, that it would not cause at least as much damage as the previous one, and that everything possible has been done to prevent it.
  • The big lie of “stolen presidential election 2020” in the US still lives on, even though numerous courts have dealt with the matter without finding any evidence. It is easy to see that all those who spread the lie benefit from it in one way or another, whether they believe in it or not.

References

[1] ”Finland among the best in the world”, Statistics Finland 5 Dec. 2018, https://www.stat.fi/tup/satavuotias-suomi/suomi-maailman-karjessa_en.html.

[2] We will deal with other unique features of Finnish history in our later publications.

[3] There was almost no public opposition to the phenomenon. But beneath the surface, there was plenty of “spirit of the Winter War” in Finland, and there would certainly have been active resistance if Soviet Union really had taken military action against Finland.

[4] Jakobson Max,  Change of power (in Finnish), Otava 1992, 194.

[5] Helsingin Sanomat 18 Apr. 2016. An article about the death of President Kekkonen’s bodyguard, according to which he was the only one to witness Kekkonen’s first cerebrovascular seizure. (in Finnish).

[6] Jakobson 1992, 218.

[7] In English, the term is quite rarely used, and its content is not established.

[8] Kuorsalo Anne, Susiluoto Ilmari, Valkonen Markku, The realm of the secret police. KGB, FSB and their relations with Finland, (in Finnish)  Edita 2003, 150–151.

[9] Seura Magazine 19 Mar. 2004.

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100 flags celebrating the 100th anniversary of independent Finland in 2017. PHOTO: © Uusi historia ry.

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