on the World Today
EVERY nation in Europe feels the threat of Russia, and none more so than the Scandinavian countries. Norway and Denmark, as members of NATO, look for support to the West. But what of Sweden, standing firm upon and persevering in her own armed neutrality? And Finland, her uneasy position on Russia’s doorstep held by the good sense and moral strength of her people?
History will judge the correctness of Sweden’s attitude. Those in favor of neutrality want for their country the international importance of a Switzerland, the role of mediator between East and West, and survival in the first quick onslaught of an atomic war. They are careful not to move too far in any direction; they like coöperating committees and belonging to the culture of the West. Those against neutrality fear a major error in policy, feeling that for Sweden to be a balancing force is not so useful as for her to side with those countries which are earnestly trying to maintain peace.
But, given her difficult geographical position, Sweden’s policy is not a loss to the cause of democracy. She boasts a vigorous and lively defense effort. Besides the third best air force in Europe, and an efficient army and navy, the Swedes probably have the best civil defense outfit in the world. It includes compulsory service for all; deep shelters; underground factories, hangars, and storage depots.
The Danish Foreign Minister, at a press conference in July, emphasized how grateful to Sweden Norway and Denmark should be, because after the war, when military regroupings were taking place, Sweden proposed a Scandinavian Defense Pact knowing that she, as the only partner with something to offer, would have initially to carry the whole burden. But though they derive comfort from their neighbor and are willing participants in the deliberations of the Nordic Council, Denmark and Norway feel a certain resentment that Sweden knew not the iron clamp of the invader.
Food to export
It is easy to accuse the Swedes of being comfortable, well-fed, and smug, and to forget that during the last war they had to learn to feed themselves. This they did by a fairly severe rationing system and by a self-supporting agricultural policy which has been so successful that they now have an exportable surplus of wheat, butter, milk products, and cheese. They estimate that they have 400,000 tons of bread grains annually as surplus for export. They looked to Germany as the natural buyer of their first wheat surplus last year, and Germany’s import restrictions disappointed and angered them. A new trade agreement may allay their fears of increasing competition from their largest pre-war market.
A new twelve-month trade agreement with Poland includes imports of 1.5 million tons of coal, various chemicals, textiles, and hardwoods, as against Swedish exports of 500,000 tons of iron ore, iron and steel, machinery, and fish. The agreement provides for certain temporary Swedish credits intended to facilitate Polish payments during the summer season when Poland’s exports are at their lowest and Sweden’s in full swing.
Car mania in Sweden
On the home front, boom conditions are obtaining, and the official production index has exceeded the record level reached during 1951. But government fears of renewed inflation are expressed in a curtailment of the huge post-war social welfare expansion and in the concern over the present car mania in Sweden. During the first five months of the year, 32,623 cars were imported, compared with 18,812 for the same period in 1953.
Opposition critics consider that by removing the 10 per cent excise duty on cars from the United Kingdom, France, and Italy last year, and by underestimating public demand, the government has itself brought about the situation which it is seeking to remedy. The Minister of Finance has said that building controls must remain, there can be no relaxation of restrictions on the free writing-down of assets for income tax purposes, and there must be further tightening of credit restrictions.
But unemployment is negligible and wages are high and the Swede is living very much up to, if not beyond, his income. The Social Democrat government has a majority only by coalition with the Agrarian Party, and prosperity is inclining people towards the Conservatives and making them impatient of socialist legislation. They resent above all the housing shortage and the restrictions on, and fabulous cost of, private building.
There is criticism that in foreign policy the present government tends to be pro-Russian. Communism is vigorously opposed and lives as a traditional rump, particularly in the north. The Swedes are too close to Russia to have much love for its politics.
Timber and wood pulp are making large profits, and an increased demand for Swedish pulp in the United States is welcomed; but as long as prices remain lower than those offered in Europe, the Swedes will continue to sell to Europe.
The King of Sweden presides over the Cabinet, but he has no more power than a loving and interested governor-general. He himself is a hundred per cent democrat and the best example of the Swedish boast of the perfectly natural relations existing between employer and worker, King and Socialist minister. And yet, endemic in Swedish living is an exact ritual governing social life which to the foreigner appears contradictory in a people the majority of whom have for years voted Socialist.
The Swedes are not a talkative race and, in comparison with Danes or Norwegians, they seem to be stiff, worthy, and rather formal, but they are great restaurant goers and avid newspaper readers. Above all they have a bold love for things modern and an uncanny gift for urban planning, scientific research, technical education, mechanization, social welfare, and practical, tasteful industrial design.
Finland, a study in contrast
The Finns, whose unruly and hazardous past underlies the present, are a tough race of fundamental individualists, of dreaming poets and active planners, of solid worth and hopeful procrastination. The Finns describe their basic characteristics by the term sisu, which allows them a mixture of violence and placidity, of ardor and patience, and typifies the simplicity, courage, and tenacity of a people to whom things can never happen the easy way. Sisu is as much a part of Finland as the sauna, a steam bath in a wooden house, of which there are half a million for 4 million devotees who hurl themselves, sweating, into the icy water of their lakes or the deep snow of their winter mantle.
They read a lot of newspapers and are great buyers of books; Helsinki has the best-stocked bookshop in Europe. They are internationally minded and love to travel; have no great enjoyment of food or clothes but are lively makers of music and of original modern designs in ceramics, glass, and textiles. There is scarcely a town-dweller, from wealthiest to poorest, who in summer does not withdraw to that Finland of islands, lakes, and forests, whose unique beauty lies transformed by the strange and haunting play of light upon sky and water.
The last war and its peace terms took from Finland and gave to Russia great slices of territory — including the prosperous regions of eastern Karelia, the rich mineral deposits of Petsamo — and a fifty-year lease of the Porkkala district, twelve miles southwest of Helsinki. Finland’s armed services were severely limited and 450,000 refugees from Karelia had to be settled, housed, and fed.
But the losses of war have not stopped Finland’s recovery. Her love of freedom and independence has, in fact, made her the only nation to keep up the payment of her First World War debt to the United States and to have paid in full at the agreed time her severe reparations to Russia. Her reward in the first instance has been the warm regard of Americans, and in the second a grudging respect from the Russians for a dangerous adversary.
Finland’s tie with Russia
A matter of great concern to the West is Finland’s post-reparations dependence on Russian markets for her relatively new engineering, shipbuilding, and metal industries. These industries cannot hope to compete with those of Western Europe, nor can they be terminated and their workers dismissed without serious economic and social dislocation. A new five-year trade agreement recently signed in Moscow guarantees a market for Finland’s heavy industries for the next five years.
Prime Minister Kekkonen, who has had a large say in Finnish foreign trade policy, is a most astute man, and is the leader of the antiCommunist Agrarian Party. But he has a dominant belief in himself as arbiter in Russo-Finnish affairs and it is to be hoped that he has not committed his country to greater dependence in the political as well as in the economic field.
At home the Finns have their share of the current financial problems. They could be eased by cutting down government expenditure on social and other services and by lifting the burden from those who are hardest hit — the industrial middle class. Many of Finland’s trading problems would disappear if her reserves of foreign currency could be built up. But for the Finn the most attractive thing to do when faced with a problem is nothing.
How much Communism?
The Finns dislike having to make up their minds about something, but when they do, they stick to their opinion. This is shown most clearly in their political setup. There are 200 seats in the Diet and the leftwing element has never been higher than 110 or lower than 90 and the right-wing element the same the other way round; there is not more than 10 per cent between them. The orthodox left wing is the Social Democrat Party, with the Labor Party farther to the left. Out of a working population of 2 million there are 250,000 organized trade unionists, of whom 100,000 are Communists.
The Communist vote is disproportionately large in the north: 33 per cent in Finnish Lapland compared with an average of 21 per cent for the whole country. By contrast, however, the vote is 12 per cent in the vulnerable province of Kymi in southeast Finland, adjoining the new frontier.
Russian propaganda makes a subtle appeal to the special problems and prejudices of the Laplanders, those mysterious, reticent reindeer-farmers who rebel against industry as they have always rebelled against agriculture. Extreme climatic conditions and a traditional poverty are common to Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish Lapland, and a conviction that the central governments are indifferent to their welfare breeds resentment.
Various spy cases in Norwegian Finnmark and Finnish Lapland suggest the existence of an active spying network throughout the north. The peace treaty with Russia required Finland to extend the railway running from the Swedish border into Finnish Lapland to link up with the Murmansk Railway; control of this line gives control of Lapland. While Communism appears to be of minor importance in politics of the northern Scandinavian countries, subversive activity in the strategic areas of the sub-Arctic must not be discounted.
Finland’s position is perforce one of modified neutrality. She cannot take sides because she cannot afford to belong to either the East or the West. Her only modification is in her commitment in the treaty with Russia to defend her soil if Finland, or Russia through Finland, is attacked. Her treaty relationship with Russia has naturally affected her foreign policy, but it has not weakened the long-standing ties between Finland and the rest of Scandinavia.
Swedish policies are of particular interest to Finland, just as Finland’s present position is held in Sweden to be an important factor influencing Swedish policy. Whatever the balance of opinion is, for or against Swedish neutrality, the Finns are certain that they prefer to look westwards to a sort of no man’s land than to be squeezed between two greatpower blocs.
On a functional level, Finland tries to coöperate in all possible ways with her Scandinavian neighbors, and her absence from the Nordic Council table is certainly no fault of hers. Any murmurs in the free and outspoken Finnish press in favor of participation result in Russian fulminations against the disturbance of friendly relations between Finland and the Soviet Union, and in allegations that Finland is being tempted into the Atlantic orbit.