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What Finlandization Really Means
Screenshot from the film Blood for Dracula (1974)

What Finlandization Really Means

There's now talk of neutrality, of following the Finnish model, for Ukraine and others. Finnish novelist Sofi O. says No! Putin will remain a predator, and "Finlandization" vampirized her country during the Cold War.

Sofi Oksanen

Jeffrey Gedmin: During the Cold War, Finland was independent, unoccupied, and democratic. Yet there was a price tag known as Finlandization. What did Finlandization mean in practice?

Sofi Oksanen: As with the Stockholm syndrome, Finns started to become attached to the hostage taker. This led to self-censorship and self-deception. I tend to highlight psychological consequences of the relationship as they are the most treacherous. It takes decades to set the moral compass right again.

In our textbooks, negative adjectives connected to the Soviet Union were removed. There was no fully free press or unrestricted freedom of expression. Books like Solzenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago were not published. Songs and movies were banned. Environmental issues were complicated, as we couldn't talk about the Soviet Union's catastrophic environmental pollution. We even missed a presidential election in 1973 due to Soviet pressure.

Finlandization affected our everyday life. It affected our values, national identity, historical memory, and ethics.

JG: Today, a number of policy analysts have argued for Finlandization for Ukraine. At the same time, though, one hears Finnish voices pleading against such an option. How to understand this divergence?

SO: I think this division is proof of how successful Finlandization was for the USSR. Globally, it has a polished image. The reality was different. Finlandization was a tool of oppression.

No one would recommend that a kidnapped person return to the arms of the kidnapper. Yet that is what is being proposed to Ukraine in the name of Finlandization.

JG: How does Finlandization sounds to Vladimir Putin’s ears? Can you speculate for us?

SO: Sweet as pie. Finlandization is the cheapest, cleanest way to invade a country.

JG: Today’s crisis over Ukraine is animating politics. Can you say anything about the cultural sphere? Novelists, composers, playwrights and so forth: Is there an outcry? Or indifference?

SO: I'm not saying it's indifference, but the number of people participating in public or social media demonstrations is small. The pandemic has hit the culture industry with a hammer; people are struggling to make a living.

Art is a way to deal with complicated matters. I'm sure there will be novels and art about the situation. It just takes time to create a piece of art. In my novel Dog Park, war in Ukraine plays a crucial role. But it took four years to write that novel.

It's worth mentioning that Russian contemporary literature rarely pays attention to current affairs, let alone the recent past. Russian author Sergei Lebedev is an exception. In his interviews he points out that by now there should be Russian novels about the Chechen war. But there are no novels about the Chechen war, other than Lebedev’s own, Untraceable.

JG: How do you see the European Union in this crisis? Is this finally the hour of Europe? And the United States—indispensable nation or fading, distracted super power?

SO: I see change for the better, at least in awareness and the ability to recognize Russia's hybrid operations. The EU has understood that they concern us all. It's a big change compared to pre-2014. The EU is no longer sleepwalking.

JG: Has Russian disinformation played a role in preparing the way for the current crisis? Any examples?

SO: Russia has been testing its cyber attacks since the 2007 “Bronze Night” incident in Estonia. The pretext was the relocation of a statue of a Soviet soldier. It was the first international hybrid operation conducted by Russia. The international reaction was strong, but short-lived; the Western reaction was not determined enough at the time—then the same kind of operations subsequently replayed elsewhere.

Foreign media still repeats Russian disinformation about Estonia destroying the statue or doing something less honorable to it. In reality the statue was relocated to a cemetery, because it had become a sort of drinking spot for young people, especially Russian-speakers.

In 2009, Estonian author Imbi Paju and I published a collection of articles about the recent Estonian past, Fear Behind Us All. A huge number of international experts contributed to this compilation, including Anne Applebaum and Toomas Hendrik Ilves. The launch in Helsinki became a perfect example of Russia's operations. Duma members came to Helsinki claiming the book was "anti-Russian.” They brought a number of Nashi youngsters to demonstrate. Local pro-Russia activists were also demonstrating, along with a large number of different extremist groups. This was all orchestrated.

In Finland we have a very active Pro-Putin group producing lots of material, operated visibly since around 2007. They’ve declared an end of the Estonian state, calling it a fictional nation. The leader of this group has "established" a "Donetsk People's Republic" embassy to Finland. They have been trying to recruit right-wing Finns to fight against Ukraine in Donbas.

JG: Why does Ukraine matter?

SO: For Putin, Ukraine is one operation in a larger strategy: restoring the might of the old USSR. He cannot succeed without Ukraine.

For Putin, failure in this operation is not an option. Ukraine cannot be allowed to show the Russian people a democratic alternative. Putin wants to uproot all inspiration for revolution, for dignity, for democracy.

Ukraine is just that: A battle for democracy. Through Ukraine, Putin wants to change the whole security architecture of Europe. This cannot be an option for Europe or the rest of the Western world.

Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish-Estonian author and playwright whose work has been translated into forty-six languages. Her latest novel is Dog Park, set at the intersection of East and West.