Friday, 9 October 2015

A Finnish Book on Lustration

(Originally on 20 May, 2015.)

An interesting booklet was published this year in Finland, named Lustraatio ("Lustration"), written by writer and activist Jukka Mallinen, journalist Martti Puukko, and researcher Arto Luukkanen, who is specialized in Russia. The book was edited by a young publishing entrepreneur Pekka Virkki. From the perspective of my current country of residence, Ukraine, it was interesting to read Finnish thoughts about lustration and about potential applications of this principle to cleaning out the mess left behind by Finlandization.

To the extent that the word lustration is at all familiar for Finns, it became known as one of the key demands of the Maidan demonstrators, and a slogan in the aftermath of the Revolution of Dignity. The word is derived from ancient Roman purification rituals, but it was in active use in Eastern Europe when the communist regimes collapsed and societies wanted to settle scores with their past.

The idea for example in the lustration processes of the Baltic countries, Poland, and Czech Republic was to cleanse bureaucracies and state elites from the henchmen of the KGB and its sister organs. Those who admitted their sins often got acquitted from formal criminal charges, while if they tried to conceal their past and got caught, they would lose their official positions. Lustration was also an important element to counter corruption, as corruption was usually closely linked with the power relations of the former communist regimes and especially their security organs. Lustration would prevent secrets from poisoning the reconstruction of democratic, European, open societies.

Another key conception of the book is Finlandization, a name originally given by West German press to the peculiar Finnish practice of pleasing Moscow. In line of that practice the political elite of Finland was self active in restricting the nation's sovereignty and societal freedom, whereas Finnish media and academic circles learned to practice self-censorship, to discriminate the wrong-opined, and to condition their thinking into what Moscow would be likely to tolerate.

The problem, as perceived in the book, is that unlike many East European countries, Finland did not, after the Cold War ended, sort out and investigate the connections and compromising relationships of its political, bureaucratic, economic and military elite with Soviet security services. Secrecy continues to poison the healing process of Finnish society, and has provided useful tools for the newly ruling KGB regime in Russia, which is known to have returned to use KGB instruments of influence to manipulate decision and opinion-makers in Finland and other European countries.

I have to admit that I had not yet read the book in its entirety when my attention was drawn to it by a series of strange reactions by some Finns. One such was published by the Russia researcher, Professor T. Vihavainen, in his blog, where in a critique soaked in insinuations and allusions, he dared not to name the book or its writers - although the target was evident. Another, equally odd and obviously defensive piece, the head of the Finnish National Archive Dr. J. Nuorteva attacked Dr. Luukkanen's archive research in the customers magazine of the Archives Service, Akti. Nuorteva's main point seemed to be that opening the Soviet archives was an "unwise" move from Ukraine, and if a Finnish researcher would study those archives, it could endanger access to cooperation with the archives of the Russian security service FSB, successor of the KGB. If anything, such reactions indicate something of the nature of what is wrong in the Finnish atmosphere concerning any opening up of the era of Finlandization.

The book of Mallinen, Puukko and Luukkanen is focused on the legacy of Finlandization and the lack of its deconstruction in Finland. Yet they also bring up a lot of historical analysis and context, from the era of Finland as a part of the Russian Empire (1809-1917) to the experiences Poland has had of post-Cold War lustration in the 1990s. Luukkanen throws around also examples from Germany's "management of past" (Vergangenheitbewältigung) and South Africa's "commission of truth".

Puukko writes about the Polish lustration experiences which he saw as a contemporary witness. People in Ukraine and to a large extent also in Finland have tended to think that it was exactly Poland that was the great success story in lustrating the system and reforming it into a European democracy. Yet Puukko's deserving contribution reminds us that it wasn't all that smooth there either.

What we often forget is the passing of time. Poland had time for its painful past management and reform work since the early 1990s. Back then the Yeltsin administration still sought to reform Russia into the European direction. A decade later at Putin's ascendance to power in Russia, Poland had already gained a critical head start to Western integration. Ukraine didn't have such an advantage since the Orange Revolution took place there only at the end of 2004. After that the country still made a major setback in 2010 into Yanukovich's reign, and another revolution was required to rid Ukraine from that. The latter started from an uprising in November 2013 and peaked at the Revolution of Dignity in February 2014.

Another large East European country might constitute a better reference point for Ukraine, namely Romania which in the 1990s first lagged clearly behind Poland and the rest of eastern Central Europe. Mystical fires occurred in the archives of the Securitate after Ceauşescu had been overthrown. Critical materials were destroyed, and thereby also the old powers resisted in power until the large demonstrations of 1995-1996, which finally pushed for a real power change and launched lustration in Romania. I remember how still in the late nineties many complained to me the miserable state of Romania, its corruption, and appeared convinced the country can never become an EU member. Well, things changed. Although Romania and Bulgaria are still the poorest of EU member states, reforms did take place in them and these countries changed significantly from what they were still in the nineties.

In any case Puukko narrates in a convincing way about the problems caused for the Polish society by the shortcomings in handling the communist heritage, the weakness of lustration, secrecy over the more shadowy sides of Lech Wałęsa's background, and from the fact that the representatives of the former communist security services could benefit from old power relations and from the information they possessed about people. I would have been delighted to read Puukko's views also about today's Poland, its active role in the events of Croatia, Georgia, and Ukraine, as well as about the Smolensk airplane crash.

Mallinen's elegant essay contribution sketches a kind of cultural autopsy for Finlandization and its historical backgrounds, which go back to the authoritarian traditions of the times under the tsar. Luukkanen touches upon the same topic for instance in his introduction of the activities of Bishop Jacob Tengström (1755-1832) as a useful collaborator of the Russian Empire, and a finlandizer of Finland even before the term was known. In Finlandized Finland, many reasonings were afterwisely constructed for why Tengström's conduct was to be seen positively. After all, he was advocating Russia's interests. It seemed not matter that from an objective point of view his actions constituted treason against Kingdom of Sweden, of which Finland was part.

In his essay named From the Duress of Things to the General Reasons, Mallinen traces the tsarist roots of Finlandization to the Diet of Porvoo in 1809, where the gentry of Finland paid homage to the Russian tsar - quite treasonably at their motherland Sweden - and to the meeting between Marshal Bernadotte, who had been installed as a king in Sweden, and the tsar in Turku in 1812 - where this marshal of Napoleon promised to the tsar, without consulting the Finns, that Sweden would no longer seek the return of Österland [the Eastern Land, i.e. Finland]. In more recent days neo-finlandizers have however praised "the policies of 1812" as an eternal basis for Finland's position. It appears they wish to return the border of Russia's sphere of interest to the Gulf of Bothnia.

Mallinen's inspection reminds us of the habits of the national conciliatory elite, who has since the times of the tsars beaten St. Petersburg's will, and later Moscow's, into the thick skulls of Finns as a necessity - a duress of things. Later the same thing was known by many other euphemisms, too: general reasons, geography, or friendly relations. It was not before the years of oppression that really awoke people to resistance, which created dynamism in the nation. Mallinen's portrayals of Finlandization in Finnish academic and cultural life are in fact awkward to read. Unfortunately myriad examples tell a sinister tale about a return to similar habits under Putin's reign.

Regrettably the book makes no reference to the materials that the journalist Juha-Pekka Tikka gathered in Cambridge from the KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin's archive, concerning KGB contacts in Finland. Tikka reported his findings in an interesting series of articles in Verkkouutiset along the late summer and autumn of 2014. Even though the materials of the Mitrokhin archive would have been available for Finnish researchers for a rather long time, there has been some peculiar unwillingness to process them in Finland. The book also fails to refer to the information recently discussed by the intelligence historian Kimmo Rentola, partly based on Tikka's revelations. Rentola himself has a leftist background.

Furthermore, it would have been appropriate to note Ambassador Alpo Rusi's remarkable work and publications that were prompted by his own purgatory as a target of spy suspicions - accusations to which a court process found him not guilty. Over the past years Rusi has published many findings from the archives of the KGB's East German proxy. His case also constitutes a good reminder of the fact that many of those who were noted down as contacts or subjects of development in KGB or Stasi archives had done nothing wrong. People regularly ended up there because they were interesting to the foreign intelligence organs due to their job or another reason. The fact that many of those who had a file were innocent should, however, not prevent honest investigations on KGB penetration in Finland. Quite the contrary, when such things are not investigated and cleared, the shadows of distrust remain haunting.

It is often repeated in Finland that during the decades of Finlandization (or its aftermath) there was never an Eastern spy exposed in the Finnish Security Police (Suojelupoliisi, a.k.a. Supo). This is not a good news, as we should place the emphasis on the word exposed. Tikka's findings make a strong case for that the leadership of the Supo was seriously compromised. This was also discussed by Rentola in his article in Tieteessä Tapahtuu. This inevitably raises thoughts about why the few cases of high treason in Finland have mostly targeted the careers of people who have been known for their pro-Western stands, or contacts who have been either burn or otherwise turned harmful for their eastern employers. Meanwhile, those who have been exposed by opened archives to have worked as agents for the Eastern Bloc, have appeared to be protected by continued immunity.

The book outlines a Finnish tradition in which our political and economic elite have made a deal with the devil. Members of the elite have gained various benefits from this - money, peace and stability - but the soul of the Finnish nation has been repeatedly maimed in the process. The pathologies and fetiches of the Finnish political culture are symptoms of this soul damage.

There have been periods of time when one evil has been useful in ridding Finland from another. In other times Finns have been prepared to pay a shockingly high price for peace. While such policies can be argued for in certain situations, this should not lead to the conclusion that Alexander II, Kerenski, Lenin, or Hitler, were great benefactors and friends of Finland. It just was that Finland's cause happened to fit their power-political calculations at given times.

To a certain extent Finland can benefit from a fame of balancing acts between bigger players. Even in the current leadership of the state, the idea of sitting on a fence has gained a frightening amount of popularity. They should just remember that they cannot afford being stupid in such a game. Otherwise the same game will quickly lead them to war - or even worse, to the demise of the Finnish nation. It is not rarely that the "friends" have made their plans include the destruction of Finland as a nation - genocide, deportation to Siberia, absorption by a "more remarkable" nation, or just a role as a simple puffer or front.

Finns are destined to play for their freedom and existence just like Afghans, Chechens, and Georgians have done for millennia, sandwiched between bigger empires. That was long before the game - and civilization - arrived in our northern woods. This game does not treat well those who are naive and stupid. On the other hand, one should not overestimate one's ability to be cunning, because cunning can only bring tactical victories - in strategy, resources and power still rule.

Finland has stumbled and humbled itself in ways that have repeatedly jeopardized the future of our nation. Yet we have had some luck with us. One should however not count much on luck in geopolitics. One should not trust in empty deals: "an agreement, eto tolko bumaga," like the film about the February Manifesto remarked. It does not make sense to bow at royalties and other totem animals, like some of our pompous academics have done in a spell of decorations and favours. Especially one should not trust blindly in our political and economic elite, who have repeatedly manifested their willingness to sacrifice the freedom of their people on the altar of their own short-term interests.

It is largely thank to free, armed peasants that Finland has been saved from much worse. Also Georgians and Chechens can be grateful for quite similar things, in somewhat different circumstances, for their continued existence as nations.

Editorial work of the Lustration book has been decent, although it could have been more meticulous. The articles, and especially Luukkanen's parts, still contain needlessly many typos, missing words, and transliteration errors, which at least the editor should have checked and corrected. Luckily the number of factual errors is much lower. Yet it should be noted that Timo Kivimäki, who was convicted in Denmark for espionage targeting his own students for the Russian intelligence, was not hired afterwards for a position in the Aleksanteri Institute (as claimed by the book) but in the Department of World Policy, of Helsinki University.

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