The term “Finlandization”—meaning that process or state of affairs in which, under the cloak of maintaining friendly relations with the Soviet Union, the sovereignty of a country becomes reduced—has entered the political dictionary despite the protests of Helsinki, Helsinki’s Western well-wishers, the Russians, and some American neo-isolationists. There is an element of injustice whenever geographical terms acquire a political meaning—not everything in Byzantium was Byzantine, not everything in the Levant was Levantine, not everyone in Shanghai is shanghaied, and if the Balkans were balkanized, it was largely the fault of outside powers. “Finlandization,” in any case, is here to stay: it has become the subject of articles, books, and even doctoral dissertations.

Though the term is of recent date, its origins are by no means certain. The phenomenon was allegedly first described in 1953 by the Austrian Foreign Minister Karl Gruber, warning his government not to follow the Finnish example. He did not, however, actually coin the term. Professor Richard Lowenthal said in a 1974 interview with Time magazine that he may have been the first to use the term sometime in 1966, when the Warsaw Pact countries, at their meeting in Bucharest, suggested the dissolution of all military blocs. Subsequently, the term was used by Pierre Hassner, myself, and many other writers.

To speak of Finlandization is, of course, considered highly offensive and detrimental to national prestige in Finland itself. But outside observers too have warned against the use of the term. Some have argued that it conveys a false picture of Finland’s real situation. Others have maintained that Finland is a unique case, and to apply the term to other countries is misleading. Still others have claimed that the process of Finlandization is not something to be decried but is rather a positive phenomenon, worthy of emulation. And lastly, a few optimists have expressed the belief that Western Europe, at all events, so far has little to fear from Finlandization, certainly less than do Russia’s East European satellites.

Coming to grips with the phenomenon of Finlandization is made all the more difficult by the circumstance that so little is known in the West about Finland itself, and hence about exactly what sort of example it offers to other nations. There is no systematic press coverage from Helsinki and the existing scholarly literature in languages other than Finnish is not extensive; it is also not altogether reliable, because the self-censorship practiced inside Finland has infected Western publications on that country.1



Finland, which gained independence in 1917, was attacked by the Soviet Union in 1939 and defeated after stubborn resistance. It had to cede part of its territory. To regain what it had lost, Finland joined Germany in the attack on Russia in June 1941; in 1944 it made a separate peace with the Soviet Union and turned against the German army.

Stalin could have annexed Finland in 1944-45, but he preferred not to do so. There were several possible reasons for this magnanimity. The war, after all, had not yet ended, and the annexation of Finland at this date would have precipitated a conflict with the West. Strategically, moreover, Finland was less important than other territories annexed by the Russians. Then, too, the Russians had a healthy respect for the Finns, who had stubbornly fought for their freedom for a long time and who would have been more difficult to digest than, for instance, the Latvians and the Estonians. Nor is it unthinkable that Stalin wanted to keep Finland as a showcase for Russia’s benevolent intentions toward the rest of the world.

Whatever the reason, Finland did not become a Soviet republic. But a price had to be paid, and continues to be paid to this very day.

What is that price? Finland, first of all, is a neutral country, but not vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, toward which it has special obligations. It must not oppose any major Soviet foreign-policy initiative or enter into any commitments without Soviet approval, and it is expected to give active support to some aspects of Soviet foreign policy.

Secondly, Finland is permitted to have an army, but only within the limits set by the Soviet Union.

Thirdly, only those political parties approved by the Soviet Union can participate in the government, and the same applies a fortiori to the president and prime minister. There is no censorship by the Soviets, but the Finns are supposed to exert self-censorship. Communist participation in the government is not absolutely required, but Finnish statesmen are informally required to make frequent declarations stressing their friendly and mutually beneficial relations with the Soviet Union.

Fourthly, Finland is expected to have close commercial relations with the Communist bloc, but in this respect there are no hard and fast rules, and pressure has been more sporadic than in other fields—perhaps in view of Finland’s limited importance as a trading partner and COMECON’s limited capacity for supplying consumer goods.

Lastly, it is part of the whole process to deny its very existence. Only ignorant or malicious foreign observers, the Finns are expected to say, would find anything ominous or even out of the ordinary in Finland’s relations with the Soviet Union.



To begin with the issue of neutrality, this is perhaps the least important aspect of the Finnish predicament (although it has been discussed endlessly). According to the Soviet-Finnish Treaty of 1948 and subsequent agreements, Finland has certain definitive commitments to the Soviet Union. It is true that Finnish spokesmen, such as Max Jakobson, have argued that the treaty does not bind Finland to anything beyond the defense of its own territory. Unfortunately, this interpretation has not been accepted by the Russians—Mr. Jakobson’s book on the subject was bitterly attacked in the Soviet press—and given the facts of political and military power, it is the Soviet interpretation that counts. (When Mr. Jakobson was a candidate for the post of Secretary General of the UN some years ago, the Soviet Union vetoed his appointment; that he is of Jewish origin probably did not help, but the decisive consideration was no doubt that he was not thought to be politically “safe.” That is, he was suspected of taking neutrality seriously.) The frequent claims of Finland’s President Kekkonen that “all great powers have explicitly recognized Finnish neutrality” are a statement of intent, not of fact.

What is more significant than neutrality is the issue of freedom, which is of immediate practical relevance to the political, social, and cultural life of the Finnish people. Compared with Russia’s East European satellites, Finland is both independent and free. It has many political parties (ten), and many (too many) elections. Its institutions are democratic, its constitution is scrupulously observed. There are no arbitrary arrests; in fact, no one ever has been sent to prison for political reasons. Finns can freely travel abroad. The larger part of the Finnish economy is not nationalized. There is a vigorous cultural life, and Soviet influence on it is certainly not overwhelming. Foreign books and newspapers are widely available. Finland, in short, enjoys the same freedoms as the Western nations.

But there is another side to the picture, less visible but always present, which is a consequence of the Kekkonen “line” that Finland’s survival can be assured only by maintaining Soviet trust. To provide but a few examples: when the United Nations voted for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary after the Soviet invasion in 1956, the Finnish government did not join the majority but insisted that it was up to the governments of the Soviet Union and Hungary to reach an agreement. When Kekkonen visited Prague one year after the Soviet invasion of 1968, he admonished his hosts to behave in such a way as not to give rise to conflicts. Foreign Minister Leskinen, speaking in 1971, said that the handling of the Czechoslovak crisis by the Warsaw Pact and by NATO was a “triumph of European understanding.” And so forth.

If Soviet confidence could be retained at the price of foreign political concessions alone, the cost for Finland might be bearable; it would be understandable, in any case, in view of Finland’s geographical position. But according to the Kekkonen line, it is also imperative that Finnish political leaders, parties, the media, and individual citizens all behave “responsibly”; otherwise they will endanger the very survival of the country. To act “responsibly” means to refrain from doing anything the Russians may not like, and this involves not only self-censorship but also the need to anticipate Soviet wishes, and even a willingness to accept a Soviet veto if self-censorship breaks down.2

The existence of a Soviet veto is denied quite brazenly in the face of the truth by proponents of the Kekkonen line. But there have, in fact, been quite a number of Soviet vetoes during the last two decades; if they have become fewer in recent years, it is precisely because of the Finnish government’s willingness to refrain from actions that might provoke one. The most blatant cases of Soviet intervention occurred in 1958, when the Soviet Union demanded the resignation of the Social Democratic Fagerholm government, and in 1961, when it threatened to invoke the 1948 treaty unless Kekkonen were reelected president. Seen in retrospect, Finnish compliance with Soviet wishes in 1958 was quite unnecessary, but it legitimized Soviet interference in Finnish domestic affairs (as distinct from foreign and defense policy) and made it that much harder to resist further such pressures in the future.

Other Soviet interventions have been less dramatic than these, principally because these had served to establish the rules of the game. Thus, although a Finnish president or prime minister or member of the cabinet is democratically elected, lie also has to be “approved” by the Soviet embassy in Helsinki or the appropriate institution in Moscow. Parties and personalities who have not been approved may be represented in parliament, but they must not be in a position of influence or decision-making. After the 1958 crisis, the Finnish Social Democrats—the biggest party in the country—became eligible to serve in the government only after their old leadership had resigned and the younger leaders had wholeheartedly embraced the Kekkonen line.

Despite the self-censorship exerted by Finnish political leaders and the media, however, Soviet complaints about Finnish transgressions continue almost without interruption. These complaints are reinforced by warnings on the part of Kekkonen and his supporters, such as Kalevi Sorsa, the leader of the Social Democratic party. But Soviet blame has also been mixed with praise—for example, for those Finnish leaders who have supported Soviet foreign-policy initiatives like the appeal for the neutralization of Norway, which, if successful, would clearly be against Finland’s best interests.

Typical of the official policy of “confidence-building” are Kekkonen’s frequent speeches and statements, published in Russian and English every few years, whose tenor is that Soviet-Finnish relations are excellent and are getting better all the time. Upon receipt of the Lenin prize, Kekkonen—who is not a Marxist or even a man of the Left—praised Lenin for his great role in granting Finland independence. At the time of the Communist youth festival in Helsinki, he expressed admiration for the enthusiasm with which the Finnish national anthem was sung. On another occasion, he claimed that the anxiety of the Russians in the face of the West was real “because I have read in the history of Russia that she has been attacked fourteen times in the last 150 years and that Minsk, the capital of White Russia, has been in enemy hands 101 times” (this is sheer fantasy).

It has been argued by Kekkonen’s supporters that such abject statements should not be taken too seriously. If certain declarations, made to preserve Finland’s freedom, happen to be untrue, they have after all worked. Who would have benefited if, as the result of acting according to their conscience, the Finns had lost their freedom? Having convinced the Russians that the present Finnish leadership can be trusted, Finland has received special dispensation to be an associate member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and to sign an agreement with the EEC. Even Kekkonen’s policy of bringing Communists into the government, his supporters maintain, has not had fatal consequences; on the contrary, the Communist party split, and the more liberal wing denounced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in no uncertain terms—very much in contrast to the Finnish government itself. And when a Soviet ambassador too blatantly supported the Stalinist faction of the Communist party, he was withdrawn following Finnish representations to Moscow.



One could cite other instances showing that the Finns have been adept in handling the Russians. But with all its apparent achievements, the Kekkonen line has undermined the Finns’ willingness to resist Soviet encroachments on their sovereignty. For even if only half of the wonderful things said about the Soviet political and social system in Kekkonen’s speeches were true, it would be difficult to explain to a younger generation of Finns why they should still try to keep their distance and not become part of the Soviet Union, that “great federation of free people,” as their Karelian brothers have already done. Finnish sisu (roughly translated as guts) has been frequently praised by outside observers, but the constant repetition of a basically fraudulent official ideology is bound to have its effect. As Carl-Gustaf Lilius has written: “In the prevailing atmosphere it becomes easy for hypocrisy and apathy to spread, with the pretense that everything is as it should be. And a mentality of this kind entails a measure of corruption, detrimental to the spirit of national self-assertion.”

Throughout history, small countries have had to accommodate their policies to the wishes, interests, and whims of their more powerful neighbors. The attitude of small nations has traditionally ranged from refraining from provoking the great power nearby to paying tribute and actively appeasing it in every possible way. As for the great powers, they have routinely interfered in the domestic affairs of their weaker neighbors, picked their own candidates for leaders, and ostracized those whom they did not trust. As Edward N. Luttwak has recently shown in The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, the rulers of eastern client states did not actually have to see Roman legions marching toward their cities in order to respond to Rome’s commands, for they could imagine what the consequences of disobedience would be. Nor is self-censorship an unprecedented phenomenon. It had to be practiced, for instance, in the countries defeated by Napoleon, and in Switzerland and Sweden after the outbreak of World War II, when newspapers were called upon by the authorities to behave “responsibly” in writing about Nazi Germany in terms virtually identical to those used in recent years by President Kekkonen in relation to the Soviet Union.

Given Finland’s geographical location and its small size (it has fewer than five million inhabitants), it is obvious that to survive as an independent nation, it has to take Soviet foreign-policy interests into account and has to act with great circumspection: “So far from NATO, so near the Soviet Union,” to alter a famous saying of a Mexican president. Finland has had to be silent when other, more distant nations have been able to speak up without fear. But when all these circumstances have been taken into account, it is still true that it was a fatal mistake to legitimize Soviet interference in Finnish domestic affairs. While it is admirable that so much freedom has been preserved, Finland is not independent in any accepted sense of the term. It is, as Soviet leaders have themselves long contended, a country in a category apart, neither satellite nor neutral, a country whose “adaptation” to the dictates and wishes of the Soviet Union has become part of the national fabric.



Which brings us back to the debate over Finlandization. George F. Kennan, in his latest book, The Cloud of Danger, praises the Finns for what he sees as their composure and firmness in dealing with the Soviet Union, and objects to the common usage of the term “Finlandization” as signifying something humiliating and spineless. Along somewhat similar lines, President Kekkonen, in two different speeches a few years ago, conceded that there was indeed such a thing as Finlandization, but went on to say that it should be seen as a positive phenomenon. The same position has been taken by others: far from being an object of pity, Finland, they contend, has benefited from its “adaptation” by getting the best of both worlds. It has excellent relations, including economic ties, with both West and East; its security is guaranteed as a result of the defense pact with the Soviet Union; and it has done more than its share of working for detente and closer cooperation between the power blocs. Thus Finlandization is not something to be deplored but actually offers a model for other countries that must live with the Soviet Union.

A Washington Post columnist, writing in 1972, maintained that Finland was “where most of Europe wanted to be,” a country not relying on the presence of foreign troops and having both security and more real freedom than some of the countries now in fear of being Finlandized. On the scholarly level, Professor David Vital, in The Survival of Small States, called Finland a paradigm for the future—a solution to the problem facing an isolated minor state pitted against a great military power. Mr. Vital, in contrast to the Washington Post columnist, did not have Europe in mind but especially the Middle East, which he saw falling “slowly under the preponderance of a single power—in this case the Soviet Union.” In the circumstances, the continued survival of a minor (Middle Eastern) state would depend first and foremost on its ability to maintain “a balance of restraint and pressure between it and the preponderant power in whose sphere of interest it falls, as does Finland.” While Mr. Vital did not specify what minor state he had in mind, it is unlikely that he meant Libya.

A diametrically opposite view to these has been taken by John P. Vloyantes, an American political scientist and author of a book on Soviet-Finnish relations, Silk Glove Hegemony (1975). According to him, it is nonsense to talk about Finlandization, because Finland’s situation is unique. Mr. Vloyantes writes that it is “fantastic” to assume that Russian influence could possibly replace American influence in Europe, and he cites as corroboration a “European revival,” as well as growing French, Italian, and British political and economic power.

That a strong Europe need not fear Finlandization goes without saying, but how strong is Europe? Time has not dealt kindly with Mr. Vloyantes’s evidence of growing European power. It may well be that the Soviet Union would not make specific demands on Western Europe under the threat of force. But there were no Soviet threats of force in 1958 either, when the Finns caved in despite their vaunted fearlessness and strong nerves—which, to put it cautiously, are not found in equal measure in other European countries.

The case of Finland is in some respects unique. The country was defeated in World War II; at the end of the war it was clearly within the Soviet sphere of influence; and the West never indicated that it would be able or willing to extend support to Finland in the case of conflict with its eastern neighbor. The other European countries by contrast, either belonged to NATO or had no common border with the Soviet Union. (Austria was an exception, but it was in a more fortunate position inasmuch as the Soviet Union was not the only occupying power—there was also a Western presence.) All this only means, however, that the Finnish analogy, like any analogy, has its limits. But it is certainly not a “myth,” as some have claimed.

For when all allowances for the uniqueness of the Finnish case have been made, it is still true that Finland is something of a model and that the Soviet leaders regard it as such. If Poland or Hungary constitute one example of a close relationship between the Soviet Union and its smaller neighbors, Finland provides another. Under certain conditions, this kind of relationship might spread to other parts of the globe.

Those “certain conditions” are to some extent already visible in Europe. In its present state Europe is weak and disunited, and there are legitimate doubts with regard to its political resolve. Much damage has been done by the centrifugal pressures, the narrow nationalist interests, which have made closer integration impossible, and the domestic difficulties now facing Italy and France may have repercussions affecting the rest of Europe. But above all, there is that mixture of lethargy and hypochondria which has bedeviled the continent for a number of years.



There is nothing inevitable or irreversible about the decline of Europe, but at the present time one still searches in vain for a turning of the tide. On the other hand, one does not have to look hard for signs of accommodation, of a lack of courage whenever some challenge or threat from the outside has to be faced. The incidents themselves may appear trivial—a Soviet attempt to change the program of the Venice film festival; Soviet expressions of displeasure over the size of the French defense effort; Soviet pressure on Spain not to join NATO; Soviet advice to the Austrians not to modernize their army, and to the Turks not to be so fussy about violations of their air space; Soviet pressure on all European countries not to provide facilities to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; Soviet efforts to erode the status of West Berlin. But if there is nothing startling or new about these and other Soviet initiatives, what is new is the subtle change in attitude toward them on the part of influential circles in Western Europe, the increased endeavor not to give offense to the Russians.

European reaction to President Carter’s early initiative for human rights is an example; while this policy was (and is) quite popular among Europeans in general, some leading newspapers have reacted with extreme concern or anger. President Giscard d’Estaing was the only one to express his disapproval publicly, but other heads of government privately said more or less the same thing. It was not that they opposed human rights, but they feared that their domestic problems might be aggravated as a result of annoying the Russians; more important yet, they seem to have been frightened by the idea of moving off the defensive in the ideological struggle. In these circles it has come to be regarded as legitimate for the Soviet Union to receive foreign Communist leaders and to cooperate with foreign Communist parties, but it is considered bad taste if a Western statesman sees leading Soviet dissidents or expresses support for their activities. By the same token, Soviet broadcasts in Western languages are considered legitimate, but extreme prudence is called for with regard to Western broadcasts in the languages spoken by the peoples of the Soviet Union.

It may be said that while such behavior is not very courageous, it only reflects Europe’s diminished place in today’s world, and the fact that the policy of accommodation, of adopting a low profile, is applied not just toward the Soviet Union but toward everybody, East and West, North and South. When issues of principle are discussed, the argument always recurs that Britain (or France) is a country whose economic survival depends on foreign trade, and that good customers must be kept happy. Nations that depend on the good will of others have to adjust their policies accordingly.

Such adjustments are undertaken by individuals as well as by whole societies whenever there is a radical change in the balance of power, or when such a change is anticipated. Students of Nazi Germany are familiar with the famous Gleichschaltung bandwagon of 1933, when millions of Germans suddenly joined Hitler’s party; they were not faced with an ultimatum, nor had they necessarily to fear for their jobs and positions. They simply did it as an act of insurance, just as some Italian newspapers and intellectuals have for the last few years prepared themselves for the “historic compromise” either by joining the Italian Communist party or at least by refraining from criticizing it. They have not even had to be advised, as Finnish journalists were by their president, to behave “responsibly”; they have felt the need to do so in their bones.

It is true that at the present time, direct foreign interference in the domestic affairs of any European country would not be tolerated. European political parties and their leaders do not need the stamp of Soviet approval; in this sense Europe has not yet been Finlandized, or even (with the possible exception of Italy) self-Finlandized. Should the present situation become permanent, perhaps some new term will have to be found to define Europe’s status in the world—something less than Finlandization, but also something less than the independence it has enjoyed until now. But time does not stand still. If the economic crisis deepens, if nationalism and Communism continue to prevent closer European cooperation, if NATO, shrunk or weakened, no longer offers effective protection, and if the paralysis of political will is not overcome, accommodation seems bound to turn into appeasement, and appeasement to lead to a diminution of sovereignty for which the term “Finlandization” continues, all things considered, to seem appropriate.

1 Finland's situation has been analyzed and described with remarkable candor in a recent book by a young Finnish author, Peter Kankkonen, Suomettuva Suomi: Raportii rappion politikasta (Finland Finlandized: A Report on the Politics of Decadence), Helsinki, 1976. This study is more outspoken than almost any Western work, with the exception of Kils Orvik's book, Sicherheit auf Finnisch (Security, Finnish-style), and George Maule's recent The Finnish Dilemma, London, 1976.

2 See Carl-Gustaf Lijius, “Self-Censorship in Finland,” Index on Censorship, Spring 1975.

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