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Jared Diamond and Finlandisation

Winter war.
A Finnish machine-gun group in the Winter War 1939-40. PHOTO: Onknown, Finna/SA-kuva, Public Domain.

In 2019, American historian, evolutionary biologist and writer Jared Diamond published a book, Upheaval: How Nations Cope With Crisis and Change [1], in which he compares ways of resolving national crises in seven different countries. He looks at 12 factors for each country. They are based on factors that therapists have found to influence the resolution of individual crises.

These factors include, for example, national consensus about the crisis, acceptance of national responsibility, help from other nations, using other nations as models, national identity and national core values, dealing with national failure, honest national self-appraisal, and national flexibility.[2]

Diamond’s theme is an important one: how to learn from history. However, in our opinion, he does not succeed in opening up such a perspective on history that would help solve the problems now facing humanity. The factors he lists remain arbitrary and unconnected because of the lack of a coherent philosophical vision of history. 

His example countries are Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Australia, Germany, the United States – and Finland: the Winter War and its impact on Finland’s post-war politics, especially Finlandisation. Diamond visited Finland as a young student in 1959 and tells movingly how stories about the Winter War helped him resolve his own personal crisis.

Diamond’s views were of great help to Matti Puolakka in his research. In addition, Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel (1998) [3] deserves a special mention for its multidisciplinary research findings that crushed all bases for racist prejudice. There are good reasons to appreciate Diamond as a researcher, as an author, and as a person. He is also a great friend of Finland, which warms our hearts.

But the picture of Finlandisation painted in his book on crises is not correct. The issue is close to our hearts because we were a target of the persecution of opinion in Finlandised Finland. We have previously published a full essay on Finlandisation here. The following are additional comments on the subject due to Diamond’s book.

From the Winter War to Finlandisation

Diamond is right that Finland being left alone against the Soviet invasion in the Winter War was a nationally traumatic experience and contributed to the emergence of Finlandisation. He is also right that a change in foreign policy after the war, the pursuit of good relations with the Soviet Union, was necessary.

Diamond describes relations between Finland and the Soviet Union relatively aptly for the period before 1959 when he first visited Finland. However, his book gives an erroneous picture of the actual period of Finlandisation. We believe the fault is not his. He has presumably relied on his Finnish sources without knowing that he has received false or at least one-sided information.

Finland was the only Western democracy under Soviet influence. However, there has been no lustration of any kind afterwards. There has been no assessment based on judicial or political science, no truth commission, no punishment of those involved in treasonous activities or the suppression of freedom of opinion – no one, to our knowledge, has even publicly apologised for their actions at the time. The consistent critics of Finlandisation have not received restoration of honour, let alone compensation for the wrongs they have suffered.

During the years of Finlandisation, many of our editorial staff participated in research groups on the Soviet Union and Finlandisation led by philosopher Matti Puolakka. We had to operate completely outside the academic world, without public support, and under constant pressure of opinion. We, therefore, have unique empirical knowledge about Finlandisation and its effects on Finnish social life. Our most important experience: civilised discussion culture was the first victim of Finlandisation and self-Finlandisation. These guidelines for a fair debate are the conclusion of our experience.

Finlandisation: unprincipled concessions in the face of external threats

The picture of Finlandisation painted in Diamond’s book is fundamentally incorrect.

Diamond states that the lesson of Finnish history is that ”Finland would be safe only if the Soviet Union felt safe and trusting towards Finland.” [4]

This idea contains a false assumption about the nature of Soviet foreign policy. In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union began to exert visible pressure on Finland and interfere in Finland’s internal affairs. Its foreign policy was not defensive and did not seek “safety” or “trust”.

The unprincipled concessions of Finland’s political leadership only led to further demands: first, the Soviet Union denied Finland’s neutrality in the early 1970s, then it began to claim that Finland and the Soviet Union were in a military alliance, and in the late 1970s, it proposed joint military exercises.

As a proof of the success of the line chosen by Finland, Diamond presents the fact that Finland avoided Soviet invasion and occupation. [5]

Diamond distinguishes the possible occupation of Finland from the totality of Soviet foreign policy. Finland did not escape occupation because of its successful foreign policy. It was spared because occupation was not yet relevant to the strategic goals of Soviet foreign policy. It would have become topical when the Soviet Union had acquired sufficient military superiority to attack the West. In the end, Finland was saved from occupation because, in the late 1970s, the Soviet economy began to collapse, and its sphere of influence began to crack, both in Poland and in Afghanistan.

Diamond claims that Finland remained ”politically self-governing, and a socially liberal democracy”. [6]

A country where a foreign power decides on presidential candidates, forces the press into self-censorship and publishers to censor books – all features with which Diamond describes Finland – is neither politically self-governing nor a socially liberal democracy.

In fact, Finland’s foreign policy increased the threat of war – and thus occupation. First, Finland’s political leadership embellished Soviet foreign policy, inter alia, by claiming it was defensive; second, Finland sought to water down criticism of the Soviet Union in international forums; and third, Finland supported the Soviet “peace initiatives” designed to conceal the country’s rearmament. All Finland’s actions contributed to the Soviet preparations for a war of aggression.

Kekkonen and Hrustshev.
Photograph of Finland’s President Urho Kekkonen, translator Kustaa Loikkanen and General Secretary Nikita Khrushchov talking, at Kekkonen’s 60th birthday. PHOTO: Public Domain.

Self-Finlandisation: an internal threat to independence

And the picture gets even uglier if you include facts about self-Finlandisation that Diamond was probably not told at all.

The most severe threat to Finland’s independence was that the majority of Finnish politicians and social influencers entered into collaboration with the KGB to advance their careers. Eero Kekomäki, who was elected head of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, meant just that when he later spoke of the “destruction” that threatened Finland. Under Kekomäki’s predecessors, the Security and Intelligence Service did not even try to prevent the Finnish KGB cooperation.

The well-known Brezhnev-era “Finland eater”, later Russian Ambassador to Finland Yuri Deryabin wrote in 1992:

”Various Finnish politicians and a number of parties were interested in Moscow’s support. Our sympathies and antipathies were actively exploited (– –). And it should not be said that this model was imposed from Moscow. All this was done together with certain political forces in Finland, which in turn reaped huge political dividends from this ‘cooperation’.” [7]

Deryabin embellishes: Moscow insisted on discriminating against those who refused to collaborate, and the collaboration permeated the whole of official Finnish society. The collaboration with the KGB was particularly dangerous because it sent a message to Moscow that if and when the occupation of Finland became topical, many people in the Finnish political leadership might not oppose it.

In the 1970s, President Kekkonen’s getting seriously ill was concealed from the Finnish people. Kekkonen’s ability to carry out his duties declined at a time when the conflicts between the great powers were particularly acute. The only beneficiaries of the cover-up were the Soviet leadership, which was, of course, well aware of Kekkonen’s condition, and Kekkonen’s inner circle, which exercised power in his name.

James Ford Cooper, an American diplomat who was in Finland at the time, wrote in his memoirs:

“Many of us [diplomats] wondered how much of the day-to-day work of the presidency was actually being done by the president, and how much was being done by aides in his name.” [8]

The activities of Kekkonen and his inner circle were beyond democratic and constitutional control.

Critics of the Soviet Union and Finlandisation were subjected to a pressure of opinion seldom seen in the democratic West. They were de facto banned from holding prominent public office.

It was almost impossible for them to express their views in public. If their views were discussed in public at all, then usually only distorted.

All criticisms of Finlandisation and the Soviet Union were silenced. The pro-Moscow faction of the Communist Party of Finland was given the status of a kind of thought police, and the government, among other things, censored schoolbooks according to its demands. [9]

Free research on the Soviet Union was not tolerated. In the early 1970s, President Kekkonen put pressure on the Soviet Union research group at the University of Helsinki to cease its activities. [10] It was even proposed in Parliament that research critical of the Soviet Union should be criminalised by the so-called “Law of Peace” (LA 28/1973).

The aim was to prevent citizens from forming an independent opinion on the relations between Finland and the Soviet Union. Democracy in Finland, at least as far as foreign policy was concerned, became essentially illusory.

Diamond was misinformed?

As far as we know, not a single truthful overall account of self-Finlandisation has been published for international readers since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Nor, apparently, have any new summaries of Finlandisation been published recently for international readers. At least the newest material on Finlandisation proposed for further reading in Diamond’s book is from 20 years ago. [11] That also suggests that Diamond has been relying mainly on his Finnish sources.

The Finns, whom he thanks at the end of his book [12] for their comments and for providing the source material, are not experts on Finlandisation. Markku Kuisma, for example, is mainly an expert on economic and business history and Mikael Fortelius an evolutionary palaeoanthropologist. Matti Klinge is a broadly civilised connoisseur of cultural history, but concerning Russia, the Soviet Union and the recent history of Finland, he represents what we might call post-Finlandisation. In Finland, his positions on these subjects are generally not taken very seriously.

The shortcomings of Diamond’s view of Finlandisation were also highlighted in a book review by Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest daily newspaper:

”Finlandisation was ruthless real politics, and that is how Diamond describes it. Either out of kindness or ignorance, he fails to mention how so many Finns succumbed to sucking up to the great eastern neighbour with a creepy devotion.

Jared Diamond’s Finland-flattery soon makes one feel uncomfortable. Perhaps that’s because the story is too intact, flawless.” [13]

The strikes of Polish workers had a significant effect on the collapse of the Soviet Empire and thus on the salvation of Finland. A demonstration in Helsinki in the 1980’s. PHOTO: New History Association.

For our part, we are sure Diamond was ignorant. If he had been presented with anything more than an “intact, flawless” story of Finlandisation, he would have, as an honest scientist, brought it out in his book.

The long shadow of Finlandisation

It is a fact that official Finland still avoids making a systematic overall assessment of Finlandisation and self-Finlandisation – even though shameful details of the depth of Finlandisation are constantly coming to light. At the same time, efforts are being made to wipe out the dissidents of the Finlandisation era from the nation’s history and collective memory.

Why is it dangerous?

Albert Einstein once said that the world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.

It is impossible to understand those Finns who stood by and did nothing while their homeland was turned into Brezhnev’s mental colony – who consciously conformed to the collective self-deception and remained silent – unless one understands their options. When we look at what happened to those who consistently refused to conform and stay silent, we can better understand how stark the either-or situation was in Finland at the time.

The same phenomenon can now be seen in the United States, for example, where the vast majority of the Republican Party leadership has conformed to the Trumpian democracy-threatening lie of the stolen presidential election.

The basic lesson of Finlandisation and self-Finlandisation: collective self-deception is dangerous. At the national level, it is dangerous for the fate of the nation. In today’s world, in the age of climate change, pandemics, and conspiracy theories, it is dangerous for the survival of humanity as a whole. – Finlandisation and self-Finlandisation also show the importance of distinguishing genuine dissidents from conspiracy theorists who are caught up in their own kind of collective self-deception.



[1] Diamond Jared, Upheaval: How Nations Cope With Crisis and Change, Penguin Books 2019.

[2] Diamond 2019, 50.

[3] Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short Histoty of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years, Vintage 1998. (Later titled Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.)

[4] Diamond 2019, 91–92.

[5] Diamond 2019, 87, 94, 96.

[6] Diamond 2019, 94.

[7] Valkonen Martti, ”Derjabin: Vakoilijat pois Suomesta. Suurlähettiläs listaa lähetystöväkensä: diplomaatteja, politrukkeja ja vakoilijoita”, Helsingin Sanomat, Apr. 15, 1992.

[8] Cooper James Ford, On the Finland Watch: An American Diplomat in Finland During the Cold War, Regina Books 2000, 166.

[9] Aittokoski Heikki, ”Miten tällaista törkyä voi hyväksyä?”, Helsingin Sanomat, Dec. 5, 2021.

[11] Valkonen Markku, Suomettaminen jatkuu yhä, Tammi 1998, 95.

[12] Diamond 2019, 473–474.

[13] Diamond 2019, 464–465.

[13] Aittokoski Heikki, ”Tietokirjallisuuden huippunimi Jared Diamond kirjoittaa Suomen selviytymistarinasta jopa kiusallisen mairittelevasti”, Helsingin Sanomat, May 31, 2019

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