President sees critical attitudes toward Russia as no hindrance to friendship
"We Finns are always critical towards everything", said President Tarja Halonen when asked to comment on a recent survey indicating widespread negative feelings towards Russia among Finns.
On Monday Helsingin Sanomat published details of an extensive international poll indicating that 62% of Finns took a negative or very negative view of Russia.
Halonen added that Finnish critical thinking does not harm friendship between Finland and Russia. She said that she believes that there are historical reasons for the anti-Russian feelings.
"We rarely speak. We are critical, but when we say ‘yes’, it means ‘yes’, and not ‘maybe’", Halonen said, explaining the Finnish national character - a comment which brought a smile to the faces of some of those present.
Also commenting on the poll was Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, who was in Luxembourg at a foreign ministers’ meeting of the EU. He noted that Finns have always been critical of great powers.
Halonen noted that the survey indicated that Finns are also critical towards the United States.
According to the survey, 56% of Finns have a negative view of the United States - a higher figure than in most other countries.
Tuomioja felt that the sampling of Finns in the survey was quite small (621), and added that the large proportion of people with a critical attitude requires some analysis.
In the view of Markku Kivinen of the Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki, impressions of the threats posed by Russia and unpleasant matters have been the main issue in the minds of Finns when they have answered the questions put to them in the poll.
Kivinen says that the answers were affected by the political situation in Russia.
"Finns have certainly taken a cautious view of the eastern neighbour as the result of the Winter War and the Continuation War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the goings-on in Russia have sparked uncertainty."
Kivinen says that there is no perception of any actual military threat in the backs of the minds of Finns. More mundane issues are at stake - questions such as long queues of lorries waiting to cross the border, rampant crime, disease, a poor work ethic, and basic unfamiliarity with the country.
The Pro Karelia association, which works for the return to Finland of territories ceded to the Soviet Union at the end of the last war, said in a press release on Monday that there is a common-sense reason why Finns take a negative attitude toward Russia.
"When Russia restores the areas once taken by the Soviet Union, Finnish views of Russia will change at one go", the association argues.
Previously in HS International Edition:
International poll: Anti-Russian sentiment runs very strong in Finland (11.10.2004)