In a recent article in ‘Postimees’, Helsinki based political scientist and columnist Iivi Anna Masso questioned the Finns’ seeming reluctance to join in any political fray that might jeopardize their special relationship with Russia.
She focussed, amongst other events, on a Russian media-generated scandal in which the city of Turku had taken into custody the child of a Finnish-Russian couple, who allegedly had been unable to provide adequate child care. (Details in the last issue of Estonian Life.)
Helping to fan the virulent propaganda flames against Finland was the country’s own Johan Bäckmann, a Helsinki University lecturer, a leader of Finland’s so-called ‘Anti-Fascist Committee’, close associate of the late Estonian communist hero Arnold Meri who was charged in Estonia with crimes against humanity and an unabashed admirer of Vladimir Putin.
Masso gives an overview of these propaganda efforts and the changes in direction that Moscow has recently made. They have turned their typical attention away from Estonia and concentrated on Finland which has been depicted as ‘terrorizing children of Russian origin’. This was followed by the visit to Turku by the Russian ombudsman of children’s rights, Pavel Astahov. Masso points to comments in the Finnish media that warn of a situation in which the Russian community in Finland is a victim of discrimination and urge Russia to intervene.
Masso claims that the Finns believe the written word is credible. They are also convinced that a pragmatic approach to ties with Russia has kept their relations with Russia friendly. Consequently this propaganda offensive to them is surprising and offensive.
Thus Bäckmann’s ‘antifascists’ have drawn the ire of much of the Finnish media as well as Russia observers. The Estonian media have pointed to Finland’s own home born and bred ‘snake’ that has turned on its own country. Masso reminds us that only a year ago when the same propagandists, in international media, labelled Estonia as racist and fascist apartheid regime and attacked its supporters in Finland, then not a single Finnish journalist, politician or professor said that Bäckman was sullying Estonia or Estonians.
When Masso, along with her academic colleagues and other supporters, questioned Helsinki University why such an odious propagandist like Bäckmann should retain a prized position at the university, they were called “Stalinist enemies of academic freedom and freedom of speech” by the “antifascists”. The university excused Bäckmann’s behaviour saying he was acting on his own free time and had no tie-in the to his university post.
Masso finds that there could be three explanations as to why Finnish community leaders don’t condemn such outrageous propaganda. Firstly, taking a cue from the university and believing in the printed word, Finns might be convinced that there might be partial truth in Bäckmann’s wild accusations. Secondly, Finns associate “antifascists” with Russia and are reluctant to appear to be hostile to Russia. Thirdly (Masso considers this to be the most likely), Bäckmann’s, somewhat clownish efforts should not have been taken seriously and a public debate with him had to be avoided.
However, Masso says that only now Finns realize that sordid accusations aimed at themselves can be untruthful and mean. Usually Finns react vigorously against hatemongering, which might point to a possible double standard with respect countering Moscow’s anti-Finland campaign.
Masso poses a question, when should shabby propaganda offensives be countered? Obviously not with street corner rabble rousers looking for attention. But when one is faced with systematic campaigns deliberately aimed at generating hate amongst or against groups, especially when international media is used, is it proper then? In addition, a carefully pragmatic stance vis à vis Moscow is not always rewarded with undying friendship. Russia can hit out just as vehemently against a country, even if the latter has done everything right.
Masso ponders: Had the Finnish elite and public condemned Bäckmann and company when they were attacking Estonia, could Moscow’s fellow travellers have managed to injure Finland’s reputation now. Masso states the question is rhetorical.
(Iivi Anna Masso is expected to participate at the “History, Memory and Politics in Central and Eastern Europe” conference in Toronto and at “Metsaülikool” in August.)
Iivi Anna Masso: propaganda boomerang