Mon Oct 1st, 2007 at 04:50:22 PM EST
In a previous diary I wrote a bit about the origins of the term "finlandisation", which refers to the intricate relationship Finland had to its largest neighbour during the Cold War, the Soviet Union, while still remaining a functioning democracy. The term can also analogously refer to any undue influence a large country has on a smaller neighbour.
Though the dissolution of the Soviet Union occurred more than 15 years ago, the term remains as relevant as always, in Finland in particular.
In a recent speech in Washington DC, the Finnish minister of defense, Jyri Häkämies (of the conservative National Coalition Party), made the following comment in regards to threats to Finnish national security:
In general, Finland is privileged to be located in one of the safest corners of the world. However, given our geographical location, the three main security challenges for Finland today are Russia, Russia and Russia. And not only for Finland, but for all of us.
Though the speech in itself was fairly boilerplate stuff, consisting mostly of vague generalities, that particular remark drew a lot of ire back home in Finland. The Social Democrat-led opposition immediately criticised Häkämies and the government, claiming that decades of Finnish foreign policy were being thrown out of the window. Some even went as far as calling for his resignation (Hufvudstadsbladet, September 12 2007
, registration required to access online archive).
One can certainly make the argument that the opposition is playing politics by opposing Häkämies as vehemently as they have. Though accusing politicians of engaging in politics hardly seems like a particularly harsh indictment.
Of course, deciphering what exactly Häkämies was trying to say is no trivial task.
I think it would be a foolish - and mistaken - conclusion to draw that the new Russia will threaten Finland's security...Geopolitics is back, and it is back with force, and we who have the responsibility for Finland's national defence must draw certain conclusions.
Russia is not a threat, but we must draw "certain conclusions". Huh?
Certainly one may argue that Russia poses a "security challenge" to Finland. Nothing particularly peculiar in that argument. But the context in which he made that statement is important.
In the run-up to the elections to the Eduskunta (Finnish parliament) earlier this year, former minister of finance, presidential candidate and current speaker of the Eduskunta Sauli Niinistö (NCP) lambasted then foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja (SDP) for his supposed anti-Americanism, stating that Finland's relationship to the USA had faltered during Tuomioja's tenure at the foreign ministry, among other things citing the fact that Finnish president Tarja Halonen (SDP) had not met even once with American president George W Bush (Hufvudstadsbladet, March 2 2007
It was thus fairly obvious that a defeat for the SDP would result in a foreign policy that sought to bring Finland closer to the United States and NATO.
Finnish foreign policy has always been conducted with a certain amount of consensus among the parties. The current government is seeking to end that, ostensibly attempting to make Finnish foreign policy an entirely partisan affair.
This is where the term "finlandisation" becomes useful: any criticism of the current Finnish foreign policy can easily be dismissed as "finlandisation", "attempts at censorship" or "living in the past". The supposed perpetrators of "finlandisation" are accused of attempting to stifle the debate, but that is exactly the purpose of making the accusation in the first place. In this regard, the term is entirely analogous to dismissing something as "anti-American", "Pétainisme" or the all-time greatest put down of the warmongering movement: "appeasement". It only serves to disparage differing opinion.
See for example columnist and former politician Jutta Zilliacus:
Bara nu inte Häkämies faller på knä och ber om ursäkt. Då är vi tillbaka i finlandiseringen.
As long as Häkämies doesn't fall to his knees and apologises. Then we're back in finlandisation.
The sentiments were echoed by speaker Niinistö:
På presskonferensen gjordes upprepade försök att få honom att berätta vem han menar när han kritiserar försöken att begränsa den utrikespolitiska diskussionen.
- Det verkar som om man skulle anse att bara vissa personer får ha åsikter om utrikespolitiken. Det är som en fläkt från femtio år tillbaka.
During the press conference repeated attempts were made to get [Niinistö] to say whom he's referring to when he criticises the attempts to limit the foreign policy debate.
- It seems as if some would think that only certain persons are allowed to have opinions about foreign policy. It's like a breeze from fifty years ago.
It is entirely in this spirit that neocon "thinker" Norm Podhoretz attempts to popularise a new phrase with regards to the threat posed by "islamofascism":
But in the meantime, looking at Europe today, we already see the unfolding of a process analogous to Finlandization: it has been called, rightly, Islamization.
And so, anyone disagreeing with Podhoretz' characterisation of Europe can easily be dismissed as cowering in fear before the behemoth of evil that is islamofascism with as little effort as it would take to type "islamisation".
Häkämies' statement is part and parcel of the foreign policy the current centre-right Finnish government seeks to conduct. The government has become increasingly vocal about a possible NATO membership. Nevermind that a majority of the Finnish people are opposed to NATO membership
(and as an aside, in the 2006 presidential election, only one candidate, the Swedish People's Party's Henrik Lax, openly advocated NATO membership. He received a paltry 1.6% of the vote, a terribly small percentage even for the SPP).
This is not to say that Russia is above criticism, nor should it be. But invoking "finlandisation" when your argument in turn is criticised is not adhering to the "open debate" you claim to be in favour of. It is merely invoking a modified Godwin's law.