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Study Exchange at the Aleksanteri Institute

CGP student assistant Petya Hristova shares insights on Russian-Finnish relations gained during her study exchange at the Helsinki-based Aleksanteri Institute.


News from Jul 10, 2015

My motivation to spend two semesters during the second year of my Master East European Studies abroad at the Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki stemmed from the perspective to broaden my horizon not only in terms of new regional insights and research practices, but also to get to know the Finnish perspective on the current situation beyond her 1200-kilometer-long Eastern border.

Finland’s political, socio-economic and cultural development differs from the one characterizing her neighbors westward, which certainly is also an outcome of the intensive intra-imperial/inter-state relations with the big neighbor eastward, be it the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union or the Russian Federation. Under both Swedish rule (13th to 19th Century) and Russian imperial rule (19th- beginning of the 20th Century), the Finnish people preserved their nation’s cultural and societal attributes, also enjoying semi-autonomy as a Great Duchy during the Russian Empire era. The late nation’s consolidation led to a non-violent transition to an independent state on December 6, 1917 with the Finnish leaders using the chaos over the border – the October Revolution. What followed, in brief, was a short civil war with the Whites taking the lead, institution building based on the republican framework established mainly during Emperor Alexander II’s realm, alliance with Nazi Germany during WWII and two wars against the Soviet Union (Winter War, 1939-1940, and Continuation War, 1941-1944). The Cold War phase was dominated by the transition from an agrarian to an industrialized economy and, furthermore, by the acquiescence and adaption to the Eastern neighbor, which became known as the negatively connoted term ‘Finlandisation’.

After the end of the Cold War, Finland passed to the victorious camp, exchanged her neutrality foreign policy doctrine for a military non-alliance, and joined the EU in 1995 and the Eurozone in 1999. The political system is still in a state of (moderate) flux characterized by fragmented party system, transition from semi-presidential (significant especially during the Cold War) to purely parliamentarian features, coping with right-populist actors, trying to create incentives for a badly needed economic growth. Still, the political culture was exceptional from the perspective of a native Bulgarian, and even compared to designed pioneer in this field, Germany.

Russia’s proximity offers another challenge to the political leadership, which endeavors to preserve cooperation in the field of low-politics and to influence the state of events through mild critique in the field of high-politics. Finland’s balanced approach differs thus from the hawkish foreign policy actions of the Baltic States. Cold War legacy? Probably the topic is worth dealing with anyhow. Never before I have had the opportunity to explore a country I do not know that much about in such a thorough manner during my university courses and before coming to Helsinki. I still cannot assuage my appetite to learn more about it. I hope I could capture your interest, too.

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