Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Nothing to fear from the Soviets

Juho Kusti Paasikivi, the Finnish statesman who successfully guided his country towards peaceful relations with its much bigger and more powerful neighbour, the Soviet Union, died 60 years ago today. His diaries have been published in Finnish, but no translation exists in English. However, a few translated extracts can be found in history or biography volumes, such as Containing Coexistence: America, Russia, and the “Finnish Solution’, which, in fact, opens with a quotation from Paasikivi’s diary.

Johan Gustaf Hellsten was born in 1870 in the Häme region of central Finland, though he was brought up further south in Lahti. His mother died when he was four, and his father when he was 14, whereupon he was looked after by an aunt. He was educated at one of the first schools founded by the Fennomans (Finnish nationalist movement), and, in 1885, he Finnicised his name to Juho Kusti Paasikivi. He went on to study history at the Imperial Alexander University, focussing on Russian history and language, graduating in 1892, thereafter switching to law for postgraduate studies. Paasikivi achieved his masters in law in 1897 and, in the same year, married Anna Forsman. They had four children.

Paasikivi completed his doctoral thesis in 1902, and became an associate professor at the university. The following year, though, he was appointed director general at the state treasury of, what was still, the Grand Duchy of Finland, a position he kept until he resigned in 1914. From 1907 to 1913, with a short gap, he was also a Finnish Party member of parliament. Eschewing the direction of the Finnish Party politics, he took over as president of KOP bank, piloting the company, within the newly independent Finland over the next 20 years, to one of the country’s most successful. After the death of his wife, in 1931, he resigned his position at the bank, and returned to politics, as head of the right-wing National Coalition Party, successfully steering it away from radical right wing policies. In 1934, he married Allina Valve.

Having stepped down as chairman of the 
National Coalition Party, Paasikivi was persuaded to take the important diplomatic role of ambassador to Sweden. During the war years, he was brought into government as a kind of political adviser; and his negotiations with the Soviet Union (Finland and the Soviet Union were at war for much of the 1939-1944 period) brought him much respect both in Moscow and in Helsinki. Immediately after the war, in 1944, he was appointed prime minister. He brought a radically different kind of politics to the country, based on wanting a peaceful relationship with the Soviet Union. In 1946, he became Finland’s seventh president, holding that position until 1956. He died later that same year, on 14 December. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, National Biography of Finland or the University of Helsinki.

Paasikivi kept diaries for most of his life. These were edited by Yrjo Blomstedt and Matti Klinge and published in 1985 in two volumes as Paasikiven paivakirjat, 1944-1956 (Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö, 1985). However, as far as I can tell, there is no English translation. A few snippets from the diaries appear in translation here and there, in biographies and/or history books, such as Containing Coexistence: America, Russia, and the “Finnish Solution” by Jussi M. Hanhimaki (Kent State University Press, 1997).

Containing Coexistence is the first full-scale study of Finland’s role in Soviet-American relations during the onset of the cold war, says the publisher. For the book, Hanhimaki drew on a wide range of multinational source material, including newly released archival materials, employing a comparative approach interrelating American, British, Finnish, Russian, and Swedish perspectives. Containing Coexistence will be of interest, the publisher claims, to historians and political scientists as well as to any scholar interested in American and Soviet foreign policies during the cold war, post-World War II international relations, or twentieth-century European history.

The following extracts from Paasikivi’s diary are quoted below in the context of the Hanhimaki’s narrative.

[Opening paragraph]
‘When Juho Kusti Paasikivi sat down to write in his diary on September 2, 1944, he was angry. “Our foreign policy has not been led with brains, but with buttocks,” the seventy-four-year-old conservative banker, politician, and former prime minister complained. “We should never have joined this war,” he added, accusing both the wartime leaders and the newly appointed president, Marshall C. G. E. Mannerheim, of shortsightedness and incompetence in handling Finnish foreign policy. The worst sin, Paasikivi would argue repeatedly in private conversations and public speeches until his retirement from Finnish political life in early 1956, had been to ignore the geopolitical realities of Finland’s position, that is, the country’s proximity to the Soviet Union. Such neglect had, according to Paasikivi, led to such recent disasters as the 1939-40 Winter War and Finland’s cobelligerency with Nazi Germany in 1941-44. This, he added, had led Finland to the brink of collapse by the fall of 1944 when Soviet occupation appeared imminent.’

[Page 91]
‘Paasikivi was also annoyed by Kekkonen’s decision to launch an active run for the presidency, complaining frequently about Kekkonen’s “American style” of campaigning in late 1949 and early 1950. “A president’s most important qualities are not talent in speech writing and propaganda, but wisdom and experience,” Paasikivi sarcastically remarked in his diary. For Kekkonen, however, the 1950 presidential campaign was a good opportunity to make his name more widely known to the general Finnish public, which payed dividends six years later.’

[Page 136]
‘By late 1955 Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the leader of the Soviet Union. But despite Khrushchev’s eventual success the days of undisputed one-man rule were over as a new era dawned in Soviet history in the spring of 1953. “We shall see how this affects our relationship with the Soviet Union and our general position in the world,” President Paasikivi wrote in his diary on March 4, 1953. It was to have a major impact in both respects.’

[Page 164]
‘Relieved [. . . ] had not meant a shift in Soviet attitudes toward Finland, Paasikivi wrote in his diary on July 29, 1954, “This proves that our relations with the Soviet Union are still good and we have nothing to fear from the Soviets.”  At the same time, however, Paasikivi was concerned about “the loss of good will in the U.S.” toward Finland.’

[Page 174]
‘That Finland was left to fight its internal battles without outside interference became clear during the Kemi strikes of August 1949. In this lumber town located at the head of the Gulf of Bothnia the Communist-dominated lumberjacks’ union began a strike on August 18. President Paasikivi had no sympathy for and few illusions about this labor action. He interpreted it as a communist effort to bounce back from the losses they had suffered in Finnish internal politics since the spring of 1948. As Paasikivi noted in his diary on August 18, 1949, “The Communists seem to want to regain their position of power and become dominant in Finland.” Paasikivi, however, trusted the Fagerholm government, which controlled a large part of the labor movement through the Social Democratic party, to have the ability to neutralize the strikes. Accordingly, Prime Minister Fagerholm declared that the strike was illegal and authorized the local police to break up the picket lines. On the same day, however, a riot ensued between the strikers and the local police; shots were fired, and one striker was killed. Paasikivi ordered a general alert of the armed forces; the government sent army troops to Kemi and arrested twenty-two leading activists. Meanwhile, the violence propelled a series of sympathy strikes around the country by other Communist-dominated labor unions such as the harbor workers and many metal union workers.’

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