by D.J. Webb
Finland is a country that I have mixed feelings about. One of my great-grandparents was Finnish, from the Swedish-speaking minority (the other seven great-grandparents being English and Irish by extraction), and so I am interested in the country. Yet try as I might, there seems to be some kind of barrier preventing me from really admiring the country and its culture. Finland’s demands for “collateral” when taking part in eurozone bailouts are a pointed reminder that this country is quite different from the UK culturally, taking a full part in the EU structures, but demanding the right to defend its own interests all the same. Surely if you’re in the eurozone, you should either meet all your obligations, or just leave? Finland’s troubled relationship with Russia is also worthy of analysis. In the end, I feel that Russia is the long-term strategic partner the UK should be focusing on, at the expense of EU nations such as Finland.
A backwater historically
Before the Russian conquest of Finland in 1809, Finland was part of Sweden, and had been so for many centuries. The official language was Swedish; the established church was the Church of Sweden; and the nobility and educated people everywhere in the country spoke Swedish. The 80% or so of the population who spoke Finnish as their native language—a proportion that has risen to nearly 95% today—left almost no cultural achievements: the fact that Finnish is now a written language is purely down to the efforts of a Swedish-speaking bishop, Mikael Agricola, who translated the New Testament into Finnish and thus established early written norms for the language, in the 16th century.
Anyone of consequence in Finland before the modern period was from the Swedish-speaking minority, including Anders Chydenius (1729-1803), an 18th-century priest whose writings on economics have been compared with those of Adam Smith; the botanist, Pehr Kalm (1716-79); the chemist, Johan Gadolin (1760-1852); the mathematician/astronomer, Anders Johan Lexell (1740-1784); the wartime leader, Gustaf Mannerheim (1867-1945); the composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957); the poet and author of the Finnish national anthem, Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-77); and the author of children’s stories, Zacharias Topelius (1818-98).
Given the total lack of any cultural achievements of the Finnish-speaking population, it is no surprise that, despite the fact that it was part of Sweden, the country was a backwater in terms of the European economy. There are almost no old buildings in Finland—the cathedral in Turku, built in 1300, but largely restored after a fire in 1827, being a significant exception. Houses were wooden, and frequently burnt down. Drunkenness was common in 17th- and 18th-century Finland, and, well into the 20th century, Finnish immigrants to the US faced a hostile welcome owing to their clannishness, drunkenness and habit of engaging in fighting with knives (see The History of the Finns in Michigan, by Armas Kustaa Ensio Holmio). The much higher rate of crime in Finnish society until relatively recently is discussed in Heikki Ylikangas’ book Five Centuries of Violence in Finland and the Baltic Area.
In some ways, Finland’s history bears a curious resemblance to that of Ireland. Around one-third of the population died in the Great Famine of Finland in 1695-97, and a further 15% of the population died in the famine of 1866-68 (around 270,000, 150,000 in excess of the normal death rate), exacerbated by the reluctance of the finance minister, Johan Vilhelm Snellman, to borrow money to alleviate the famine lest the currency, the markka, depreciate in value.
Similarly, there were great losses in warfare and occupation. The 1714-22 occupation of Finland by Russia, known as the ‘Great Wrath’, was accompanied by a scorched earth policy that reduced the Finnish population from 400,000 to 330,000. Around 60,000 Finns served in the Swedish army during the Great Northern War at the time—a large percentage of the population—of whom only around 10,000 survived the war. Finally, in 1808 most of Finland was occupied by Russia, and the cession of the country to Russia in 1809 left Finland as a backwater in wider European terms, certainly, but as a more progressive part of the Russian Empire between 1809 and 1917, when the country declared independence.
Angus Maddison’s calculations of historical GDP per capita for a large number of countries, using 1990 international purchasing power parity dollars, give a world average of $666 in 1820, with the most prosperous countries being the Netherlands and Great Britain, at $1,838 and $1,706 respectively. At $781, GDP per capita in Finland was the lowest in Western Europe, even below the $877 for Ireland, although well above the $688 estimate for the Russian Empire. By 1914, Finland’s GDP per capita had risen to $2,001, but far below the $5,189 for highest-placed New Zealand, and well below the $4,927 estimated for the richest country in Europe, Great Britain. (Maddison’s estimate for the Russian Empire in 1913 was $1,488.) Finland caught up considerably in the 1950s and 1960s, but it was not until 1989 that the country’s GDP per capita finally exceeded the average for the 12 leading Western European nations, as calculated by Maddison. The country is now one of the better-run parts of Western Europe, with an AAA credit rating.
Finland’s culture and its success
Clearly, Finland has by and large done well for itself in the modern era. Interestingly, the estimate of average IQ for Finland given by Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster and Tatu Vanhanen of the University of Helsinki is not stratospheric, at only 97 (http://www.rlynn.co.uk/pages/article_intelligence/t4.asp), behind Sweden’s 101 and ahead of Russia’s 96. Yet Finnish educational scores are very high, leading some liberals to try to analyse the Finnish education system to see if anything can be learned therefrom and transplanted to ethnic-minority sink schools in the US and the UK. However, Steve Sailer has argued (at http://www.vdare.com/posts/wsj-wonders-why-is-finland-so-finlandy) that Finland is successful—because it is Finnish. There are very few Africans and Asians in Finland. Most of the foreigners that there are there are Russian or Estonian.
This may be because the weather in Finland is cold and the language forbidding. But the culture of Finland is also impenetrable. Finland is most certainly not an open and welcoming multicultural society, but a tight-knit society of people who are generally opposed to giving jobs to foreigners—and unafraid to say so over the phone to foreign job applicants. Finland has not, therefore, sought out the serious social problems of countries like the UK. Although membership of the EU does require them to allow freedom of movement to EU citizens, there are significant bureaucratic hurdles faced by UK citizens who move to Finland, requiring lots of pieces of paper and permissions to be applied for in the right order. Englishmen seeking to rent an apartment in Helsinki may simply be told that the agency doesn’t want to deal with non-Finns. So whether friendly or not, the closed nature of the society has served to insulate Finland from immigration and multiculturalism, which possibly forms part of the explanation for Finland’s success, even if only in a negative sense, that this was a trap Finland did not fall into.
Nevertheless, Finland’s success remains a little perplexing: after all, this country did not make any contributions to the Industrial Revolution pioneered by countries like the UK, Belgium and the US. The fact that the electric light-bulb exists in Finland is purely down to the efforts of inventors and scientists in the UK. And yet, much as the Japanese have been able to do, Finland has mimicked and mastered technology developed by the earlier economic frontrunners. Many observers see some kind of parallel between the cultures of Finland and Japan. Both countries have been relatively unaffected by the Western mania for multiculturalism and low academic achievement, and both have been able to snatch up the economic achievements of other countries and turn them into their own. Even the quietness and taciturn nature of the Finns bears a distinct similarly to the Japanese. The Finns seem to be able to knuckle down to work with a Japanese sense of efficiency, in a culture that is more collective than the individualistic cultures of countries like the UK.
Finally, a note on language policy, reflecting my own interests: Finland seems a country that trumpets its achievements in a way that is less common in the more multicultural states of Europe, and in this regard Finnish people often claim their language policy is the most enlightened in the world, as Swedish speakers are entitled to education in their own language. Yet the Swedish speakers have dwindled in the population as a whole, because the national policy is that as soon as the Finnish-speaking population of a municipality passes a certain threshold, the whole municipality goes bilingual, and then beyond a certain higher threshold, unilingually Finnish. There is no attempt to maintain the Swedish language as the language of administration in the entire area that was Swedish-speaking up until recently, with the result that only small rural areas are unilingually Swedish-speaking today. It would be more honest to say that Finland’s long-term policy has been to scale down the Swedish language, other than in the island province of Åland, where language policy is governed by an international treaty, requiring the administration to remain Swedish-speaking regardless of population movements from elsewhere. The fact that the Swedish language is on the curriculum at all in Finland is the subject of great resentment and anger from most Finns, showing that this country is actually jingoistic and unbending in its fundamental culture. Smiling Finns with fluent English considerably misrepresent the brooding nature of Finnish culture—and its resentment of outsiders, including those in Sweden.
The EU and Russia
The cultural factors that aided Finland’s catch-up economically are not a function of the EU, as Finland was a late joiner. Interestingly, it is the only Scandinavian country to use the euro—most Finns get angry at any attempt to depict their country as part of Scandinavia, claiming it is only part of an entity called Fennoscandia, but I will call it Scandinavia here—and it seems its willingness to join such a hare-brained project reflects its search for allies against Russia. Just as Finns define themselves against Sweden, they also define themselves against Russia. It remains to be seen if the backward-looking stance of joining the euro as a move against Russia will have serious negative consequences for Finland in the event of a collapse of the eurozone. A parallel can be drawn with the way the Republic of Ireland joined the euro to mark its economic independence from the UK—at great ultimate cost to that country.
Finland established its independence in 1917, but found itself invaded once again by Russia in 1939-40 in the Winter War. The proximate cause seems to have been the Soviet concern to prevent Finnish territory from being used by Germany in the forthcoming war. Yet Russia found it far from easy to defeat Finland, and the final Russian casualties (126,875 dead or missing and 188,671 wounded) far exceeded the Finnish casualties (25,904 dead or missing and 43,557 wounded). Very little international support was received, and Finland was forced to sign over its second city, Viipuri (now Vyborg in Russia) to the Soviet Union. In all, 11% of Finland’s territory and 30% of its economic assets were handed over to the Russians. The entire Finnish population of the ceded area, more than 400,000 people, was evacuated and resettled in the rest of Finland, which is why the population of Vyborg is totally Russian today.
Fifteen months later, Finland joined the German war against Russia, in what is known as the Continuation War. Finland clearly gambled on a Nazi victory. Finland drove the Russian forces back to the pre-war border 30 km from Leningrad, thus aiding the German siege of Leningrad, and occupied a large swathe of Russian territory in Eastern Karelia—territories that had never been part of Finland, but where minority ethnic groups had an affiliation to the Finns. The Finns estimated that in 1941 the population of the occupied territories was 85,000, mainly women and children owing to warfare conditions, of whom around half belonged to ethnic groups, such as the Karelians, that could be absorbed into the Finnish population. Of the other half, most were Russians or Ukrainians, 24,000 of whom were interned in camps by the Finns, of whom between 4,000 and 7,000 died of hunger and harsh conditions. The Germans and Finns also attempted to capture the northern Russian port city of Murmansk, albeit unsuccessfully.
In 1944, the Soviets finally drove the Finns back from most of their territorial gains, but the Finns still fought them to a standstill. At the time of the armistice in September 1944, Finland remained an undefeated power, with the front line still in Russian territory. The Finns had lost another 63,204 men dead or missing, with 158,000 wounded, and the Soviets had lost around 200,000 men dead or missing, with 64,000 captured (18,000 of whom died in Finnish camps) and 385,000 wounded. These brought total Soviet casualties over the two wars to more than a million. In the subsequent peace treaty, Finland lost more territory (its Arctic port of Petsamo) and was forced to pay reparations equivalent to half of its 1939 GDP. Finally, 260,000 Finns who had moved back to their former homes after territories were recaptured in the Continuation War were evacuated back to the rest of Finland once again.
This forms the backdrop to Finland’s maintenance of its independence and its economic growth in the post-war period. Finland remained a neutral country, albeit with a unique relationship with the Soviet Union, and the country benefited from a close trading relationship with Russia. The collapse of the Soviet Union has, however, given Finland an opportunity to move out from under Russia’s shadow, joining the EU and the eurozone in a considerable sign of a less neutral geopolitical stance.
Clearly, invasion by Russia continually held Finland back in history, and the history of the Second World War provides a reminder that proximity to Russia will always be the most important geopolitical threat to Finland’s independence. The Finnish government’s official stance is that it does not claim territories ceded to Russia, although the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, is often asked about this question by Finnish journalists, provoking a less than friendly response. It seems clear that Finland’s decision to join the Nazi attack on Russia, and to go further than the original borders in its occupation of Russia, not to mention the one million Russian casualties of the war, amounted to a poor decision. Russia’s invasion of Finland was provocative, but a large country can allow itself some latitude of bad behaviour; Finland’s invasion of Russia was an even greater provocation. Consequently, although around one-third of the Finnish population would like the ceded territories back, it is hard to agree that Finland should have any valid claim on Russian territory today.
What is even more concerning is the way that countries with grievances towards Russia, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Finland, have joined the EU as part of an insurance mechanism against Russia in the future. This attitude of allowing the events of the 1940s to dictate economic policy today could well be the Achilles’ Heel of Finland in the future. Finland is a net contributor to the EU budget, in fact a larger one in terms of the proportion of its contributions to its own GDP than in the UK. Finland has also taken on the regulatory legacy of the EU and joined the eurozone.
Rightly or wrongly, by joining the euro, Finland has gained responsibilities towards the other eurozone members. The very meaning of the euro currency is that Finland regards its long-term future as in some way joined with the likes of Greece. So it is a little perplexing that Finland has been the one country to insist on collateral before taking part in the various bailouts of Greece. Finland’s consciousness of itself as a country that is linguistically and culturally isolated has traditionally informed a much more determined and almost boorish assertion of its own interests than is the case in countries like the UK, which like to play the soft touch in the international arena.
Britain and Finland
This brings us finally to relations between Britain and Finland. Britain did not lift a finger to help Finland during the Winter War with the Soviet Union, but in more recent times you would think that they have become allies of a sort. Yet Finland is an odd sort of country—a country of unwelcoming and unfriendly people, who support all sorts of politically correct causes, although often failing to implement them fully at home (see immigration and multiculturalism). They give the impression of pretending to understand and keep abreast of the cultural developments abroad, an impression enhanced by their good English-language skills, while in fact nursing xenophobia and clannishness at home in a way that would be regarded as unpalatable in England or France. It is worth noting that I am against immigration into England, but don’t see why that should be incompatible with a generous and open attitude towards other cultures where other nations are not seeking to overwhelm us. The fact that a former Finnish prime minister, Harri Holkeri, was prepared to serve as co-chairman of the Northern Ireland peace process that made so many concessions to the IRA needs to be factored into our relations with Finland. The actions of any country’s former prime ministers are not the acts of private citizens, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Holkeri was more than happy to take steps to dissolve democracy in Northern Ireland as he hailed from a country that had a “consensual” style of politics, where everything is settled by the politicians behind closed doors without popular discussion.
I think in this regard we can cite the recent comments of Finland’s Swedish-speaking Europe Minister, Alexander Stubb, who condemned Britain’s attitude towards the EU in the following terms:
I think Britain is right now, voluntarily, by its own will, putting itself in the margins.
We see it in foreign policy, we see it in economic policy, we see it linked to the single currency. And I, as someone who advocates the single market and free trade, find that very unfortunate, very unfortunate.
It’s almost as if the boat is pulling away and one of our best friends is somehow saying ‘bye-bye’ and there’s not really that much we can do about it.
This was a hostile comment by a minister of a nation that is technocratic rather than democratic in its internal affairs and joined the EU in order to drag the EU into any disputes with Russia in the future. The EU has become an albatross around our necks, turning allies into foes—if that is what nations who oppose our independence are—and it is high time we valued personal freedom, a small state, low trading barriers and genuine civil society in our international partners. Finland has none of these things, but is in fact the poster child for extreme state interference (for instance, government-run off-licences), a kleptocratic tax system, political conformity, and Europhilia (albeit a Europhilia informed by hostility to Russia). I would like British foreign policy to orient itself towards Russia and not the EU states—most forecasts show that Russia will be richer than Western Europe at some point in this century, and, in the end, Russia is not a country trying to dictate our laws to us. Consequently, I value Finland and its culture less and less. As for the euro crisis, I say, “bring it on!”