By Violetta Teetor, EJN (Finnish branch of the Association of European Journalists)
Lasse Lehtinen is a retired Finnish journalist, MP, MEP and author of Blood, Sweat and Bears, My Forest and Full of Life. His knowledge of the uneasy truce between the Soviet Union and Finland gave us a picture of Finland’s relationship with the USA and why Finnish audiences are so interested in learning more about President Donald Trump. Mr. Lehtinen spoke at the European Journalists Network AGM on 27 February 2018.
Finns were afraid. The dark years after the war brought about a precarious situation where criticism of the Soviet Union could not be aired publicly. Finnish sovereignty was on shaky ground resulting in Finns turning towards the great Western super power for inspiration and silent protest. At the time, Eljas Erkko, chief editor of Helsingin Sanomat, had the resources to influence thinking and it was due to him that Finland had the highest readership per capita of Donald Duck and Reader’s Digest. Marlboro cigarettes reached no. 1 in the smoking category in the same way as the Finns’ enthusiasm with American films, music and cars. Fullbright scholars came and went between the two countries, Rotary exchange students found homes in both places. Many of the Finnish returnees had had an education in leftist politics from protestors of the Vietnam War and brought their ideology with them.
What now? The symbol of democracy and freedom, the USA, seems to be going down the drain. The answers are opaque. The rust belt want their jobs back. Mr. Trump has promised that. There has also been a tax reform under the guise of lightening the average tax payers load, but is this really so? From all accounts, corporate America is the big winner with ‘pass-through’ companies such as Mr. Trump’s counting among the beneficiaries. The individual can celebrate but not for long since all their benefits come to a screeching halt in 2025, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center.
Should we be afraid? It’s a slippery road and we need studded tyres. Our hope is in President Sauli Niinistö whose visit to the White House panned out to be congenial. Diplomacy is what he’s good at unlike his American counterpart. In the footsteps of President Kekkonen’s brilliant handling of our eastern neighbour, diplomacy is this small country’s strength. Whether to the East or West, let’s cross our fingers that it works again.