Finland and its relations with Russia

GDR children: The enemy in the west

The enemy is on the Rhine. That’s what I’m getting into as a GDR citizen. From school to NVA to university studies: According to this, the Bonn militarists are the spearhead of the aggressive American imperialism. And the instrument for enforcing their interests is NATO, founded in 1949. In response, eight states adopted the Warsaw Pact in 1955, or the “Warsaw Pact” in Western terms. The chronology allows the comrades to present themselves as a pure defensive alliance.

The threat scenario is part of the propaganda, but it did not directly affect me in my life back then as a child. I grew up near Greifswald. As a GDR child, born in 1960, I was more fascinated by seeing real Scandinavians. The “Westerners” came together every year for the folk festivals in the Baltic Sea weeks. This event was held under the slogan “The Baltic Sea must be a sea of ​​peace”. Peace activists from the countries bordering the Baltic Sea came together. The GDR, along with Sweden and Finland, acted as a champion of peace.

I never asked myself why the Finns and Swedes supported the Soviet course so resolutely. I first dealt with this many years later, in the mid-1980s, when I was studying history in Leipzig.

Taboo subject: Soviet war of aggression

Around 1984, I heard in the corridors of the History Section at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig an expression I had not encountered in history class at school: “Winter War”. A professor has been transferred as punishment for describing the “Winter War” as a Soviet war of aggression.

The Soviet Union’s attack on Finland was a taboo subject at the time and has to this day remained a forgotten chapter in Stalin’s wars of aggression. In the secret Additional Protocol to the Hitler-Stalin Pact, not only the eastern part of Poland and the entire Baltic region were added to the Soviet sphere of influence, but also Finland and Bessarabia, roughly what is now Moldova.

finds under Swedish rule

In the Middle Ages, the Swedes conquered the land of a thousand lakes and incorporated it into their kingdom. Sweden and Finland belonged together for centuries. It also writes Mauno Koivisto, who was President of the Republic of Finland from 1982 to 1994, in one of his essays.

For as long as anyone can remember, Finland has been an organic part of the former European superpower Sweden, so it was felt that Finnish history was also part of Sweden’s history.


Mauno Koivisto, Book: “Geography and History”, (1992, ECON-Verlag)

Finland as part of the Tsarist Empire

In the early 18th century, the trend reversed. Tsar Peter the Great establishes Russia as a European superpower. In the Northern War from 1700 to 1721, he defeated the Swedes, parts of Finland fell to the Tsarist Empire. After two more wars against the Swedes, Finland was incorporated into the Tsarist Kingdom in 1809 as an independent Grand Duchy.

A victory with long-term consequences, writes Mauno Koivisto: “When Sweden lost its position as a great power … the former Scandinavian empire no longer initiated any military aggression. But while the Swedes managed to stay out of military conflicts and thus maintain their neutrality, it they did not find the Finns. ”

Finland becomes independent

The Finns developed their own national identity under Russian rule. The awareness of having one’s own culture and language grew. This is reflected, for example, in the national epic “Kalevala”, a heroic epic similar to the “Iliad”, published in 1835 on the basis of oral tradition. In the summer of 1919, Finland becomes an independent republic, and Finnish becomes the official language.

A Russian socialist who denies Finland’s freedom is a chauvinist.


Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, symbolic figure in the Russian October Revolution of 1917

1939: Russia invades Finland

However, the fact that the Soviets never really accepted Finland’s independence is evident from the secret agreement on the Hitler-Stalin pact. As Finland is added to the Soviet sphere of influence. On November 30, 1939, the Red Army invaded Finland and brought us back to the beginning of the Winter War. At the end of October 1939, Foreign Minister Väinö Tanner wrote a letter to the Swedish Prime Minister Per-Albin Hansson:

A small country fighting against a great power that wants to get its will, it is one too unequal game.


Väinö Alfred Tanner, former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland

Contrary to Foreign Minister Väinö Tanner’s gloomy predictions, the Finnish troops, who were clearly outnumbered, kept their stand against the Red Army. Stalin’s plan to reintegrate all of Finland into the Russian Empire fails. But in the Moscow Peace of 1940, Helsinki had to relinquish large parts of Karelia and the ore-rich Fisherman Peninsula in the north. About one-tenth of Finnish industrial production goes to the Soviet Union. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Finland tries to regain these territories, but also fails due to the German defeat. In the post-war peace treaty, Finland had to cede the only ice-free North Sea port to the Soviet Union and thus lost access to the North Sea.

The Swedish path to neutrality

1810: One year after Sweden was forced to cede Finland to Russia, the French Revolutionary Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was elected heir to the Swedish throne. Under the name Karl Johann, he takes over the state company in Sweden. The man who conquered half of Europe with Napoleon renounced any urge to expand as King Charles XIV Johann and committed the country to a course of neutrality. But there is no progress for peace for the Swedes. Do not spare the defense, demands Karl Johann.

It is up to the nation’s representatives to allocate these funds if they want to protect the country from a possible incoming enemy attack.


King Charles XIV John of Sweden (Bernadotte)

Karl Johann’s principles have been in force for 200 years: neutrality based on strong defense. But since 2014, the Swedish attitude has gradually changed. Also because Russian submarines and planes repeatedly violate Swedish territory.

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