FINLAND may be described as a corner of Europe insulated through much of the year by ice. Historically, she was a prize and a battlefield for Sweden and Russia -- until the Germans replaced the Swedes as the principal enemies of the Russians, when she became a flank for the new battlefield. The Finns never had much political instinct. They looked to brave or astute leaders to defend them in their unfortunate geographical position.

The Finns migrated into Finland -- it is now supposed from the northern Caspian country -- late in the first millennium, driving the Lapps into the Arctic. Swedes colonized Finland in the twelfth century, and established themselves as an ascendancy. They kept to themselves, calling themselves Swedish Finns. There has been a certain amount of intermarriage, and some Finns "turned Swedish" and vice versa, changing even their names. Culturally and in language the Swedish Finns remain a race apart, like the Anglo-Irish in Ireland, with whom they share psychological characteristics. Finland is their "fatherland," and like the Anglo-Irish they are sometimes sharp in their criticism of the country of their origin. Like the Anglo-Irish they have produced many of the great national leaders of the country. They are not universally popular among Finnish Finns, although their position is now better than it was during the "Second Campaign" (1941-44), as it is called. For reasons partly of language, they were better informed at that time than Finnish Finns. They could read the Swedish press, and they could understand broadcasts from London in Swedish and Norwegian, and generally also in Danish and in English.[i] The Swedish Finns never supported the Second Campaign wholeheartedly and, with the left-wing of the Social Democrats, advocated peace. They form about 10 percent of the population. Now that Finland is moving somewhat toward Russia, while retaining her independence, they are more important than ever as a link with Scandinavia and the west.

For about 800 years before 1918, Finland was under foreign tutelage -- first that of Sweden and then, after Napoleon, that of Russia. Under the Tsars she enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, including management of fiscal affairs, but Russia controlled her foreign policy and brought her into the First World War.

The Finns on the whole were not Germanophil in 1914-18, but they considered Russia's defeat a means to liberation. Civil war in Russia precipitated civil war in Finland, but in this the Left was defeated. The Right in Finland did not triumph without foreign help, however -- and that help came from Germany. The new Finnish Army, commanded by Baron Mannerheim, who had previously been one of the Russian generals on the Galician front, had the support of a German division commanded by General von der Goltz. Mannerheim himself was against using the Germans, but in view of threatened starvation he agreed to their help in order to shorten the campaign.

Finland declared her independence on December 6, 1917, and Mannerheim and von der Goltz next turned the war outward against Russia. The Finnish Left had been just as ready as the Right to avail itself of a revolutionary situation in Russia to strike for national liberation, but it took no part in this campaign, and indeed, most Leftists were by now in prison camps. The Finnish Right had disposed of the Left in advance, as it had different ideas about the government of liberated Finland. Mannerheim's aim (repeated in his Order of the Day of July 15, 1941, when Finnish troops crossed the Russian frontier) was to conquer eastern Karelia for Finland. Von der Goltz opposed this objective, however, since Germany had concluded a secret agreement with Russia at Brest-Litovsk which precluded support for the Finnish claim. The Finns withdrew from eastern Karelia, and Mannerheim resigned command of the Finnish army because of differences with von der Goltz.

The Right intended to make Finland a kingdom, and in gratitude to the Germans the Diet offered the crown to Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse. Since Mannerheim looked forward to a democratic evolution in Finland, he opposed this project, as did the Liberals. With the German defeat in the west, the scheme fell through; and Finland became a republic democratic in form, which is not quite the same thing as a democratic republic.

Independent Finland was never completely sure of her democracy. The mass of the people wanted democracy on the western pattern, partly because their sympathies were with the west. But the groups of the Right remained very powerful, especially in the Army, and they were strong enough both during the interwar years and during the recent campaigns to interfere with the functioning of democracy.

Mannerheim was never thought of as a politician, and he retired from public life for many years. His moderation nevertheless placed him in a special position, and it was to him, later on, that the nation turned when there was need of a non-party leader who could hold it together. He never lost the special advantage of his generation, which he shares with J. K. Paasikivi -- he could speak Russian; and although he was anti-Communist, he was by no means anti-Russian. He preferred Russians to Germans. His wisdom and his knowledge of Russia enabled him to curb the imaginations of Finns during the war and to prevent a dictatorship of the Right, just as the influence of ex-President Ståhlberg had helped to save Finland from civil war in 1932 when the Fascist "Lappua" forces threatened to march on Helsinki.

The Left slowly softened toward the aging marshal, who was becoming more and more of a grand seigneur. The memory of the prison camps of the civil war of 1918 died hard: many of the some hundred thousand Communists and Social Democrats who had been thrown into them -- mainly members of the Red Guard -- had perished, and many others had been subjected to severe and arbitrary punishments. But it was remembered that Mannerheim himself had sought to humanize the treatment of these prisoners and to mitigate their sentences.

During the interregnum between the World Wars the people of the self-conscious young nation lived in fear of Russia. The frontier was sealed almost hermetically, and Finland and Russia were neighbors in the geographical sense alone. The country "went western" rapidly, developing a large trade and leaning politically more and more toward Scandinavia. For Finns of a certain generation, very nearly the only Russian contact was that with Russian émigrés, who saw Russia in terms of their own plight: they knew the past but not the present. Throughout the world, Helsinki became a dateline for sensations. (I was told in Helsinki, on my first arrival there in 1927, that the British fleet was at the moment sailing up the Baltic to bombard Leningrad.) The Russian language disappeared from the schools.

Educational standards were raised to the highest western level except, notably, in the faculties of economics and social sciences. The universities became breeding grounds of reaction. A consequence of this was that it was easy, and tempting, for Finnish youths of all classes to embrace the career of army officers. But it was practically a condition of promotion in the Officers' Reserve that a man should have belonged as a student to the Academic Karelian Association. This irredentist organization was as anti-Swedish as it was anti-Russian It sympathized strongly with Nazism during the rise of Hitler, and it dominated student politics: no fewer than 80 percent of Helsinki students voted for its candidates. In the universities of Scandinavia, by contrast, about the same proportion of students were Social Democrats, and Nazism made almost no headway.

It was natural enough that the highest posts in the army should be filled by officers with field experience, but this meant that the top positions tended to go to former members of the Finnish Jägerkorps -- the group which, preparatory to the expected struggle for the liberation of Finland, had fought in the German Army against Russia up to 1917. Other technical reasons, apart from considerations of sympathy, made the German influence very strong in the Finnish Army. Germany, for example, produced the most important body of military literature, hence German became a second language for a Finnish officer. Finally, the rise of Hitler, and with it the resurrection of German military power, raised hopes for powerful help in translating to reality irredentist dreams which, in some minds, also included expansion into northern Sweden and northern Norway. The more moderate Right and the Left, and Mannerheim himself in his retirement, were by no means at ease about these tendencies.

It was apparent that a new European war, and possibly a world war, was brewing. The Finnish instinct was to support the west. One could have said that the secret wish of nearly every Finn was that one day the sun would rise in the west and set in the east. The strength of Russia was grossly underestimated, thanks largely to the stories of émigrés. It was hoped that, if war must come, it would take the same course as in 1914-18.

In 1937, when the Liberal Rudolf Holsti was at the Finnish Foreign Office, prospects for the development of good relations between Russia and Finnish democracy were quite hopeful. Finland was then governed by a coalition, in which the Social Democrats participated; but the groups of the Right manœuvred to get rid of Holsti. In the early summer of 1939 Russia particularly objected to the fortification of the Aaland Islands by the Finns; their opposition stemmed from the belief that the Finnish Army was pro-German in its sympathies, and from fear that these islands might become a German base of operations against the Soviets in the Baltic. Finland's refusal to sign the non-aggression pact with Germany which Hitler demanded was interpreted by the Russians as a reassuring factor, however. Sweden and Norway also refused to sign such a pact with Hitler. Denmark, where the small party of radical pacifists controlled the Foreign Office, signed, as did Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Völkischer Beobachter called these pacts the "answer to the American President Roosevelt" -- who in April had asked Hitler for assurances that he had no aggressive designs on 31 specific nations. The Russo-German pact of August 23 was the climax of these eleventh-hour diplomatic moves.


The climax for Finland came in October, when J. K. Paasikivi and Väinö Tanner went to Moscow to negotiate with Stalin concerning the Russian demands for territorial concessions near Leningrad. Vöinö Tanner, leader of the Social Democratic Party -- the largest in Finland -- dry, energetic, astute and with a gift for oratory, was a great personality. He spoke Swedish and English rather well, and was considered well informed in international matters too deep for Finnish-speaking members of the Eduskunta. He was a blunt Finn, disliking anything mystic, or anything foreign, and only theoretically fond of Swedish Finns -- as suspicious of God as he was of the Devil. He had surrounded himself with men whom he had pulled out of the prison camps after the Civil War, who were profoundly grateful to him. But Stalin thought him an unhappy choice as negotiator, since he was an avowed anti-Communist.

The situation by now had crystallized in Poland. Tanner reminded Stalin that Russia and Germany had signed a nonaggression pact. "Against whom are you on guard," he asked, "that you should want territorial concessions for the defense of Leningrad?" Stalin replied, "A situation can always change." The fact that some high German officers had been invited to inspect Finnish frontier defenses had also caused some anxiety in Moscow. Paasikivi and Tanner took the line that neutral Russia had the right to consider her own defenses, and so had neutral Finland. If the situation was so precarious, they said, Finland's neutral position would be legally weakened if she made territorial concessions to one side. But the European situation at that given hour was not being determined by legalities.

Three and a half months later Finland was no longer at war; she had lost 27,000 men. The losses with which Russia had purchased her defenses for Leningrad must have been considerably greater. Swedish Finns in particular thought that the peace terms were not unrealistic, and there is no doubt that, with three weeks more of campaigning, the Russians could have occupied Finland. In retrospect, it is clear that the U.S.S.R. was playing a gambit: among the captured Russian material exhibited in Helsinki at the close of the campaign was none of the first-class equipment that the Germans subsequently came up against on the Russian front, with the possible exception of some antiaircraft guns.

Newspaper correspondents returning to Helsinki a fortnight after the peace was signed in March received the impression that the Finns did not expect the peace to last very long. There was open boasting in the Hotel Kämp, where journalists made their headquarters, of sabotage to factories in industrial territories ceded to Russia. The Army remained partly mobilized, still under the command of Mannerheim, though during peacetime it should be under the President of the Republic. This was explained by talk of "Communist activities," and officials of the Russian Legation were accused of fomenting riots by groups of the newly formed Fenno-Soviet Society. The larger buildings remained protected (by ice encased in wood) against air raids; this was natural enough, if another aggression was feared. But it was said widely that Finland was simply taking a pause for breath.

From then on decisions regarding Finland's foreign relations passed into the hands of a few men around the new Premier, Herra Risto Ryti, former president of the Bank of Finland. The consequences were disastrous to the nation. Ryti and his Government steered Finland by stages into a military alliance with Germany, resulting in the Second Campaign and humiliating defeat. Throughout that period the form of democratic government was outwardly preserved, but constitutional law, which requires that the Government should keep the Eduskunta informed in all matters affecting the issue of peace and war, was not observed. This disregard for the constitution subsequently provided the legal basis for the prosecution of Ryti and the other ex-Ministers -- a condition of the second armistice.


According to evidence at the trial, Mannerheim, on Ryti's personal authority, agreed in principle in August 1940 to allow German sick and leave troops to pass through Finland between Germany and northern Norway. The proposal had been brought to Mannerheim by a messenger from Goering. At the end of August two Finnish officers were sent to Germany to discuss it. In September a secret transit agreement was made in Berlin, and on September 21 the first German troops and material were landed at Vaasa. German service dépôts were established at Vaasa, Oulu and Rovaniemi.

Telegrams produced at the trial show that the Finns were anxious to preserve the appearance of neutrality while this concession was being planned. Finland had made a concession to Russia after the armistice, allowing the transit -- with certain exceptions -- of unarmed troops, to the treaty base at Hangö. The telegrams showed that both Kivimäki, the Finnish Minister in Berlin, and the Finnish Foreign Office realized that to make a greater concession to Germany than to Russia would compromise Finland's neutrality. They prepared, therefore, to excuse the German concession on the ground that by its nature it was the less important of the two; and they thought also that it could be defended on the ground that it was granted for a shorter period than the Russian concession.

The German transit agreement provided for the transport of 5,000 troops with their equipment, and the establishment of the three depots named above. But in practice it continued until Germany attacked Russia. Bases were established all over Finland, and between June 7 and June 21 of that year, 74 German transports unloaded in Finnish ports. It also came out at the trial that, even when the first unloading took place at Vaasa, most members of the Government were apparently ignorant that the agreement existed.

Sweden granted transit concessions to Germany in July 1940, but no observer who was in Stockholm or in Helsinki at the time is in serious doubt that the Swedish Government yielded to superior force. Finland's case was different, however. By the Treaty of March 1940 she had conceded to the Soviet Union areas which the latter had required for the defense of its right flank. The Finnish Army was protected from the Germans in that quarter. It was better trained and equipped than the Swedish Army. (Sweden had given Finland more military help during the Winter Campaign than she could actually afford, thereby weakening her own defense.) Finally, the defense of Finland against German attack would have been incomparably less difficult than the defense of Sweden.

Documents found in Germany and produced at the Helsinki trial make it fairly evident that the Finnish concessions to Germany did not represent simply submission to German power. It appears that Fenno-German military conversations took place in Germany on the highest level as early as December 1940, when the Finnish Chief of Staff, General Heinrichs, was initiated into the Barbarossa plan for the attack on Russia. In February 1941 the German General Buschenhagen, who had been present at these conversations, was taken on an inspection tour of the whole Finnish front. Ryti had meanwhile become President through the death of Kallio. On May 30, 1941, he instructed Kivimäki to find out the views of the German Government on the subject of a rectification of the Finnish frontier which would give Finland eastern Karelia. Propaganda for the acquisition of this territory became official as soon as the attack on Russia was launched.

The Finnish claim to eastern Karelia on racial grounds was not so strong as some other irredentist claims in Europe. Finns who fought in eastern Karelia during the campaign found that the inhabitants were, on the whole, not as eager to join Finland as had been expected. Views differ as to whether the desire to unite with the Finns was stronger in one age group than in another. The Karelians, darker than the southern and western Finns, are of a livelier temperament, more akin to the Russian. Intermarriage between Karelians and Russians is common. The Russians encourage the Finnish language in Karelia, and most people there are bilingual.

The trial of ex-President Ryti and the former Ministers ended in a verdict of guilty. Ryti was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment; Tanner and ex-Premier Linkomies received five and a half years, the others less. There is a widespread feeling that Finnish democracy itself has been on trial, since it was impossible completely to separate the responsibility of the former Government and that of its supporters, inside or outside the Eduskunta. The nation had to search its conscience under the very terms of the indictment brought against the Government. The charges were well defined. First, the Government was accused of breaking foreign agreements, mainly the agreement with Russia not to enter into an alliance against her. The second heading was constitutional: that the Finnish President had declared war without consulting the Eduskunta. Events consequent upon Finland's being led illegally into war with Russia, such as the British declaration of war upon Finland, were also examined under legal headings. The Government was accused of keeping the Eduskunta in the dark about foreign relations -- in particular, about the various moves for peace by other nations. In regard to this, as in regard to the infiltration of German troops, it is impossible to determine how far members of the Eduskunta, and Finnish people generally, did actually know the circumstances. Yet that only intensifies the need for searching self-analysis by the Finns, for a people cannot be content with ignorance in political matters and at the same time assert that they are governing themselves.

This effort of stock-taking centers particularly on the events of the period after March 1943. In that month there was a change of government, Professor Linkomies becoming Premier and Hr. Henrik Ramsay becoming Foreign Minister. The Linkomies Government was expected to investigate the possibilities of peace, although the Allied offensive in the west had not yet started. The Russians had already made various peace offers.[ii] There is no doubt that the Linkomies Government wavered, and probably it got flustered. When the United States Government informed it that Russia would be prepared to conclude peace with Finland, Ramsay went straight to Ribbentrop and told him. Yet Ramsay was pro-western! He was of Scots origin, known to be a "good fellow," and had been president of the Anglo-Finnish Society in Helsinki. But his course between the hare and the hounds caused the United States to sever diplomatic relations with Finland and eventually cost Finland the Porkkala peninsula. Finland's losses during the Second Campaign included about 100,000 killed or permanently disabled.

One year later Finland entered into negotiations with the Russians. But although it seems impossible that the Finns did not perceive that the fortunes of war had definitely turned, and that Allied victory was only a matter of time, the Eduskunta, during a secret session, unanimously rejected the peace terms and chose to face the massive offensive the Russians were then mounting.

In the debate, the leader of the powerful Agrarian Party said that his party trusted the Government implicitly in matters of foreign policy. Such, too, was the feeling of most of the Finnish bourgeoisie. Most of the Social Democrats followed their leader, Tanner, as a matter of course. Tanner had not been a member of the Government in June 1941; he joined it later. But in the trial it has been shown that he supported the Campaign enthusiastically and used his great power within the Social Democratic Party to prevent it from supporting the peace movement.

It is impossible to know to what degree the Eduskunta was moved by fear of what might happen if the Government were overturned. Finns who wanted peace feared that the Government might be succeeded by another coalition, even more war-minded. They were also aware of what seemed a greater danger. The Skyddskar (Volunteer Defense Corps), a spearhead of reaction dating from the Civil War of 1918, was about 60,000 strong. Mannerheim so far had kept it in order. But a change of government, at that critical time, might have precipitated a realignment which would lead to a repetition of the situation of 1918, with the officers and many others making common cause with the Skyddskar and seeking German support in the domestic controversy. Since the Germans were becoming increasingly unpopular, the internal dissension would have been even more bitter than in 1918. The Left would have turned to Russia for help -- and every village in Finland would have been a battleground in a civil war. There would have been no Finnish Government to negotiate with the Russians and Russian occupation would have followed. Some of the bitterest opponents of the accused Ministers argue that the more it became evident that the Government had acted illegally the less possible it was for the nation to force it to resign.

Such, at any rate, was the background for the Finnish rejection of Russian terms for peace. The Russians took the offensive and broke through the Isthmus defenses. Ryti, without consulting the Eduskunta, signed an agreement with Ribbentrop, who had flown to Helsinki, pledging that Finland would not make a separate peace with the U.S.S.R. He received in return assurances of continued German help. Ryti's undertaking was a personal one, and at the trial it was said in his defense that he left a loophole through which Finland could escape -- that is to say, the agreement would be cancelled if he resigned from the Presidency. He did resign, on August 1.


A crisis of despondency, aggravated by economic want, swept the country after the defeat. Lacking coal, Finland had to burn the wood which she would normally have exported, to keep her railways and her industries going at about half capacity. More than 10 percent of her population was displaced by the ravages of war and the migration from western Karelia. Thousands in Helsinki are still without homes, and the streets are none too safe at night. Almost everyone has money -- except intellectuals, government officials and certain categories of workers -- but there is nothing to buy legally; the results are widespread alcoholism and a thriving black market.

The Finns do not easily see beyond their frontiers; the trials have focussed their thoughts on their own political shortcomings. The very fact that, once things had reached a certain stage, there seemed nothing that the Eduskunta or the people could do save go on supporting the government, forces the Finns to ask themselves how it happened that democratic government got so badly out of hand. Few Finns were completely opposed to the trials except the right-wing Social Democrats, and their opposition was centered around the personality of Väinö Tanner. "He is a man, and a Finn, and a democrat," I heard one of them say during the trial. But for the left-wing Social Democrats he was Finland's éminence grise. In the eyes of the nation -- as well as from the legal point of view -- Tanner was less culpable than Ryti and certain others of the Right.

The congress of the Social Democratic Party will decide the question of the elimination of "Tannerites." Economic factors tend to make the party the largest in Finland, and both Finland's international orientation and the course of her domestic development will to some extent be determined by the decision taken at the party meeting. Some Social Democrats now sit on the same benches with the Communists because they place whole-hearted collaboration with Russia before every other political consideration -- even though they do not interpret that position as excluding friendship and trade with the western democracies. Perhaps about half of the population is politically disposed toward collaboration with Russia.

The Russian indemnity commissioners have proved exacting, but clear. Russia, on account of Finnish exactness in meeting her commitments, offered Finland in October 1945 a two years' extension of time in which to discharge her reparations obligations. Stalin chose to break this important news to the members of a Finnish cultural delegation which was visiting him. He told them, moreover, that when the indemnity period ended in 1951, Russia would want to continue to receive as imports from Finland the types of goods she is now receiving as reparations -- and in two or three times the volume. If this comes to pass, Finland will possess important trade outlets with the east.

At the moment, Finland is faced with grave economic difficulties, although her position is not the worst in Europe. She is short of coal and of the raw materials needed for the conversion of her industries to indemnity requirements. She has sterling and now dollar credits, and would like to buy more goods than can be supplied. She has lost two-thirds of her own shipping. Clothes, vegetables -- especially greens -- and sugar are very scarce. There is practically no fruit. (The severe winter of 1939-40, when the temperature fell sometimes to 57 degrees centigrade below zero, destroyed nearly all the fruit trees.) There is a little tobacco; coffee, the most prized luxury in Finland, is expected soon.

Finland's experiment with a Scandinavian orientation is over -- except culturally, and cultural relations mainly concern the Swedish Finns. Norway is not at all pleased with Finland's war policy. The Danes, with their gift for analytical psychology, "try to understand" and send sugar; and Sweden is continuing the economic help she gave to Finland during the war. But a northern union or bloc has passed outside the sphere of practical politics.

The Russians are doing their best to avoid interference with Finland's internal affairs; their attitude is comparable with the British attitude toward the Irish. One observes how careful they are to avoid "incidents." Russian soldiers and sailors are to be seen in the streets, in the shops and in cinemas, but never in restaurants. The U.S.S.R. may be expected to seek to exercise a certain control over Finnish foreign policy, however, and it has been made plain that if influences hitherto anti-Russian are allowed to stir up feeling against Russia, the relations between the two countries will change. During the trials, a Tass correspondent expressed the view that whether Finland is to be included among the United Nations will depend upon whether the Tanner-Ryti influence is removed.

Britain, too, is still technically at war with Finland, and hence there are Britons as well as Russians on the Allied Control Commission. The Finns have a background of friendly relations with Britain. As a result of the British declaration of war, a large part of the population, including many of the moderate Right, came to understand that it is possible for a country which is well disposed toward Finland to break with her, if Finland's own democracy fails. This was a useful lesson.

[i] The Finnish language is non-Indo-Germanic; there are not even genders in Finnish. Language difficulties have had much to do with the political ignorance of the Finns.

[ii] The fact that the first one, made a few weeks after the Campaign had started, proposed a return to the pre-Winter Campaign frontiers, must be ascribed either to a Russian feeling of military weakness at the time -- of which no evidence is known -- or to her desire to admit that in 1939 she had had to subordinate legality to the exigency of self-defense.

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  • ERIC DANCY, correspondent of the London News-Chronicle in the Russo-Finnish War; subsequently Swedish Editor of the B.B.C. and writer on Scandinavian affairs for the New Statesman and Nation
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