The era of Finlandization during the Cold War was characterized by the self-censorship of political leaders, in fear of angering Soviet leaders. This was combined with an effort to steer domestic public discourse in a way that no one would say anything that would offend our neighbor to the East.
“I belong to the generation that, in Finland during the time of the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union, was told that a war could have been prevented if the Finnish government would have agreed with Soviet diplomat Jartsev’s proposals of a defense union between the USSR and Finland. We nodded our heads, even though in our gut we knew that this would have meant that Finland would have shared the same fate with the Baltic countries. We were also told about the legitimate Soviet security interests, when the Terijoki lights could be seen blinking all the way in Leningrad. All this can be seen and felt in the modern discourse regarding security policy in an bothersome way.” This is how Ulpu Iivari, the former party secretary of SDP, describes public discourse during the Cold War.
It has been almost 30 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, but Finland has still not been able to completely shake off the rigidness surrounding the public discourse in foreign- and security policy matters, which was characteristic of the time after the Finno-Soviet treaty of 1948. An analytical and open discourse is still lacking.
The last few years have even seen a negative trend in this aspect. The last political representatives of the Cold War generation have been able to keep themselves at the center of Finnish security policy discourse. A comical example of this was the A-talk episode (in Finnish) from a year ago, where the studio guests were all diplomats who started their careers in the 70’s and had a ripe average age of 70.
In the effort of safeguarding the legacy of Finlandization, members of this generation have found each other across party lines as well. The support that Erkki Tuomioja gave Sauli Niinistö’s letter is a good example of this.
When former Prime Minister Esko Aho attempts to silence discussion of his role in a Russian state-owned bank, or when the former Foreign Minister berates an YLE-news piece, which sites the Economist, as the dumbest thing he has read, freedom of speech suffers and attempts to create a more open discourse on foreign- and security policy are slowed down. In Finland, freedom of speech is assumed, but it still needs defending. Libera wants to act as a platform for diverse, analytical and open discussion on security policy. Because of this, the think tank organized a seminar on security policy, with the goal to take the discourse on security policy to the next level.