Finland – Resilience as a core value

Whether it’s a turning point, an epoch break or a caesura: what was believed to be incomprehensible of a war of aggression on European soil leads to consequences of colossal consequences. This also includes the decision by Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin that the state, which has been militarily non-aligned for decades, should join NATO. The bourgeois Niinistö agreed with the social democrat Marin. Their SSP forms a coalition with four other parties ranging from the liberal, green to left spectrum. Once again it became apparent that foreign policy in Helsinki is not a playground for party political games and quick poll change. In fundamental questions, consensus is the Finnish trump card.

One of the country’s immovable pillars is its ability to defend itself. It is therefore no coincidence that Finland’s western neighbor Sweden is taking longer to decide whether to join NATO. Government and parliamentary parties presented a security analysis in Stockholm on Friday. Accession to NATO would therefore raise the threshold for military conflicts. Sweden’s identity is shaped by a strong army that protects the country. But it is also deeply rooted that the last war was 200 years away, dating back to 1814. Finland, on the other hand, was shaped by the Winter War of 1939/40 and the Continuation War of 1941 to 1944 against another neighbor: the USSR in the east.

Finnish post-war neutrality is also a result of political dependence on the Soviet Union. In 1947, under pressure from the Soviets, Finland refused to participate in the Marshall Plan, writes Gunther Hauser of the National Defense Academy in Vienna in his book “Neutrality and Freedom from Alliances in Europe”. In 1957, Finland’s President Urho Kekkonen even ventilated how the two founding members of NATO, Denmark and Norway, could leave the alliance.

Nine years earlier, Finland and the Soviet Union had signed a friendship treaty. Finland’s prize was the obligation to stand by its neighbor in the event of an attack from the West. At the same time, state independence was secured. Centuries of foreign rule shape Finland’s history: conquered by Sweden in the 13th century, it was annexed as a grand duchy in the 16th century. In 1808 Russia conquered the area, but granted autonomy rights to the Grand Duchy of Finland.

They have been used. In contrast to the repressive tsarist empire, Finland was the first European country to establish active and passive voting rights for women in 1906. More than a century later, Prime Minister Sanna Marin is the youngest head of government in Europe, having been elected to office in 2019 at the age of 34.

“Sisu” as a bracket

Women also play a role in Finnish defence. They can volunteer for the army, and men are conscripted for one year – which was never lifted even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. The military budgets were also reduced less than in NATO countries like Germany. They pocketed the “peace dividend” and are now drastically increasing their spending. Bucking the trend, Finland bought 64 F-18 fighter jets in 1992. They will be replaced by as many F-35s between 2026 and 2030. The order was anything but war-related activism, and the procurement of the machines was decided three months before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Determination, perseverance and perseverance are also considered to be typical Finnish values. They are grouped together with the term “Sisu”, which does not translate literally. The underlying concept is considered to be an identity-forming bracket, be it in the battle of the nominally clearly inferior army against the Soviet Union in the 1940s or today in the national sport of ice hockey. The team took gold at the Beijing Olympics – ironically in the final against Russia.

“The Finns hardly ever lacked pride, but at the end of the 1980s the anxious doubts about their image and the assessment of their own position in Western countries that were often expressed in the past almost disappeared,” wrote the author Andreas Doepfner in 1989. Since then, strengthened the ties with the West in several steps, including the “Partnership for Peace” between NATO and non-aligned states and the accession to the EU with Austria and Sweden in 1995. “The core of our neutrality will continue to exist,” said Prime Minister Esko Aho at the time. That won’t apply in the future, but Aho remains right that Finland has an “independent, credible national defense system.”

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