Viimeinen juna Moskovaan

Instead of hatred there is feeling that we survived

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Newspaper Latvijas Avize, 15.12.2017

Interview with Finnish diplomat of 40 years’ experience René Nyberg


The book “Last train to Moscow” written by René Nyberg in 2015 had already 5 editions in Finland. In November Mr. Nyberg visited Riga in order to participate at the opening of this book in Latvian.  It was published by the publishing house “Jumava”.  This is a story about his family, about search of family roots, turns of the 20th century history and a little bit about diplomat’s work. The book revealed the life of the Jewish community of Finland in the first half of the 20th century in unexpected angle for the Finnish society. (Nyberg’s mother was Jewish)

Popularity of the book in Finland can be explained by the fact that the history of Jewish community there is “terra incognita”. At the book presentations people in Finland told the author that they had known absolutely nothing about life of Jewish community there not speaking about the fact that this community had very close ties with Jews in Riga that is written about in the book.

René Nyberg says: “My grandfather lived in Helsinki and was a successful small businessman yet the orthodox mentality was in him. According to the Orthodox Judaism precepts if a Jewish woman marries a man of alien faith she is considered “a symbolically dead”. Thus my grandfather read a prayer for “the dead daughter” after my mother Fanny had married the Finn of Swedish origin Bruno.  While I grew up I had heard something about the scandal in the family but only when I got acquainted with this case in the police archives I learned how terrible it all happened. My mother’s sister Riko called my mother a bitch and wished she had never been born. But her brother Abram threatened to kill Bruno. ”

Jews living in Finland got information about holocaust taking place in the occupied Latvia through Sweden as newspapers wrote about it. Yet, the true picture was revealed only later. Here is time to speak about Finland in the Second World War. Finland had to sign agreement with the Belcebulus in order to fight against Satan. Yet, it did not mean that Finland accepted Belcebulus’ ideology. Finland was an absolute exception among Hitler’s allies. It stayed as a parliamentary democracy. Recently the chairman of Finland’s Jewish community said that Jews were spared not because Finns “loved them very much” but because the rule of law traditions preserved from the Swedish times did not allow such repressions. R.Nyberg explains: “We did not have authoritarianism. Finland also during the war was a rule of law state and laws simply did not allow anything of that kind. When in 1943 SS leader Heinrich Himmler demanded Finland to solve “the issue of Jews” he got reply that there were no Jews in Finland only citizens of Finland. Jews even served in the Finnish army and they were officers in the front together with Germans.  When Finland withdrew from the war in autumn 1944 Marshal Gustav Mannerheim who was then also the president of Finland visited synagogue. There was an unofficial agreement if something happened the whole Jewish community could find a shelter in neutral Sweden.

By 1917 Finland did not feel the World War I. There was agreement that the Finnish autonomy will just pay a certain sum of money in Russia’s budget for the needs of war. In 1918 four months long civil war started in Finland. It was not just a war because after it many thousands of “red soldiers” died in awful circumstances in prisoners’ camps. Very many were shot. Although now-a-days the reconciliation process is completed there is a small aftertaste left in the society from that time. It demanded several generations.

The winter war against Russia in 1939/1940 in fact united the Finnish nation. Stalin did not realize what he had done. When he attacked Finland in 1939 Finns became a united nation. Now we can say that we have coped with our history. After war there were half a million refugees from the territories which had to be given to the USSR. Nobody was left there all people were evacuated. More than 60 years have passed since that and instead of hatred there is a feeling that we survived that we did not have other choice than to fight and afterwards to come to agreement with the USSR. Unlike in the Baltic States our statehood was not ruined.

Talking about Karelia no Finn stayed there. In Viborg every stone speaks Finnish but there are no Finns. This issue is closed. No serious politician is going to speak about revenge. Although President Urho Kekkonen tried to do it. It was his idea that Viborg and some other territories should be regained as he was the MP from Viborg. He was sure that if Hrushcov was not overthrown from the office he would have succeeded.

Finlandization was attributed to Finland during the years of cold war and it was insulting from the point of view of Finns. We survived and that is where from comes Finland’s deep realism in relations with the USSR and Russia.

Of course, what happened in Crimea is not acceptable for us. We know very well what it means when somebody wants to change borders with military methods. We support EU sanctions against Russia but it does not mean we do not have relations with Russia which at the moment are as good as they can be.

Finnish society is rather persistent against the hybrid war techniques and fake news. Educational level in the society is very high. When Sputnik opened its branch in Finland and started recruiting journalists they failed and were forced to close offices in the Nordic countries.

Finland is no more neutral because it is in the EU but not in the NATO. Cooperation with the NATO started in 1994 when Finland became a partner state of the alliance. Relations with the NATO developed very fast and now it has practically reached its ceiling. We have everything except official joining. Our relations with the NATO can be characterized by the saying “smoking but not inhaling”. Finland’s joining NATO is not a technical but a symbolical and political step.  And that changes everything.

After Ukrainian crisis a revolution has taken place in the military cooperation between Finland and Sweden. The idea is that we have to find the way to act together in case the world changes.

Baltic States’ joining the NATO no doubt increased stability in the Baltic Sea region. You had no other choice.