I see troubling parallels between my native country in the Seventies and America
When President Emmanuel Macron of France suggested “Finlandization” as a model for solving the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the idea was met with universal consternation among the geopolitical cognoscenti. After all, the term refers to the compromising period of Finnish history when the government, the press, and other elite institutions were bending over backwards to appease Soviet interests. The motive for Finlandization was strategic: cultivating friendly relations with the Kremlin was deemed a necessary evil to avoid Soviet occupation.
Having grown up in Finland during the Cold War, this unexpected re-surfacing of ‘Finlandization’ evoked in my mind disturbing parallels between 1970’s Finland and the contemporary United States. Quite obviously, as a military superpower, the USA has no reason to worry about occupation by another country. Instead, the crisis of American culture has to do with its preoccupation with identity politics and social justice concerns. Similar to the Finnish culture of the 1970s, elite institutions of the United States have embraced a worldview that is selective about facts and intolerant of dissent.
Although the term “cancel culture” was yet to be invented, the few Finns with courage to challenge pro-Soviet liturgy were frequently marginalised as either crackpots or capitalist lackeys. It was not uncommon for the conforming members of the cultural elite to expose private conversations of a dissenting nature to the Soviet cultural operatives. In the contemporary United States, we encounter a steady stream of examples where reasoned dissent from dominant policies aimed at promoting ”diversity, equity, and inclusion” will turn you into a persona non grata.
Widespread self-censorship was another key feature of Finlandization. Members of the press refrained from publishing material criticising the Soviet Union in fear of rocking the boat. Even ordinary citizens would frequently suppress their true feelings about the bully next door. Meanwhile, in the United States, the percentage of Americans who do not “feel free to speak their mind” has more than tripled from 13% in 1954 to 48% in 2015. According to a report by Heterodox Academy, 62% of college students agree that their campus climate prevents students from saying what they believe.
The ideology that permeates American elite institutions is fuelled by its progressive and youthful spirit. Identity politics has been accepted as the way of the future, with college-educated 20-somethings as the driving force. This is another similarity to 1970’s Finland where the culture of fear and intolerance was sustained and enforced by the privileged members of the baby boom generation. Although there were some hippies even in Finland, the hippest thing to do was to join the far-Left socialist movement, the members of which were affectionately nicknamed as “Stalinists.”
It was very fashionable to participate in peace marches that protested American imperialism while ignoring the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. In present-day America, it is considered progressive to attend BLM marches to protest police brutality, while ignoring the enormous loss of black lives caused by the growing problem of urban gun violence.
In my native Finland, the Cold War era distorted the intellectual development of an entire generation. Marxist-Leninist activists dominated academia, media, and the arts for more than a decade, disrupting the nation’s post-war integration into the European mainstream. This cultural shift did not happen because those radical voices represented the majority point of view. It happened because the moderate and rational majority was too afraid to resist the zeitgeist. I worry about something similar happening in my adopted homeland. I worry about the Finlandisation of America.
A dual citizen of Finland and the United States, Jukka Savolainen is a Writing Fellow at Heterodox Academy and Professor of Sociology at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.