Documenting the Crimes of the Soviet Union
Three Estonian / Finnish authors / researchers recently organized a short seminar / book publishing publicity event, the topic being the cruelties and crimes that the Soviet Union did to Estonians during their occupation after the second world war. Helsingin Sanomat has a short writeup in English.
A few Russians from the “Nashi” or “Putin Youth” organization traveled to Helsinki to protest the “fascism in Estonia” because of this event.
Estonia is a small flat country residing in a strategic place. It has been historically overrun by Germans, Swedes and Russians. Like Finland, they were part of imperial Russia in the 1800:s and managed to get independent in the early 1900:s when Russia changed to Soviet Union (the Estonians fought German forces too to fight off a “Germanification”). I’ve heard that the standard of living was comparable in the early independent Finland and Estonia.
In the second world war, Finland fought, but Estonia surrendered and was occupied by the Soviet Union. In the middle of the war, Germany occupied Estonia for a while, but had to retreat later. Then followed fifty years of Soviet rule, people were killed, moved to Siberia etc., lots of people from Russia were transferred to Estonia. It finally gained back the independence in the start of the nineties from the crumbling Soviet Union. So as a result there are two independence days, the original from 24. of February 1918 and the independence regaining day 20. of August 1991. Estonia is currently poorer than Finland, and lacks much industry. It is however improving, and has been perhaps the most successful ex Soviet occupied / controlled country.
It seems that some Russians don’t have good knowledge of the history. It is a fact that the Soviet Union has occupied Estonia and killed many of its citizens. Documenting this can not be called fascism. The Soviets were not wanted in Estonia, and they did a lot of bad things. It is already evident by just having a quick look comparing the present state of Finland and Estonia. (And was even more evident in the nineties.)
Relation to Finland
There is another, peripheral issue going on: a lot of people are saying that the Estonians are talking about their past painful experiences more openly than Finns. And that us Finns should talk about how much we acted so sheepishly after the war and let the Soviet Union meddle with us. There were also communists (“Taistolaiset”) in Finland in the seventies who entered a sort of self suggested counterfactual state where everything was great and beautiful in the Soviet Union, even when vast evidence pointed out that it was a miserable unhappy totalitarian state. They even went so far as to blame the Finnish war veterans for fighting to keep independence. Mostly, on the other hand, they were an aberration. The lead in Finnish politics tried to steer the nation so that we could just live in peace and not have to worry too much. Finland also had good trade relations with the Soviet Union (in addition to the west), which helped the Finnish economy.
In reality, what options did Finland have at the time? What can small countries do as a total anyway? Sweden had an easy time, sitting safely behind Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia and ridiculing how the Finns were bowing to the east. Could Finland have counted on the support of western nations in case the SU did something? It’s doubtful. It hadn’t happened in the Winter War either. And if there was support, and a massive war erupted, that would have just turned Finland into a battleground of the superpowers. Or if there were massive foreign military forces in Finland threatening Leningrad, that would have just given the SU more reasons to attack. Perhaps the politics that were done were the best possible. The Soviet Union saw Finland as a neutral, harmless and nice neighbor, and Finland kept its freedom and avoided significant threats. However, there are still ugly unearthed facts. How many people spied for Soviet union? How many prevented the publication of Soviet-critical stories in the media? Many former informers might be in the politics nowadays. CIA probably knows this from archives it has obtained. It could use this information to effect politics in Finland. There was a court case where Alpo Rusi, an adviser of Nobel laureate and former president Martti Ahtisaari, sued the state police who insinuated he had been a spy (apparently due to gross incompetence). He won.
This is relevant to the post-soviet politics as well. Upon regaining independence, Estonia joined NATO as soon as possible and has sent troops around the world as part of the “coalition of the willing”. Many Finns feel Estonia is now just bowing to USA. Maybe this is just realism from Estonia – this is the only way for them to stay reasonably free and independent. Many Russians at the moment seem to be unable to cope with their own history and just assume any negative facts about them are controversy machinations by the USA.
Sweden is the biggest and most securely geographically placed nation of the three. It harped on Finland that had to do minor compromises with the Soviets during the cold war. But Estonia is even more vulnerable than Finland – and now Finland is barking at Estonia for joining so easily with NATO and being forced to traveling around bombing third world countries with USA. It seems different political realities that justify different actions must be assumed. People don’t seem to be able to understand each others’ situations.
The last hundred years of Sweden are boring. Actually, the last two hundred. After the imperial Russia invaded the eastern part of Sweden (that is nowadays called Finland) in 1809, they haven’t really had any wars – as they are just surrounded by small buffering peaceful nations all around and are big enough to defend themselves reasonably independently.
Well, some depends on Russia. Finland is mulling whether to join NATO or not. Some depends on unpredictable things, like a global recession. Sweden has been driving down their army. Warfare is getting more technological rapidly – and getting more expensive too.
If history repeats itself, very ugly things will happen. In contrast to that, even just staying in status quo would be a wonderful world.
Russia has never been a real democracy. At the moment it’s at least relatively stable and the people have some means of income and some freedom – it’s doing better than ever in many regards. Low oil prices do hurt them. And the oil will run out in reasonable time – the reserves are not great compared to the speed it is pumped at.