By Enrique Tessieri
Like a new chapter of a history book, each decade brings out its uniqueness to the foreign correspondent. In the 1980s it was Helsinki’s special relationship with Moscow and in the 1990s the country’s full political and economic integration with Western Europe. During the first decade of the present century we saw the impact of globalization. What kind of child will the 2010s be?
Life must have been easier than today for foreign journalists if they were writing about this country before World War II.
During the 1920s and 1930s, one of the biggest topics written by the foreign media was on legendary sportsmen like long-distance Olympic champion Paavo Nurmi, the “The Flying Finn.”
Another headline that won the hearts of the USAmerican public at the time was when Finland became the only nation in Europe to ever pay its debt back to the United States. American cowboy celebrity Will Rogers mentioned this in one of his short columns in 1934 in the Washington Times: “I just saw the finest Capitol or House of Parliament in the world, brand new. They vote by electric buttons… Not just because they paid their debt but these Finns are a knockout. Did you know they are the seventh-biggest country in all Europe?”
During the 1920s and 1930s, there was also the odd story on prohibition and how alcohol was bootlegged from Estonia.
Finland made it back to the front-page world headlines in 1939, when Josef Stalin’s Red Army attacked Finland. The Winter War turned into a bittersweet mix of suffering and valor of how a nation vastly outnumbered made a heroic stand against the former USSR.
If television brought horrifying images of the Vietnam War to American living rooms in the 1960s, the stories written on the Winter War by foreign correspondents had the same impact on world opinion. Such stories almost brought France and England on Finland’s side. The history of World War 2 would have been very different if Stalin would have persisted in his attack of Finland after March 1940.
After the odd relationship with Nazi Germany in the Continuation War and the signing of a new armistice with Moscow in 1944, Finland disappeared behind the backdrop of international events. Our nation was busy healing its wounds of the war and learning to survive in geopolitical near-isolation during most of the cold war.
In light of the last three decades that shaped Finland, what kinds of stories will foreign correspondents cover in the present decade?
Most likely one of the most important of these will be the role of nationalist populism.