Puhe ”Trade and War: Neutrality of Commerce in the Inter-State System” -konferenssissa. Helsinki, 22.8.2008


My own field of history studies gives me little or no competence to address  the many interesting themes of this conference. I will use the opportunity for some more general remarks on historiography. . 

Everyone, the general public as well as politicians, would benefit from a better knowledge of history, and I say this not only as a historian who shares the profession’s vested interest in getting more attention and money from the powers-that-be. I say it particularly as a politician who has become increasingly concerned about both the ignorance and abuse of history in politics.

It may or not be true that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. What is more likely to be true is, that the less you know about your history, the more difficult it will be to see the into the future either and be able to influence it.

To say that we have entered into a new post-modern world dominated by the short-term and where the new generation will more and become part of what some people call the precariat with nothing solid or enduring to rely and build ones future on is exaggerated, at least regarding the novelty of the phenomenon – after all it was already in 1848 that Marx and Engels wrote how ”all that is solid melts into thin air, all that is holy is profaned”. Nevertheless I think a lot of the concern about short-termism and the ”end of history” (although not necessarily in Fukyama’s meaning) is valid.

Knowing your history is not the same as becoming a prisoner to it. On the contrary, it is much easier for those who know their history to avoid becoming its prisoner, through the manipulative and nefarious efforts of those who will seek to misuse it for political ends. After all also myths about history thrive on ignorance.

Many countries have experience of ongoing debates about history. Perhaps the best and also most positive example is Germany., the country which has arguably done more than any other to try and address the question of its awful 20th Century history. Finnish is one of the few languages into which the challenging concept of verganheitsbewältigung can be translated easily with the word menneisyydenhallinta. If Germany is the good example there are unfortunately plenty of other countries, which have not made any serious efforts to come to grips with their dubious past.

Obvious examples of this failure are Japan and Serbia, where Vuk Draskovic my former colleague as foreign minister used to say perhaps as an excuse that ”we produce more history in the Balkans then we can consume”.  Perhaps the United States too should be mentioned, but certainly the United Kingdom , France and other former colonial powers have dark corners which should be more openly examined and addressed, as the examples of their colonial wars in Kenya and Algeria indicate. Fortunately revisionist and critical historians in these countries will no longer meet the same kind of obstacles (up to including physical threats) which such historians may meet in Russia, perhaps the saddest and potentially the most worrying case of history-denial today.

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I could also go on about and say something about the history of historical debates in Finland and their status today, but suffice it to say that we too have a need to assess critically  our own history and the way we interpret it and write about it, particularly concerning the Second World War and the Cold War. Today, after the end of the Cold War, we have seen the emergence of a new more revisionist historiography which , helped also by improved access to documents in former Soviet archives, has begun to evaluate more critically the role of Kekkonen, the concept of finlandization and that of  ”rähmälläänolo”, i.e. the craven , opportunistic and subservient submission to Soviet interests. This is, on the whole to be firmly welcomed, even if one does not always agree all the conclusions presented.

The end of the Cold War has also put an end to all the sometimes rather complex exegetics concerning Finnish neutrality. Unlike Sweden and Switzerland, perhaps the two most outstanding and durable examples of European neutrality, Finland cannot make references to such long-standing traditions. We only adopted a neutral policy rather late in the thirties, but this was too late in the day to be taken seriously or respected by any of the Great Powers.

After the war we began a slow evolution towards neutrality, which was ironically based on the preamble to the treat of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance concluded on the initiative of Stalin in April 1948. While the treaty differed in significant aspects from the clearly military alliance treaties with similar names that had been concluded between the Soviet-Union and other East and Central European countries, it was still usually interpreted outside Finland as an indication of our location in the Soviet sphere of security. But for us significant was the preamble, which explicitly recognized Finlands striving to remain outside Great Power conflicts.

Neutrality made its way slowly into our foreign policy lexicon. It was only after the return of the Soviet military base at Porkkala 30 kms from Helsinki to Finnish sovereignty and our accession to the United Nations that we began to consistently describe ourselves as a neutral country. The history of the 60s, 70s and 80s are full of ups and downs regarding the international recognition of Finnish neutrality. Obviously Western recognition was welcomed – and the persistent and defamatory use of the word Finlandization energetically rejected –  but the real issue was always how the Soviet Union regarded our neutrality. Our enthusiastic espousal of the CSCE, which was dear to the Soviets, certainly served to strengthen our status as neutral country , but did not put an end to Soviet efforts to define our neutrality on their own terms. In the end it was Mihail Gorbatshov who, not long before the collapse of the Soviet Union, finally recognized Finlands neutrality in unequivocal terms.

The end of the Soviet Union also buried the FCMA treaty as well. But by that the time we were already gearing ourselves to give up neutrality, a word which we have not used since our entry into the European Union in 1995. Even so, we do remain militarily non-aligned country, a definition we do not use in a declaratory sense but to indicate no more or less than the fact that we are not members of any military alliance, nor seeking to join one.

During the decades of Finnish neutrality we sought to keep issues of trade and issues of economic integration outside political considerations, building up our western economic orientation by stealth, starting with our membership in the Bretton Woods institutions, GATT and so forth. Soviet Russia tended to regard these and West European regional organisations as political alliances directed against it, and thus, in deference to Soviet suspicions, we did not join the European Free Trade Association as full members until very late in the day. Instead we concluded a separate EFTA-Finland-Association agreement which gave essentially the same economic benefits as full membership, but lent plausibility to our assurances of entertaining no thoughts about joining Western political integration. At the same time it was also politically important for us to convince the West that our peculiar brand of neutrality did not exclude full participation in Western economic integration at least as far as trade was concerned.

When the UK and Denmark left EFTA to join the EEC our economic interests had to be safeguarded and our discrimination by the Common Market avoided.  This was achieved with the Free Trade treaty concluded with the Community in 1973. This was preceded in Finland by a rather heated political debate where the Communist Party, under the influence of its Stalinist wing, opposed the treaty not only on economic grounds but also because they insisted that it was in conflict the FCMA treaty which forbade the signatories from joining organisations directed against the other party. While the Soviets regarded the EEC-treaty with suspicion they refrained at the end of the day from invoking the articles of the FCMA treaty. For the Soviets – as well as for Finland – what was essential was, that the preferential Most Favoured Nation status of Soviet trade with Finland was retained. This had been originally granted when the agreement with EFTA was concluded. Formally it contravened OECD and GATT-rules, but the Western countries chose not to raise the issue.

It should be underlined, that our exceptionally large trade with the Soviet Union during the Cold War – we were for a long time the biggest non-socialist trading partner of the USSR – was not a burden on us, but exceptionally profitable and played a significant role in the post-war rapid industrialization of our country. Sometimes it also involved tricky balancing acts, as the US in particular sought to zealously apply the Battle Act and COCOM restrictions also to Finland. I believe that the full history of all the twists and turns of this balancing act remains to be written.

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The Conference Announcement, your programme and the titles of the papers to be presented here look interesting and challenging. Future historians will face no less challenging tasks when they start to address the questions of how to define and interpret the concepts in the title of the Conference. What is international trade in the era of transactional corporations? What is neutrality  and what indeed is war in the age of terrorism and other new threats to security and our efforts to combat them? And how to describe and analyse the workings of the Inter-State System at a time, when globalisation is profoundly changing the role and competences of sovereign states to govern any cross-border commercial activities.