Tuesday, 17 February 2015

talvisota tai finmark

The young country of Finland found itself in a very unenviable position just after the start of WWII. Until 1809, Finland had been a part of the Kingdom of Sweden, until Imperial Russia conquered the territory to provide a buffer-region (a march) to protect Saint Petersburg during the Napoleonic Wars. This freshly created Duchy of Finland, however, took the chance to break free during the chaos of successive revolutions and civil wars that visited Russia and was able to declare independence in 1918, just before the peace was brokered for WWI.

The non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union also defined the respective powers’ spheres of influence, and Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries were ceded to the Stalin regime—Germany’s violation of the agreement with invading Poland of course was the catalyst for starting the fighting—and though Finland had made strong connections with the other neutral Nordic nations, the Soviet Union tugged on Finland, expecting it to assimilate as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had done. During the Winter War (Talvisota in Finnish) of 1939 the Finns rebuffed the Red Army, using among other conventional weapons, an improvised incendiary device, called the Molotov cocktail, named after the Soviet foreign minister whose negotiations had sacrificed Finland in the first place. The advance on the part of Moscow had given the League of Nations (precursor to the United Nations) cause to reject Soviet membership. Germany did not hesitate in making overtures to the precarious Finnish government after the Soviet withdrawal, which I think to everyone’s surprise, the Finns entertained. Ostensibly, the arrangement could be seen as an opportunistic quid-pro-quo—giving Germany the staging ground for its invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa)—though whether that was already in the making is unclear—and the chance for Finland to reclaim resource-rich territory lost, but I suspect that the damning, besmirching decision was recognised as the only alternative available and the vanities of legacy and repute were quickly cast away. The Finnish foreign minister, Rudolf Holsti, chose what he felt was the lesser of two evils by committing his “government” and not his country to support the Nazi regime—worded carefully so that the decision could be overturned by the next government, as it was, and would hopefully preserve Finland as an independent state, which it did. The Soviets attacked Finland for this treachery, but it avoided annexation. Though the definition of what a democracy is a very subjective one, the UK and the Allies’ attack on Finland, who’s since reformed its reputation and I think this chapter of history goes unknown outside of Scandinavia, in what’s called the Continuation War (Jatkosota) marks by some estimates the only war-time hostility between two democratic powers.