Henrik Meinander’s History of Finland gives a good, readable, reliable and concise overview of how Finland has become the country it is today.
Finland and the Baltic countries share a lot of history. Most obviously the fact that we were all for longer or shorter time under Swedish rule and after that for a century or longer under Russian rule, from which all of us gained our independence in the aftermath of the First World War.
At the same time, our histories have also diverged in many respects. For Finland the legacy of our hundred years as an autonomous Grand Duchy under Russian imperial rule is mostly regarded as positive up to end of the 19th century. During this time we had the possibility of developing our own national institutions, including our own government (the senate) and central bank, with our own currency from 1860 and the most democratic Parliament of its time, first elected in 1906 with universal suffrage also extended to women.
Thus our national institutions were fully operational and ready to take over the responsibilities for governing Finland as a sovereign state already before our declaration of independence. The Baltic countries, having been denied this possibility before the February revolution, were much less fortunate. And even if the question of the respective rights of our two national languages did create tensions in Finland, we never had to deal with the kind of issues the Baltic countries had to over the status and privileges of the Baltic Germans.
Russia and Sweden were the two powers that had to a large extent determined Finland’s status. For the Baltic countries they were Russia and Germany. Indeed at independence the Baltic countries had to assert their freedom vis-à-vis both countries, whereas Finland was spared the experience of German occupation. That Finland allowed herself to become briefly a vassal state of Imperial germany before its collapse, was the choice of the then Finnish government, which was grateful for the German intervention which ensured the victory of the white side in the war.
Thus it is interesting to note, that during the 20’s and 30’s the whites in Finland always regarded General Rüdiger von der Goltz, who had commanded the Ostsee Division which landed in Finland at the end of our civil war, as a hero and friend to be celebrated, whereas in the Baltic countries he is remembered as the commander of the notorious Landeswehr.
There is very little in Meinander’s book about Finnish-Baltic relations. He summarizes these relations very briefly by noting that in the beginning of the 20’s, partly because Finland’s relations with Sweden were strained due to the dispute over the Aaland Islands, ”Finland’s foreign policy leadership sought to start security policy cooperation with the new buffer states Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The attempt soon foundered due to conflicts of interests, but cooperation with Estonia on intelligence and military capabilities was quietly developed”.
Estonia is, of course, both geographically and linguistically the Baltic country closest to Finland – as is testified by the fact that my Estonian grandmother emigrated to Finland before the First World War – but even so Finland did not want to opt for closer political relations with Estonia preferring to declare itself part of the Nordic bloc of neutral states in 1935. – This, incidentally, would have been the preference of many Estonians too at the time, had the option been open to them.
An additional reason why Finnish relations with the Baltic countries did not develop more at the time were the authoritarian regimes which replaced the democratic governments in the Baltic, whereas Finland managed to stave off the Fascist threat and consolidate its democracy.
The run-up to the Second World War and the War itself further separated Finland from the Baltic countries. Finland managed to avoid the fate of its southern neighbuors and keep its independence. At the time there was nothing Finland could do to help its neighbours as it concentrated on its own survival.
After the war the iron curtain separated Finland from the Baltic countries. It was not totally impermeable, however. Estonia in particular benefited from being able to follow Finnish radio and television broadcasts. And while Finland did not and could not openly question the occupation of the Baltic countries it was able through increasing civil society contacts with Estonia to keep a window open to the free world. And Estonians still recall the seminal visit of President Kekkonen to the country in 1964 where it was noted that he spoke more fluent Estonian than the formal president of the ESSR.
When the time came for the Baltic countries to regain their independence this was greeted with joy and openly supported by Finnish civil society, and also with the quiet support of the government.
Now we have been able to open totally new chapters in our relations. Finland welcomed and actively supported the accession of the Baltic countries to the European Union. We also saw the accession of the Baltic countries to Nato as an understandable and natural choice which poses no problems for us, and we expect the Baltic countries to respect the choice of Finland and Sweden stay outside the military alliance while engaging fully in the Partnership cooperation with Nato.
In this field our common endeavor, to which we all are committed, is to enhance and deepen the security and defence policy of the European Union where we hope, that important new steps can be taken in the December summit of the European Council.
Cooperation in the Baltic sea region now encompasses all the countries of the region in the Council of Baltic Sea States and as parties to the EU’s Northern Dimension.
Cooperation between the five Nordic countries and the three Baltic countries has become an established natural forum for all of us. It started out originally as the Nordic 5 and Baltic 3, but it soon became more natural to talk about NB8. The flexible and non-institutionalized way this cooperation works in one of the most dynamic regions in the world has set a good and envied example for regional cooperation elsewhere as well.
Our good and regular consultations on everything the EU does and on what is going on in the world do not aim at building a bloc in the EU, and neither are we regarded as one. Having work hard to bring our continent together and doing away with the old dividing lines we are countries that do not want to create new division lines in Europe