Cold war journalism in Finland: Ghostbusting the past (City in English 3/1990)

by , under Migrant Tales

Migrant Tales will launch stories about how the cold war, or Finlandization, encouraged self-censorship and censorship. My journalism career began in 1986, when I made a living from writing. As a journalist writing for the Finnish and foreign media, the foreign ministry warned me several times about questioning Finland’s foreign policy and human rights violations in the former USSR. One official said if I didn’t stop writing negative things about the Soviet Union, I’d be blacklisted by the foreign ministry. It was a shameful period that we must never repeat.


Since September 19, 1944, just after Finland signed an armistice with the USSR, which concluded the so-called Continuation War, the lights of that period of turmoil were turned off. Those who turned off the lights did so in the hope that no-one would ever find his way back into that era characterized by so much irrationality and rivers of blood.

Two years previous, in April 1942m a book on Field Marshall Carl Gustaf Mannerheim had been published by one of the country’s leading publishers, WSOY. Field Marshall Mannerheim is a leading figure in Finnish history; he was one of the main architects in keeping Finland free from the communists.



The Continuation War should not be mistaken for the Winter War (1939-40) when, for over a period of 105 grueling days, the vastly outnumbered Finns miraculously kept the Red Army in check. During the Continuation War, Finland fought side by side with Nazi Germany against a common enemy – the Soviet Union.

During that month of 1942, the Continuation War had kicked off less than a year back, Hitler’s troops were around 250 kilometers from Stalingrad, and the US was at war against Japan after it had pulled off a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor; on Mannerheim’s 75th birthday June 4, Adolf Hitler flew to Finland to pay the Marshall a surprise visit.

The last paragraph of that book, called “Finland’s Field-Marshall,” gets sentimental: “The home of Mannerheim reflects his remarkable and great personality…The white Kaivopuisto (Helsinki neighborhood) home is like a museum…At present this home is empty but soon its owner will return, assuring Finland a happy future.”

There was, however, no immediate happy future secured: tens of thousands of Finnish men perished during the war, hundreds of thousands of Karelians were evacuated from the Karelian Isthmus, war reparations had to be paid, the celeste Finnish air force swastikas were replace by celeste white roundels.



The Finns, who had in the past harbored nothing but hate and mistrust for the Russians all the way up to September 1944, ended up making an about-turn. We wound up signing a treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (FCMA) with the USSR, as well as long-standing trade accords.

Finland’s post-War foreign policy went out of its way not to step on Moscow’s feet. It was no longer politically appropriate to openly criticize the USSR.

Even if Finns will not admit it openly, many are strongly racist and covertly very proud of it. One is not off track in asking what role endemic ethnocentrism played in the part of the Baltic Sea and in the USSR. Could the Winter War and Stalin’s illegal annexation of the Baltic republics have been averted had there been a greater dose of tolerance?

The harsh truth of the matter may be that if the Finns hadn’t hated the Russians as strongly as they did, they would never have moved to secure independence.

The totalitarian trademark of the USSR has not helped to erase the deeply ingrained mistrust of the Russians by the Finns, even if both countries have friendship and trade accords. Much of the friendship with the Russians has been seen on television, where Finnish and Soviet politicians smile before cameras while holding champagne glasses. It was a typical superpower scenario: Russian gunboat diplomacy in the Baltic Sea as opposed to US gunboat diplomacy in Latin America.

President Mauno Koivisto lit a candle of the past earlier this year by officially recognizing the Ingrian -Finns as return emigres. This small group of Finnish speakers, whose forefathers moved to the Leningrad region in the seventeenth century, have had a turbulent history. Thanks to Stalin and being a cultural minority, their numbers have dwindled from around 160,000 at the beginning of the century to around 77,000 today.

The Ingrian-Finns are one of the most painful casualties of the Continuation War. During World War II, around 63,000 of them resettled in Finland. However, after the war ended, Finland was obliged to return 56,000 Ingrian-Finns back to the USSR since that country considered them to be Soviet citizens.

Even if 4,000 Ingrian-Finns escaped to Sweden from Finland those that returned to the USSR were settled in some of the most remote areas of that country.

Undoubtedly, this small group of Finnish speakers living in the USSR sheds light on some of the hitherto-unresolved burning issues on Finland’s involvement in World War II. These people painfully and embarrassingly serve to expose how incapable this country has been in resolving the Ingrian question.

For many Finns, news that possibly thousands of Ingrian-Finns may move to Finland in the next two years, has exposed the vicious ogre of racism. The ethnocentric reasoning of some of these Finns is that even if they are our own kin, the Ingrian-Finns are only Russian beggars who want to come to Finland for a handout.

Normal spontaneous contacts with Finland’s cultural relatives in the USSR were impossible after Finland lost the Continuation War. The subsequent cold-war years only enhanced this anomalous predicament.

One needn’t consider it overly long to understand that the cold war has been a major actor in Finland’s strict policy towards Soviet refugees and immigrants never mind the treatment of non-Soviets by the Aliens’ Center.

Even if the Finnish border authorities have allowed Soviet citizens to transit through Finland into Sweden, the treatment of our cultural relatives has not been characterized by any strong sense of compassion.

Unlike Sweden, Finland has never granted any Soviet citizen refugee status* and it is well known among Finland’s own cultural relatives (Ingrian-Finns, Vepses, Karelians, Estonians) in the Soviet Union that we have a notorious reputation for returning people back to the USSR if they cross the border illegally.

This fact was confirmed by Aliens’ Center ex-Senior Inspector Hannu Siljamäki, who openly admitted that Finland has returned Soviet citizens to the USSR if they did not have a visa on entering Finland. The preposterous reason why no Soviet citizen has ever received political asylum in Finland – according to Siljamäki – is because no-one has ever applied for such status. Common people, however, have helped smuggle these Soviet citizens through and clear of Finland.

The Aliens’ Center ex-official did not want to speculate whether Finland’s hard-line stance on refugees had hindered this country’s having normal contacts with their close cultural relatives in the USSR.

The figures speak for themselves: Sweden has tens of thousands of Estonians, whereas Finland only has a mere 2,900 Soviet citizens living within its borders, of which we do not even know how many are Estonian or Ingrian-Finn. Thus it would not be wrong to conclude that the cold war has strongly hindered the Finns in searching for their cultural roots.

What is unfortunate is the absolute stance of the government on opening up the past for serious debate. Even if Finland didn’t want to open up the past, is paradoxically a victim of its history. Some analysts are convinced that one reason Finland does not want to scrap the FCMA, is because such a step would reinforce the concept in the West that there was something suspicious about Finnish-Soviet relations.

If today the Finns have close ties with the USSR and cooperated in the past with Nazi Germany, I am positive that Finland’s prime motive was opportunistic. Like an unresolved quandary, many Finnish consensus politicians actually believe that the Continuation War and cold war never took place.


*According to Jussi Pekkarinen and Juha Pohjonen’s “Ei aroma Suomen selkänahasta – ihmisluotusukset Neuvostoliittoon 1944-1981,” Otava 2006, a total of 153 Soviet citizens were apprehended by Finnish authorities during 1945-1981. Of these, 114 (74.5%) were returned to the USSR, 36 (23.5%) were granted residence permits, and 3 (2%) died in Finland. None were ever granted asylum.