In the 1970’s the term “Finlandization” entered the political lexicon and became for a while a major bone of contention. The term referred to the special relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union: it meant, very briefly, appeasement by Finland of its powerful neighbor to the extent that the country could no longer be defined as neutral and independent in the traditional sense. There was no Soviet censorship in Finland, but there was Finnish self-censorship, driven by fear and anxiety, and a great readiness to acquiesce in Soviet wishes was very much in evidence.
Having become interested in the topic, I visited Finland and read everything then available in languages other than Finnish. In December 1977 an article of mine, “The Specter of Finlandization,” appeared in COMMENTARY. The article strove to be measured in tone; I acknowledged that, given Finland’s geopolitical situation, it was obvious that certain concessions toward the Soviets had to be made. But I also argued that Urho Kekkonen, president of Finland for 25 years (1956-81), had carried this trend much too far (though he himself was not a Communist or even a socialist). It was not the policy of wisdom, maturity, and responsibility that Kekkonen and his supporters claimed, and furthermore it set a bad example for the rest of Europe.
“The Specter of Finlandization” was widely commented upon in Finland itself and elsewhere in Scandinavia. The reception there was mixed. Some thought the article was well-informed, others denounced it as ignorant, and a few believed that “Laqueur” was the pseudonym of a highly placed U.S. official. Ironically, however, most Finnish commentators—familiar with the true state of affairs in their country—were far less strident in their defense of Finlandization than some of Kekkonen’s well-wishers in the West.
Thus, a Washington Post commentator maintained that Finland was where most of Europe wanted to be. The eminent American diplomat and historian, George F. Kennan, in a book entitled The Cloud of Danger, praised the Finns—that is to say, the Kekkonen policy—for their “composure and firmness” and objected to the common usage of the term “Finlandization as signifying something humiliating and spineless.” Vice President Walter Mondale, speaking in Helsinki, stated that the term interfered with accurate communication because it was “charged with emotion.” An Israeli professor of political science called Finland a paradigm for the future, a “solution to the problems facing an isolated minor state pitted against a great military power.”
In 1981 Kekkonen, now getting old, retired or was forced to retire. His successor, Mauno Koivisto, a Social Democrat, was not the candidate preferred by Moscow, but he was elected anyway, and nothing untoward happened to Soviet-Finnish relations. The only major setback, the deepening of Finland’s economic crisis, was unconnected with the politics of Finlandization. It arose mainly because the country’s foreign trade had been largely oriented toward the East.
The debate triggered by my article in COMMENTARY (and by my two rejoinders to critics)1 eventually died down, but the issues involved naturally continued to preoccupy people in Finland. Rumors even began to circulate that Kekkonen had been a Soviet agent, but they were dismissed as base calumnies by his official biographer—who denied everyone else access to the relevant archival material.
Then, about a year ago, the former “resident” of the KGB in Helsinki began to talk: Kekkonen and other leading proponents of Finlandization had received money from Moscow. More recently, the files of the foreign department of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party (CPSU) were opened; this resulted in a book called The CPSU and Finland: Secret Documents, 1955-68, edited by V. Chernous and Hannu Rautkallio.2 (A second volume is scheduled to appear in early 1993.) The documents proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the leading proponents of the Kekkonen line had been paid many millions of finnmarks through the office of the KGB: some of this money was used for their election campaigns, but there were also payments for personal use.
In my article I repeatedly called Kekkonen a (misguided) patriot. In fact, I had a certain weakness for the man: the erstwhile winner of an Olympic gold medal in the high jump could not be all bad. Well, perhaps he was a patriot; perhaps he would have acted as he did even if the Soviets had never paid him a single ruble.
But what is one to say about the experts in America, Britain, and elsewhere—those diplomats and academics who showered fulsome praise on Kekkonen and his policies and who derided my article? I never claimed to be an authority on things Finnish, but those experts should have known that something was rotten in Helsinki.
This, however, is part of a wider post-mortem on judgments and misjudgments of the cold-war era.
1 “Letters from Readers,” May 1978 and October 1978.
2 For other revelations from the CPSU files, see Eric Breindel's “Moscow Gold,” COMMENTARY, December 1992.—Ed.