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Finlandization (Finnish language: suomettuminen

Swedish language
German language
Finnlandisierung) is the process by which one powerful country strongly influences the policies of a smaller neighboring country, causing the smaller country to become like Finland was perceived by many in the West to be[Clarification needed] during the Cold War.

The term is generally considered to be pejorative, originating in West German political debate of the late 1960s and 1970s. As the term was used in Germany and other NATO countries, it referred to the decision of a country not to challenge a more powerful neighbor in foreign politics, while maintaining national sovereignty. It is commonly used in reference to Finland's policies in relation to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but it can refer more generally to similar international relations, such as Denmark's attitude toward Germany between 1871 and 1940.

Origin and international usage

In Germany, the term was used mainly by proponents of closer adaptation to US policies, chiefly Franz Josef Strauss, but was initially coined in scholarly debate, and made known by the German political scientists Walter Hallstein and Richard Löwenthal, reflecting feared effects of withdrawal of US troops from Germany. It came to be used in the debate of the NATO countries in response to Willy Brandt's attempts to normalize relations with East Germany, and the following widespread scepticism in Germany against NATO's Dual-Track Decision. Later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the term has been used in Finland for the post-1968 radicalization in the latter half of the Urho Kekkonen era.

Finnish perception

In Finland, the term "Finlandization" was perceived as blunt criticism,[citation needed] stemming from an inability to understand the practicalities of how a small nation needs to deal with an adjacent superpower without losing its sovereignty. These practicalities existed especially because of the lingering effect of the Swedish and Russian rule in their time, before the Finns first gained autonomy, and because of the precarious power balance eastwards, springing from a geographically extended yet sparsely populated state with a traditionally imperialist superpower right across the eastern border.

The reason Finland engaged in Finlandization was primarily Realpolitik: to survive. On the other hand, the threat of the Soviet Union was used also in Finland's domestic politics in a way that possibly deepened Finlandization (playing the so-called idänkortti, "east card"). Finland cut such a deal with Joseph Stalin's government in the late 1940s, and it was largely respected by both parties — and to the gain of both parties — until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. While the Finnish political and intellectual elite mostly understood the term to refer more to the foreign policy problems of other countries, and meant mostly for domestic consumption in the speaker's own country, many ordinary Finns considered the term highly offensive.[citation needed] The Finnish political cartoonist Kari Suomalainen once explained Finlandization as the art of bowing to the East without mooning the West.

Historical background

Finland's foreign politics before this deal had been varied: independence from Imperial Russia with support of Imperial Germany in 1917; participation in the Russian Civil War (without official declaration of war) alongside the Triple Entente 1918–1920; a non-ratified alliance with Poland in 1922; association with the neutralist and democratic Scandinavian countries in the 1930s ended by the Winter War (1939); and finally in 1940, a rapprochement with Nazi Germany, the only power able to protect Finland against the expansionist Soviet Union, leading to the Continuation War in 1941.

The Wehrmacht's defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad led Finland to basically revert to its 19th-century traditions, which had been perceived as highly successful until the Russification of Finland (1899–1905). Finland's leaders realized that opposing the Soviets head-on was no longer feasible. No international power was able to give the necessary support. Nazi Germany, Finland's chief supporter against Russia, was losing the war. Sweden was not big enough, and its leadership was wary of confronting Russia. The western powers were allied with the Soviet Union. Thus Finland had to face its big neighbour on its own, without any greater power's protection. As in the 19th century, Finland chose not to challenge Imperial Russia's foreign policy, but exerted caution to keep its independence.

Paasikivi doctrine

After the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, Finland succeeded in retaining democracy and parliamentarism, despite the heavy political pressure on Finland's foreign and internal affairs by the Soviet Union. Finland's foreign relations were guided by the doctrine formulated by Juho Kusti Paasikivi, emphasizing the necessity to maintain a good and trusting relationship with the Soviet Union. To this end, Finland signed an Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union in April 1948. Under this pact, Finland was obliged to resist armed attacks by "Germany or its allies" against Finland, or against the Soviet Union through Finland, and, if necessary, ask for Soviet military aid to do so. At the same time, the agreement recognized Finland's desire to remain outside great power conflicts, allowing the country to adopt a policy of neutrality during the Cold War. As a consequence, Finland did not participate in the Marshall Plan, and took neutral positions on Soviet overseas initiatives. By keeping very cool relations to NATO, and to western military powers in general, Finland could fend off Soviet pressure for affiliation to the Warsaw Pact.

Self-censorship and excessive Soviet adaptation

However, from the political scene following the post-1968 radicalization, the Soviet adaptation spread to the editors of mass media, sparking strong forms of self-control, self-censorship and pro-Soviet attitudes. Most of the élite of media and politics shifted their attitudes to match the values that the Soviets were thought to favor and approve.

Only after the ascendancy of Mikhail Gorbachev to Soviet leadership in 1985 did mass media in Finland gradually begin to criticize the Soviet Union more. When the Soviet Union allowed non-communist governments to take power in Eastern Europe, Gorbachev suggested they could look to Finland as an example to follow.


In the years immediately after the war (1944–1946), the Soviet part of the allied control commission demanded that public libraries should remove from circulation more than 1,700 books that were deemed anti-Soviet, and bookstores were given catalogs of banned books.[1][2] The Finnish Board of Film Classification likewise banned movies that it considered to be anti-Soviet.[citation needed] Banned movies included The Manchurian Candidate, directed by John Frankenheimer in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 1970 by Finnish director Caspar Wrede and Born American by Finnish director Renny Harlin in 1986.[citation needed]


United States foreign policy experts consistently feared that Western Europe and Japan would be Finlandized, leading to a situation in which these key allies no longer supported the United States against the Soviet Union. The theory of bandwagoning provided support for the idea that if the United States was not able to provide strong and credible support for the anti-communist positions of its allies, NATO and the U.S.-Japan alliance could collapse.

But foreign policy scholars such as Eric Nordlinger in his book Isolationism Reconfigured have argued that "a vision of Finlandization in America's absence runs up squarely against the European states' long-standing Communist antipathies and wariness of Moscow's peaceful wiles, valued national traditions and strong democratic institutions, as well as their size and wherewithal".[3]

See also


  1. Ekholm, Kai (2001). "Political Censorship in Finnish Libraries in 1944–1946". pp. 51–57. Digital object identifier:10.1353/lac.2001.0008. 
  2. Mäkinen, Ilkka. 2001. The golden age of Finnish public libraries : institutional, structural and ideological background since the 1960s. P.131
  3. "Isolationism Reconfigured: American Foreign Policy for a New Century", The Independent Review, The Independent Institute.

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