Finland

SINGE World War II, practical necessity has dictated Finnish adherence to the “Paasikivi Line,”a neutralist approach to big-power politics and the cold war. Both inside and outside of the UN, the Finns, while not supporting the Soviet Union, arc careful not to give offense. They know too well that the good will of their big neighbor is indispensable to the survival of Finnish freedom and democratic institutions. The price of harmony becomes increasingly high.

Despite the Finns’ success in holding the line, a sudden freeze set into Finno-Soviet relations last fall. Chill winds from the Soviet Union began to blow when the coalition government of Social Democrat K. A. Fagerholm took office in September. Although Finnish Communists, supported by 23 per cent of the voters, had captured the largest number (50) of Diet seats, they found themselves again totally excluded from Cabinet responsibility. For the past ten years it has been tacitly understood by the other party groups that under no circumstances shall Communists be appointed to Cabinet posts. Too vivid is the memory of 1945— 1948, when Communist leader Yrjö Leino had been minister of the interior and his henchmen had infiltrated the state police.

The Fagerholm government enjoyed the confidence of a heavy majority (137 out of 200 seats) in the Diet. In addition to excluding the Communists from the Cabinet, it ignored the unwritten law that, in deference to Soviet feelings, no members of the extreme right wing be included in any Finnish government.

On September 15, the Soviet ambassador to Finland, V. Z. Lebedev, suddenly returned home for reasons of health. He left without the usual farewell audience and was not replaced. In late October, without explanation, Communist China recalled its ambassador. Though Chen Hsin-Jen traveled from Peking to Helsinki for a parting ceremony, his post also remained unfilled. The ambassadorial departures could not be attributed to coincidence. An overdue invitation for future trade and loan negotiations in Moscow failed to materialize. The trump card, however, appeared on November 21. Without warning, the Kremlin called an immediate halt to its Finnish imports and lapsed into an ominous policy of official silence.

Although the quiet diplomatic-economic-political pressure received little notice in American newspapers, the European press was aroused. Moscow was shaking its fist as a preliminary to spreading the socialist revolution to Finland. With the international danger zone approaching the Baltic area, it was feared that the Soviet Union hoped to complete its domination of the Baltic and make it a closed sea.

The trade freeze, a strong weapon

Finnish exports to the Soviet Union exceeded imports by some 100 million rubles in early autumn. While the U.S.S.R. was seemingly able to fulfill the terms of the existing trade agreement in most instances, Finland was buying less than the stipulated quotas. The trade freeze was a formidable weapon. Finland has long been plagued by a shaky economy and increasing unemployment. Its shipbuilding and metal industries, established in accordance with Russian demands for war reparations, are still geared to the Eastern market. To those industries dependent on it, the Soviet move meant potential disaster. No country can easily surrender its second largest trading partner.

Soviet authorities have on many occasions pointed out that their economic system requires a balance in the exchange of goods. However, a similar imbalance of trade, in Finland’s favor, had occurred in recent years and had been resolved peacefully. Its settlement had been properly divorced from political implications. The Finns desperately wanted to believe that the latest trade problem was a commercial one only, with no bearing on their foreign policy or internal politics.

Although a Soviet trade journal unofficially implied that the Fagerholm government was deliberately violating the stipulations of the trade agreement in order to build up Western markets, Moscow’s silence remained unbroken. It refused to accept as remedial the recent stockpile purchases of raw materials with which Finns hoped to close the gap between imports and exports. Overtures for negotiations were completely ignored by the Kremlin.

Fagerholm’s trade negotiators were unable to produce a solution. Neither could they explain the complex of factors involved in the imbalance of trade. The 39 per cent devaluation of the Finmark had caused terms of trade to improve immensely for Finland. The value of its exports had increased, as well as its ruble assets. Liberalization of Finnish trade in 1958 placed the Eastern market in competition with freer Western markets, whose products were preferred by Finnish consumers.

Other factors included the nonconvertibility of the ruble and the Soviet’s inability to deliver certain required commodities, such as chemicals. From a total import surplus of 16 billion Finmarks in 1957, Finland moved to an export surplus of 13 billion Finmarks in 1958. With internal economic difficulties lowering demand for goods, imports from the Soviet Union had decreased along with imports generally.

Taking their cue from Moscow’s concern over the imbalance in trade, Finnish Communists repeatedly charged that the Fagerholm government had been established for the express purpose of slowing down trade negotiations with the East. Its motives were political rather than economic, the Communists claimed; Finland was obviously preparing to join the countries in the Western bloc.

Finland’s careful neutralism

Mindful of its commitment to neutrality, the Fagerholm government declared that Finland would not affiliate with the European Common Market for the time being. Nor would it alliliate with the Nordic Customs Union, should it materialize. The Finns are painfully aware that they might suffer as the markets develop, for their exports are chiefly channeled to European countries.

The Fagerholm government maintained the same noncommittal position in facing the Moscow freeze. Although approval of a Communistsponsored motion to expand future trade with the Soviet Union was not unanimous in the Diet, nothing was done to discourage trade or good relations. Except from the extreme left-wing press, the government received full support for its neutralist handling of foreign policy and trade agreements. Even President Urho Kekkonen, stern taskmaster of the Paasikivi Line, agreed that it had not slipped.

Only the Agrarian Party openly recognized Moscow’s aloofness as deliberate pressure to bring about a Cabinet change. Most Finns were unwilling to admit the possibility, which flagrantly violated the Agreement on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Acceptance, signed in 1948 and since extended. The agreement pledges the two countries “to observe the principle of mutual respect of sovereignty and integrity and that of noninterference in the internal affairs of the other state.” In view of Finland’s record in this regard, it seemed odd to the Finns that the Kremlin had adjusted its Finnish policy.

The government falls

Regardless of its merits, the Fagerholm government was doomed. It could not settle the serious Eastern trade problem, especially with a neighbor who refused to deal with it. The impasse continued, punctuated by local Communist agitation for the ineffectual government to step down. At last the Agrarians, taking matters into their own hands, reluctantly resigned from the Cabinet on December 4. With their resignation, the government, supported by five of the seven Diet groups as well as the public at large, collapsed.

The ensuing Cabinet crisis lasted forty days. Finland could ill afford to risk another costly election on the chance that results would differ much from the recent one. It was by now obvious that the new Cabinet would have to be acceptable to Moscow.

Finnish stubbornness in the face of pressure, and the tactical maneuvers of the various parties, brought the internal political situation close to a deadlock. Meanwhile the Communists staged demonstrations demanding positions in the new government. Their activities included a mass meeting before the Diet building, “people’s marches” in many cities, revolutionary threats to rise in such numbers as would have “an effect,” and scathing press editorials. However, the cold hostility of spectators at the demonstrations made it clear that neither street parliaments nor the voice of a directed mob would decree the composition of a Cabinet in Finland.

After prolonged discussions and inconclusive party bickering, on January 13 Finland was presented with a one-party minority government. With Kekkonen’s approval, the Agrarian slate had been drawn up by the new Prime Minister, Professor V. J. Sukselainen. Since the Agrarians had lost support in the last election, and hold only 47 out of 200 Diet seats, the announcement was received with surprise and skepticism. Leftist elements suspected that the Agrarian coup had been known and supported by rightist parties, to prevent the “people’s representatives” from sharing in Cabinet responsibility.

With a sense of relief, however, the Finns were willing to give the new government a chance. Moscow would find it difficult to maintain massive silence toward a center party representing Agrarian forces. If nothing else, its hand would be called.

Thaw in the Kremlin

Eight days after formation of the new Cabinet, President Kekkonen and his wife left for a cultural visit to Leningrad, at the invitation of the Leningrad City Council. Hearing “on the radio” of their arrival, Khrushchev dropped preparations for the Communist Party’s 21st Congress and flew to Leningrad for a day’s friendly visit. Accompanying him were his wife, daughter, and Foreign Minister Gromyko. The social get-together quickly developed into an unofficial Summit conference on Finno-Soviet relations and the international situation. Trade officials from both countries were hastily summoned to Leningrad, to discuss renewal of the long-delayed trade and credit negotiations.

At a luncheon for his visitors on January 23, Khrushchev made a speech clarifying Soviet behavior during the recent crisis. Finland received a strong reprimand for its transgressions. The trade imbalance was slurred over.

Disclaiming any aggressive plans, the Soviet leader emphasized the desire for neighborly harmony and friendly relations. He neither suggested nor implied that the Fagerholm government had worked against this end. The key to the conflict lay in the composition, not the actions, of that government. Khrushchev himself put it bluntly. Behind Fagerholm’s broad back were two men. Social Democrats Väinö Tanner and V\äinö Leskinen. known for “their hostile attitude toward the Soviet Union.” A mere glance at the composition of the coalition government had convinced the Kremlin that no good could develop in FinnoSovict relations.

Nor are the activities of certain Finnish newspapers palatable to Moscow. Most papers, basing their foreign coverage on dispatches from the West, have a pro-Western coloring. Their columnists and cartoonists enjoy free rein. Izvestia has already complained that there is more anti-Soviet literature in the Finnish bookstores than before or since World War H.

The role of the press

On returning to Helsinki, Kekkonen reported on the impromptu conference. The storm he evoked was modified only by relief that the ice had been broken. Reminding the Finns of their neutralist position, he made no reference to the ill-fated Cabinet. His theme was a plea for “restraint and responsibility” in the press, which he blamed for undermining Soviet good will. The newspapers. however, scoffed at the implication that their cartoonists and columnists were responsible for the crisis.

More disturbing is the fact that Kekkonen failed to report his own comments to Khrushchev at Leningrad. Whatever statements, whatever commitments he made are still a mystery. Ostensibly, the Soviet Union did not demand anything injurious to Finland’s position, its neutral foreign policy, or its good relations with Scandinavia and the West. 11 claimed to want only a “friendly-minded Cabinet which can guarantee that the state agreements will be observed.”The Finnish people, however, remain suspicious and fearful that their big neighbor intends to force on them unwanted political and social changes. They are increasingly aware of their difficult position.

At issue is the role of a free press in a democratic society. Freedomloving Finns regard undue restriction under the guise of responsibility as a bald-faced attempt to extend political neutrality to ideological neutrality. Such a policy would completely silence their papers, which have thrown ideological neutrality to the winds.

Protection of sovereignly

Equally basic to Finland’s survival is the right to preserve its own sovereignty. The Finns know that freedom in determining their own government and internal affairs must be complete if they are not to move in the direction of a Soviet protectorate. Moscow claims that it merely had demonstrated unwillingness to deal with an unacceptable government. The Finns, however, declare that the Soviet Union, exceeding any legal limit recognized in international diplomacy, committed a strong transgression on their sovereignty.

With the Agrarian Party at the helm, the long-delayed trade negotiations began in Moscow. Finland once more has ambassadors from the Soviet Union and Red China. The sudden thaw does not mean that Finland’s path ahead is clear. Under the able leadership of Hertta Kuusinen, who claims that the road of Czechoslovakia is the road for Finland, Finnish Communists are still at work. They are attacking every internal and external proposal advanced by the new government.

There is one prevailing conclusion, however, in Helsinki. If Finland is to be the world’s shopwindow on peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union, the Kremlin will have to take more care in the future. The window has been most revealing.