Finland and Russia

Discussions on the Winter War and Continuation War, the wars between Finland and the USSR.
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Waun Lwyd
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Finland and Russia

Post by Waun Lwyd » 13 Nov 2002 18:42

These observations were motivated by the Mystery of Finland debate that has been closed. Otherwise I think I would have remained only an occasional observer here. Anyway, here goes.

Totalitarian societies create a certain psychological incompleteness in their subjects, a lack of independence and self-reliance. This void is induced by terror and propaganda. If the oppression lasts for generations (or centuries) the mentalities get hardened, and old reflexes will die very hard. Or don't at all. The psychological void is intentionally created in order to be filled by the powerful and violent state, the crushed pride in yourself is exchanged for the pride in the terror state and its captive host nation. The more cruel and aggressive the state is, the greater the twisted pride and blindness to truth and humanity. The terror state might be a cruel, murderous father with no regard for individuals or for independent truth and thought, but at least you are all together in being its children - there is a community of sorts, a community of the humiliated. Western liberal democracy works differently: you are expected to be whole in yourself and the state provides you with the material security and the open personal space to be that, to be a free individual. Well, of course freedom can be a burden too. A different one.

So, what happened in 1939 was a brutal attack by a totalitarian great power directed against a small liberal democracy where citizens were autonomous individuals, quarreling with each other, yes, and only beginning their way towards wealth and social justice. They were totally protected from political violence, with no imagination even of systematic totalitarian state terror. Brutalized hordes, armed to teeth, were hurled over the border with no regard for their life, like slaves whipped into attack. Opposing them were immesurably fewer individuals, an army of free citizens united in their voluntary willingness to defend liberty. Not well armed at all - investments in the 30s had been directed towards building a better society, not into armaments. And a miracle happened: Stalin was denied time, the attack was stopped with amazing heroics and sacrifices, the country was not occupied and free life continued and has continued to this day.

There is and should be a huge a pride in the role of Finland in WW2. We were the only fully civilized country fighting in the Eastern front. A field synagogue just kilometres away from the German 163rd Division positions. Mannerheim received as an honoured leader after the war in the Helsinki Synagogue. We fought just for ourselves, for our liberty. We did ally with brown fascism, only because red fascists had attacked us first and the West was powerless to help, but even that alliance was on our terms. And the crucial, non-negotiable term was: we would keep our liberty, our free way of life even in alliance with this terror state. In that context we kept our hands clean, we fought hard and it was enough, even if just. A free citizen was worth ten brutalized totalitarian subjects. (Though we did run into repeated difficulties when the 11th, 12th, 13th etc. arrived...)

What could have happened? Estonia is a chilling example - in 1939 it was a society that was totally protected from political violence (if not fully politically free) with ca 1 million Estonian speakers. The living standard was approximately the same as in Finland. To this society was red fascism introduced in the summer of 1940 with the result of mass executions, deportations, terrror and torture, especially directed against cultural and political elite. A nation destroyed. What did they have in 1991? - A materially and morally collapsed society with ca 1 million Estonian speakers. Finland has in 2002 5.2 million people in a flourishing Nordic democracy, in 1939 we had 3,5 million... There is no doubt we would also be missing at least a third of our population with the added cost of lost material and moral progress had our fronts collapsed. So even if the cost of war was incredibly high, it was absolutely worth paying: Finland kept its freedom and the Soviet Union kept its slavery. In this light, yes, indeed I would say that the Republic of Finland was the winner and the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics the utter loser.

Last spring I crossed the border into Russian Carelia. What an amazing contrast. On Finnish side good roads, well kept houses and gardens, visible pride in your work and community - and on Russian side total moral and material wasteland. Ruined houses, ruined drunken people on miserable country lanes. Crime, brutality and poverty: results of the totalitarian oppression and victimization. You got that land in 1944 and you ruined it. No need for arguments, the facts are there for all to see, the sights are there to be seen. The tragedy of WW2 was that red fascism did not collapse alongside brown fascism. The tragedy especially of the magnificent Russian nation: to be brutalized and terrorized for centuries by the cruel and corrupt state, for so many individuals to be twisted into that twisted shape. Echoes of that here in LeoAU and some others - the concequences of terror live sadly on.

Well, fortunes change, maybe one bad day the hordes will overrun the defense of free Finland. What if so? Freedom would still not be corrupted, truth would still not be twisted by power and cynicism. Liberty would live on in individuals as their personality is not depending on any state aggression, in the successes or failures of a terror state with a brutalized nation as its hostage. This is not a question of race or nationality: it was also Akhmatova's fight, Mandelstam's and Bulgakov's - alongside Finns there was fighting in 1939 the best of Russian culture and free thought that even Stalin could never intimidate or murder. And always will be: this truth and this defense will go on. That is the benefit and the blessing of individual liberty, individual living in truth. The gate is closed for slaves and the worshippers of power and cruelty. It is open for free people. Hopefully the Russian nation will once achieve it - they so richly would deserve it.

Edit: some typos

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Harri
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Post by Harri » 14 Nov 2002 08:37

Now I am speechless... 8O

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Hans N
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Post by Hans N » 14 Nov 2002 16:59

That makes two of us!!

Regards

Hans N

Waun Lwyd
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Post by Waun Lwyd » 15 Nov 2002 12:34

To conclude: I am not intending to start a debate with persons who don't respect debating. As stated before, I think that my short summary of those events is basically unobjectionable and quite unchallengable in any meaningful way.

Those who have actual knowledge about Finnish history and are interested in genuine free debate (the basis of which is the respect for the concept of independent truth, however impossible it is to portray this truth TOTALLY accurately by human means and observations) might have some legitimate questions concerning my overwhelmingly positive description of the Finnish society before Stalin's attempted rape. I would answer them that I know that our liberal democracy was flawed then and that many social conflicts had only just begun healing - the process of which was actually speedied up by the war. It is just that the Stalin's Soviet Union was so gigantic in its cruelty and violence that these flaws are completely dwarfed. Nothing in Finland of that time compares with the bloody hysteria that raged on the other side of the border. It was a true and unimaginably deep contrast between civilization and barbarism.

So, my text was not intended to start any debate but to sum it up. Nothing meaningful can really be added to change the basic assessment. I predict that those who will nevertheless oppose my views here will do it from the basis that I have defined (as Oleg already did) thus making replies not worth the bother. It is hard to argue with the truth.

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Post by Waun Lwyd » 18 Nov 2002 12:03

re: Oleg

It is indeed hoped for that this exchange would be a salutary reminder of the boundaries of reason in historical debate. Admittedly there is always room beyond this in the realms of cynicism, manipulation or even outright identification with ruthless power, but if you want to be a meaningful debater, you should not cross into this unreason and hysteria. Let this be a lesson then for those who want to participate analytically in the discussions concerning Finnish history in WW2 - the fundamental meaning of those occurrences has been presented here (and elsewhere) and cannot be rationally refuted. Of course, it should be fully admitted that this truth is not totally reproducable by means of research and analysis, but if history is to be meaningful and rational some things simply are not deniable. Of course, unreasonably they can easily be so denied, and this way will always be open for those not interested in true historical debate - you personally have (very obligingly) already taken it. Which rather proves the point...

This is not to say that no legitimate counter arguments can be directed towards my summing up of events. I have already awknowleged this. What is essential, however, is the context of the discussion: if evidence and analysis are not truly respected then the debater's position has no fundamental analytic value. On the other hand, if these factors are genuinely respected, then the fundamental truth of my position cannot be refuted, and only details and emphasis are open for discussion. So, the choice is yours: acceptance of reason or irrationality. But I think that you have already long ago made this choice and have only confirmed it here. The loss is yours.

In passing I would like to point that my opinions are not russophobic at all but the excact opposite: the Great Patriotic War was fought by the heroic Russian nation against Nazi Germany as a desperate defence against physical and cultural extermination. The fact that their government was equally predatory in its nature as the Nazi state and that the war on the Eastern front was in concequence a battle of two different and equally hateful barbarisms, was no fault of Russians themselves who where not in the position to make a better and more just society in the face of brutal Soviet terror and repression. In this context of these battling monsters the small liberal democratic Finland was just deeply unlucky in her geographical location and amazingly successful and resourceful in her determination to avoid the similar oppression and terror as had already happened to the victimized and unfree Germans and Russians.

In conlusion of this debate I would like to add an observation that I forgot from my initial description: Finland's foreign policy had in 30s been firmly directed towards neutrality and Scandinavian orientation, but in the circumstances of world war, this proved to be of no help whatsoever. In addition to this failed hope of security, the incredibly bad material condition of the army resulted in a catastrophic loneliness and unpreparedness in the face of Stalin's brutal aggression. It was amazing that Finland survived. But survive she did, and in the end proved to be a longer lasting state than both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Such a triumph of freedom it is, but achieved in desperate and often hopeless seeming circumstances with a very high human cost. The sacrifice was not wasted: not only the memory but the concrete achievements of that heroism are still living on in independent and free Finland.

That should be a universal lesson for all countries and nations - Russia not the least of them: freedom can be achieved and defended even in almost hopeless circumstances.
Last edited by Waun Lwyd on 18 Nov 2002 13:04, edited 2 times in total.

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The Desert Fox
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A good read enjoyed by a non Scandanavian!

Post by The Desert Fox » 18 Nov 2002 14:09

A good read Waun Lwyd.

Despite having no scandinavian ancestry what so ever I have some affinity for the fins. Unlike the others who have answered this thread, my ancestory is 100% anglo saxon, my family having emigrated to Australia from England about 100+ years ago.

I devoloped some interest in the role of the fins in ww2 while completing my history degree in the late 1980s. One can only have pride in a small country such as Finland standing up to the might of the USSR, when other countries such as the Baltic states let themselves be so meekly absorbed in 1939/1940. Making such a stand against adversity kept your country its independence, even when the war was ultimately lost.

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The Desert Fox

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timoa
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Re: A good read enjoyed by a non Scandanavian!

Post by timoa » 18 Nov 2002 14:17

The Desert Fox wrote:Making such a stand against adversity kept your country its independence, even when the war was ultimately lost.


My opinion is that the war was won for Finland. Even if we had many casualties, had to lose land and rent some out and pay money to russia I still think that the war was won for us.

I know who to thank for not having to speak russian today.

timo

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Hanski
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Post by Hanski » 18 Nov 2002 21:30

Who won? I think Waun Lwyd crystallizes it brilliantly in his first posting by writing "Finland kept its freedom and the Soviet Union kept its slavery".
So I guess both won then!

Not all Finns have acknowledged the value of their heritage that they got from the veteran generation.

It is a chilling fact of recent history from the Cold War times how there were still Finns in the 1970's who did their best to introduce the Soviet system in Finland, refusing to acknowledge the historical facts mentioned in the former postings. These "Taistolaiset", members of a radical fraction of the Finnish Communist Party, did everything in their power to promote socialist revolution in Finland and weaken the defence of Finland against it.

It is shameful how these zealots still hold prominent places in the present day Finnish society - of course they keep quiet of their former ideology now after the collapse of communism. But by their enthusiastic speeches, they would have been more than willing to form a new equivalent of the Terijoki Regime, Stalin's puppet government for "The People's Republic of Finland" of 1939. Now they simply laugh about their 70's revolutionary zeal, glorify it in nostalgic memories, and expect everything to be just forgiven to them, just like that.

Hanski

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Post by Mark V » 18 Nov 2002 21:39

To hmononen:

Agree. But atleast the generation of youth in today appreciate the sacrifice of our grandfathers very highly.

It has been said: Children don't listen their parents, but grandchilds do.

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Post by Waun Lwyd » 19 Nov 2002 08:08

re: Oleg

This is probably the last time I'll post to this discussion. Your previous answer quite brilliantly encapsulates our different approaches towards historical debate. As I wrote, no-one can be forced to think independently and inteprete evidence and research analytically, free of cynicism and manipulation. If you take historiography seriously, there is not much to add to the characterization of Finland as politically violence free liberal democracy, as that simply was the state of affairs. It cannot be meaningfully denied. Similarly the in the Stalinist Soviet Union there really did rage a bloody hysteria of state violence and terror. These observations can only be meaninglessly, irrationally denied and if done so, what's the point of continuing a half debate? I leave you to your fictional world view - and hope that the comfort is worth the blindness.

Some general observations as a postscript to the whole discussion: I would say that "postmodern" or, more accurately, poststructuralist theory might offer a rhetorical way out of Oleg's dilemma without wholly discrediting him intellectually. He could argue that no "fact" is selfevident or undeniable as all facts are formed only by their formulation in language, so supported only by competing and in themselves equal narrative structures. This of course would take into question also the propagandist Russian version of history, so it would not be a very satisfactory solution for supporters of that version, as it is wanted to be priviledged. So, I am afraid, Oleg, that the choice remains: reason or irrationality. You go your way and I (and historiography) mine.

Outside of propaganda, what can be said about this postmodern theoretical objection? I would say that accepting it totally would basically make all serious historical research reduntant - why should we bother about evidence and experience, if there are no meaningful facts at all, if all versions are equally "correct"? Luckily, the theory is actually more subtle and not at all nonsensical as this (basically this fact is only missed in the literature departments nowadays). I would see it as a fundamental objection to the possibility of totally neutral and value free research and the understanding of the simple fact that all human action and interpretation is local. That is why I have been careful in phrasing that my summing up of the Finnish experience can only be denied meaninglessly and irrationally, that is outside the boundaries of all analytical and systematic research and meaningful historical debate. It is an undeniable truth as formulated by evidence, experience and rational analysis. The choice really remains: you can abandon this criteria, and you are free to do it, but then you must leave all rational debate. As Oleg (and others) have done here and in other discussions in the forum.

These are abstract and dry words - but the legacy of action lives on: because of the heroism of Finland's defenders and home front and the wisdom of her politicians (foremost of them Ryti, Mannerheim and Paasikivi) freedom lives on in an independent organically developed, wealthy, modern, Nordic high tech society. It is still not a paradise, far from it, but it is not like the for 50 years occupied ruins to the south where more unlucky Estonians try to pick up pieces and rebuild their society. Nor is it like the moral and material wasteland to the east where a magnificent nation tries construct a better form of society after centuries of brutality and disregard for human live and freedom. If only they would succeed.

I suppose this basically concludes my part in this discussion. I have tried to sketch the basic legitimate objections that can be reasonably made and also formulated (with help from illustrations by Oleg) the analytically meaningless opposing views. New evidence will be found and new interpretations will be made, but the fundamentals of the overall assessment are not open for meaningful analytical questioning. Finland was neutral, Finland was unarmed, Finland was not a terror state, Finland was brutally attacked by Stalin's Soviet Union which was one. The Baltic countries who didn't fight, who were "reasonable" and made a deal with Stalin, were occupied and subjected to terror and violence and lost their independence for 50 years.

Sorry to say, Oleg, but the basic nature of this case is then closed for good, as far as analytical research and informative historical debate are concerned.

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Oleg Grigoryev
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Post by Oleg Grigoryev » 19 Nov 2002 08:54

Am I missing something here? What exactly are you arguing with me about? Your post is basically can be accumulated into
a) Finland was a democracy (and where did I argue with that???)
b) USSR was a dictatorship ( where did I argue with that????????)
c) USSR attacked Finland (did I say something different???)

The rest of the post was pretty much “Horary for Finland” -ok – but how is it in anyway connected to history?

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Harri
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Post by Harri » 19 Nov 2002 09:07

Waun, that was well said.

I've got an impression that former Soviet people really believe that their country (USSR) was a better place to live, non-aggressive and had right to do what they have done while other countries (for example Finland) were dangerous, unreliable, despicable and unstable Societies just waiting for the right moment to attack against them. The birth of that kind of thinking is not possible without the atmosphere of fear, inconsiderate "state propaganda" and - intentional lieing. In the country with "one official truth" (which can be additionally altered depending on current leaders) it is easy to do in all levels of Society.

"Brother" Waun (sounds more like Welsh than Finnish) has found the basic differences between Finnish and Soviet(/Russian?) thinking and point of views and quite impressively shown the reasons for that.

Waun Lwyd wrote:Finland was neutral, Finland was unarmed, Finland was not a terror state, Finland was brutally attacked by Stalin's Soviet Union which was one. The Baltic countries who didn't fight, who were "reasonable" and made a deal with Stalin, were occupied and subjected to terror and violence and lost their independence for 50 years.


Now after more than 50 years we can see the results of both ways well and can made the decision which way was better (for most of us Finns it has been evident since 1940's). Without doubt Finland is the winner in this "game". Claiming something else shows ones lack of knowledge or the inability to accept facts.

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Oleg Grigoryev
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Post by Oleg Grigoryev » 19 Nov 2002 09:11

Finland was unarmed
????????????????????????????????

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Post by Waun Lwyd » 19 Nov 2002 09:37

oleg wrote:
Finland was unarmed
????????????????????????????????


Ok, let's continue once more, though I suspect that the question was not made in very good faith. Unarmed as regards to Soviet and German standards of the day: no effective (or basically otherwise) tanks, no effective air defence, no effective air force, very weak heavy artillery, no long term policy of investments into constructing own armament industry -when a crash program for buying better equipment was started in 1938-1939, the markets were not able to deliver. Up to date were only the fighting spirit, the leadership and the tactics. As a peaceful and small liberal democracy which was recovering from the world depression, Finland simply did not invest seriously in the armed forces till the end of the 30's. This was much too late, but the beginning of the construction of the welfare state did make it possible to forge the unity and resolve that Finland later exhibited. Still, it would have been much helped with even a little modern heavy equipment. When compared with the obsessive arms race in which the totalitarian powers, the Soviet Union in the forefront, were participating, Finland was indeed unarmed. But if you like, I rephrase my description to "totally unprepared for modern war without modern heavy artillery, tank force, air defence or air force". Like it better?

Harri and others have made good points here, much more succintly than I, thanks for that! I have been undoubtedly much too through in travelling this well known, established and universally accepted road. It is like arguing that "yes, the world really is round." If you have to make arguments of that level it means that you are probably wasting your time as the other side is not interested in intellectual or rational approach.

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Oleg Grigoryev
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Post by Oleg Grigoryev » 19 Nov 2002 10:00

When compared with the obsessive arms race in which the totalitarian powers, the Soviet Union in the forefront, were participating, Finland was indeed unarmed
so that would make GB and France a totalitarian powers -with their naval building for programs? Btw by the time of Winter war most of the Soviet tanks were obsolit.

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