Book on Anton Salonen case describes how custody battle turned into power politics
Former diplomat who smuggled Salonen to Finland predicts Johan Bäckman’s days as “Russia’s horseman” are over
It is Thursday at the Helsinki Book Fair, and Paavo Salonen waves a printout of a news item on the Russian Neva24 online publication. The story claims that he shackles his son Anton Salonen every evening to keep him from fleeing to Russia.
"This is one example of the systematic disinformation that has been spread in Russia", says journalist Tuula Malin, whose fresh book Tapaus Anton ("The Anton Case") describes how the custody dispute of the Halonen family turned into great power politics, and started to strain relations between Finland and Russia.
The book is based on Paavo Salonen’s diary entries as well as an extensive body of documents. Its heroes include Paavo and Anton Salonen, as well as Simo Pietiläinen, a former diplomat at the Finnish Consulate General in St. Petersburg, who smuggled the father and the son in the boot of his Audi with diplomatic plates from Russia to Finland in May 2009.
The action brought Pietiläinen’s diplomatic career to an end.
The villain in the book is Finnish academic Johan Bäckman, who is depicted as someone who tenaciously harasses Paavo and Anton Salonen, and as a tool of the Russian government, who spreads false information in Russia about the Salonens, and about attitudes of Finns toward Russian children and families in general.
Pietiläinen, who spoke at the unveiling of the new book, predicted that Bäckman’s time as "Russia’s horseman" will soon be over.
"The turning point was yesterday, Wednesday, when Russia’s Ombudsman for Children Pavel Astakhov publicly distanced himself from Bäckman’s claims. There has been a systematic propaganda attack, which is fading away now.
"Russia’s desire has been to test boundaries, to try the patience of the Finnish state, as well as the new president."
Bäckman denies being a political tool of Russia. "I am a Finnish human rights activist who is occasionally interviewed in the Russian media. My role has been exaggerated in Finland", Bäckman says.
"Simo Pietiläinen is the one who has harmed relations between Finland and Russia by smuggling Anton Salonen to Finland", Bäckman says.
Tuula Malin decided to publish her book on her own.
"I had a publishing agreement with Petteri Paasilinna, but he wanted me to remove the part about the disinformation and propaganda attack. I should have focused on the relationship between father and son. I could not approve of this", Malin says.
Both Simo Pietiläinen and Paavo Salonen are candidates in the municipal elections on Sunday. However, both deny that the date of the publication of the book would have anything to do with the election. The Helsinki Book fair was the key factor in the timing – not the election.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Russia’s children’s ombudsman distances himself from Johan Bäckman’s claims (25.10.2012)
Russian media sources begin to correct false allegations concerning Finland (24.10.2012)
A Finnish chip on Russia’s shoulder (16.10.2012)
Finnish child welfare vs. Russian media misinformation (with some Finnish assistance) (9.10.2012)
Russian mother of abducted Anton Salonen astonished at her treatment in Finland (19.8.2009)
Child abduction case prompts ministerial-level altercation between Finland and Russia (18.5.2009)
Finland replies to diplomatic note over Anton Salonen case (7.6.2011)
No charges against diplomat for smuggling boy into Finland (7.3.2011)
Something had to be done, says diplomat who brought abducted boy back to Finland (22.5.2009)
Rimma Salonen gets suspended sentence for child abduction (14.10.2009)