Finland

Two sides of the same coin

The curious standoff between two types of political extremism on the fringes of Europe – yet in close proximity to the Russian Federation – continues unabated. Most recently,  Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat daily newspaper reported on one aspect of the affair, namely the news that Finland’s public prosecutor is demanding a jail term for the Finnish businessman Mikael Storsjö, who is accused of illegally helping dozens of Chechen refugees to enter Finland. But this is only a part of the ongoing situation, which involves a vitriolic campaign by two Finnish pro-Russian activists – the Lutheran pastor Juha Molari and the university lecturer Johan Bäckman – whose aim is apparently to call into question the activities of human rights campaigners in the North Caucasus, and also at the same time to challenge the policies of governments in the Baltic states, particularly those of Estonia and Latvia, with regard to their Russian-speaking minorities.

The problem for outside observers who are trying to make sense of it all is that the confrontation between Molari/Bäckman on the one hand, and Storsjö/pro-Islamist (Doku Umarov) Kavkaz Center website on the other, looks suspiciously like a manufactured conflict representing two sides of the same extremist coin.  Since most of the details are published either in Finnish or Russian on websites not normally visited or read by Western media, the potential for disinformation on these and related issues is probably rather high.

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Russian land sales ban upsets Finland

On January 9, Russia’s President Medvedev signed a new decree which specifies border areas where foreign citizens are not allowed to purchase land. The areas include nearly all the regions of the Russian Federation bordering on Finland and Norway, all the way from Pechenga in northern Russia to the Gulf of Finland in the south (near Helsinki).

Finland has asked for an explanation of the new law, according to the Barents Observer, with foreign minister Alexander Stubb making an official representation to the Russian authorities, as quite a few Finns have already bought land in the areas that are now banned:

What will happen to those foreigners that already own land in this areas is highly uncertain. The Finnish Embassy in Moscow is examining the significance of the decree, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

– We stick to the principle of reciprocity as long as it is realistic and possible, says Alexander Stubb, interviewed by YLE.

– We’ll talk with Russian authorities about how this can be realised. If one can buy land here, then of course one should be able to buy land on the other side of the border as well, says Stubb.

Reading matters

The interesting blog of Swedish military historian and defence analyst Lars Gyllenhaal continues to provide thought-provoking insights into aspects of Nordic and European security, past and present. with references to little-known and little-publicized historical, literary and other documentary sources. Among recent posts to the blog are:

  • a review of a book called If Germany Had Won —  53 Alternative Scenarios, with a chapter containing speculations on questions such as what might have happened if Sweden had been drawn into the Winter War of 1939-40, or had said no to Hitler in 1941.
  • a dissection and general Fisking of the 9/11 “Truth Movement”, with some unexpected words from Noam Chomsky.
  • an examination of Russia’s new defence policy in the light of a recent BBC report, and a look at one puzzling recent development.

Johansson: Israel “contemptible country”

The Jerusalem Post reports that the head of Finland’s branch of Amnesty International stands by his comment that Israel is a “contemptible country” (nilkkimaa).

In a post now deleted from his Iltalehti blog, but still available in Google’s cache, Frank Johansson writes:

Ystäväni, joka työskentelee Israelissa, oli käymässä ja puita vajaan kasatessa päästiin hänen lempiaiheeseensa. Usean vuoden pyhässä maassa oleskelun jälkeen, hän on tullut siihen tulokseen, että ”Israel on nilkkimaa”. Omien vierailujeni perusteella, jotka ajoittuvat 1970-luvulle ja 1990-luvun loppuvuosille olen aika samaa mieltä.

“A friend of mine, who works in Israel, was visiting and while we were stacking firewood in the woodshed we got onto his favourite subject. After a few years of living in the Holy Land, he had come to the conclusion that “Israel is a contemptible country”.  On the basis of my own visits, which took place during the 1970s and late 1990s,  I am quite of the same opinion.”

The word nilkkimaa, which I’ve translated here as “contemptible country”, as it derives from the Finnish word nilkki, is actually more derogatory than that – the Jerusalem Post translates it as “scum state”, and that is not too far off, as the expression is stronger than “rogue state”.

One wonders why a regional head of Amnesty would make such a statement about an entire country and its people, yet apparently feel no shame about it. He claims to be “breaking the silence”, but is surely breaking a lot of other things as well.

Update: in the Jerusalem Post interview, Johansson appears to acquiesce in the “scum state” translation of the word he used.

However:

In an e-mail to the Post on Wednesday, Johansson wrote, “I decided to take down my blog because I appreciate that my comments were ill-judged and appear all the more so when taken out of context, and have obviously caused offence to many people although it was not my intention, at all, to cause such offence.”

He added “I am especially conscious, and regret that my ill-judged action may be detrimental to Amnesty International’s work on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the valiant human rights work being undertaken by my colleagues working for Amnesty International in Israel.”


Espoo mall shootings

Aamulehti has some background on the gunman who carried out the shootings at the shopping mall in Espoo, Finland, today:

The suspect, Ibrahim Shkupolli (born 1966) is a Kosovo Albanian who according to Aamulehti’s information came to Finland via Norway in 1990. He was placed in the reception center at Mikkeli [Eastern Finland], which he later left to live in Espoo, Finland.

In the early 1990s he already had a Finnish girlfriend who is one of the victims of the Sello tragedy. Aamulehti understands that Shkupolli later separated from this girlfriend and married an Albanian woman. He also had children in common with her. The whole family lives in Finland.

The suspect’s wife and child as well as his parents and brother live in Finland.

So far, unconfirmed reports suggest a triangle as the background to the shootings. Shkupolli may have been driven by jealousy of his former, Finnish girlfriend’s new life.

Finland as a question, Russia as reply

Next March the Finnish publisher WSOY will release an unfinished work by the poet, author and publisher Paavo Haavikko, who died last year at the age of 77. The book bears the slightly odd title Suomi kysymyksessä, vastauksena Venäjä (literally “Finland in question, Russia in reply”), and is an attempt to trace and analyse the historical relations between Finland and Russia throughout the centuries, concentrating on the genetic myths and memories, and the hatred and hostility that developed in the conversation between the two countries, influenced by official propaganda on both sides.

(cross-posted from Nordic Voices)

Vanhanen: Finland needs "deeper ties" with Russia

Via Bloomberg (October 9):

The conclusion in Finland was that we have to deepen our relations to Russia and that we have to try in all ways to bind Russia better and better to Europe,” [Finland’s Prime Minister] Vanhanen said today in an interview at his office in Helsinki. “So, more cooperation with Russia; that was the conclusion we made after the Georgia war.”

Hat tip: Mari-Ann Kelam