Tuesday, February 08, 2022


The Silent Estate? [Vaikeneva valtiomahti?]
by Esko Salminen.

Kleio ja nykypäivä. Edita. Helsinki, 1996. 323 pp.

In this newly-published study, Esko Salminen gives a detailed analysis of the process of 'Finlandization' as it affected the Finnish press and other public media during the period 1968-1991. The book is remarkable in being the first full-length Finnish-language work to deal with the entire history of this delicate subject in all its ramifications, and the author is not afraid to name names and give chapter and verse where necessary. There is a fascinating photographic section, with reproductions of Finnish press reports and photo-reportage.

The term 'Finlandization' is of German origin (Finnlandisierung), and was first used in 1966 by Richard Löwenthal, Professor of Political Science at the Free University of Berlin, to describe a certain type of domination of a small state by a larger one. The process by which the Soviet Union pressured Finland into accepting a far-reaching control of its public and educational media monitored not directly from Moscow, but via the Soviet Embassy in Helsinki, came to stand throughout the 1970s and 80s as a warning to other Western states as to what might await them as the Soviet Union increased its power and influence over the whole of Europe in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the six parts of his volume, Esko Salminen shows how the development of Finlandization proceeded from events in Finland's immediate postwar history, such as the so-called 'Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance' (YYA-sopimus) that Finland was made to sign with the Soviet Union in 1948. He also demonstrates how the process was inextricably linked with the political careers of three Finnish presidents: Juho Paasikivi, Urho Kekkonen, and Mauno Koivisto. In addition, he gives a full and circumstantial account of the methods by which the Soviet domination of Finland's press and media was implemented, with particular emphasis on the phenomenon of 'self-censorship' (itsesensuuri), whereby strict limitations on freedom of speech and expression were imposed not from outside, but by the Finnish media themselves.

'Self-censorship', in the way that it was practised in Finland during the 1970s and 80s, has always been difficult for non-Finns to understand. Salminen demonstrates that it was essentially a two-edged weapon, which ultimately rebounded on the Soviets themselves. In the early part of his volume Salminen describes the elaborate arrangements that were made at the Soviet Embassy's press department in Tehtaankatu in order to monitor the columns and editorials of the Finnish newspapers. These arrangements were felt by the Soviet authorities to be necessary, since while it was a relatively simple matter to control and influence the news and information output of Finnish state radio and television, the heterogeneous and traditionally independent nature of the Finnish press made it much more difficult to exert pressure on it. What emerges from Salminen's long and well-documented study of Finlandization as it affected two major news topics - the exiling of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan - and from his analysis of Finnish news coverage (or non-coverage) of events in the Baltic States (especially Estonia), is that for many Finnish newspaper editors and journalists, self-censorship was a strategic instrument that was used to preserve press freedom, rather than destroy it. A revealing interview with William Rees-Mogg, former editor of the London Times, one of the Western newspapers that did much to publicize to the rest of the world Finland's problems in the area of information control, shows how this was possible - and also links the specifically Finnish context to a general European one.

In the post-Cold War era it might be thought that 'Finlandization' and 'self-censorship' would become obsolete concepts. However, Salminen convincingly demonstrates that, having been aggressively active in Finnish political life as recently as 1986, they are still part of the fabric of the Finnish political system - he refers, in particular, to the question of Finland's future membership of NATO, to the silence of the Finnish press on this subject, and to Max Jakobson's lonely foray into the details of this vexed issue in 1996. Above all, Salminen stresses that now that Finland, as a member of the European Union, has provided Europe's first border with Russia, it is incumbent on both Finland and the other European member states to make sure that the 'larger entity' of the Union remains a force for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression. Where the Soviet Union failed, Europe must succeed - for the possibility of a resuscitation of the old order, and of the old rule of fear, cannot be wholly excluded.

David McDuff

(this article was first published in 1997)