Smuggling Bibles to the East during Finlandisation years
Tapani Kaitainen carried spiritual literature to Soviet Union
By Matti Huuskonen
Pastor Tapani Kaitainen holds a book that is barely the size of the hand of a small child. It is a Gospel According to St. John, intended for prisoners - an example of religious literature of the kind that Katainen and hundreds of other volunteers smuggled into the Soviet Union in bygone days.
We are in Hausjärvi in the village of Ryttylä in the cellar of the Finnish Lutheran Mission, looking at an exhibition of the work that the organisation did in its outreach efforts to the countries of Eastern Europe up until the 1980s.
On display are Bibles and New Testaments in various languages, as well as equipment used in smuggling, and copies of the magazine Valoa idästä (“Light from the East”).
The magazine wrote about the persecution of believers in the communist countries in a way that was far from the official foreign policy line of Finland at the time.
“A counterforce to Finlandisation”, says Piia Latvala, who defended her doctoral thesis in Helsinki on Friday, on the early years of the mission’s work, from 1967 to 1973.
Tapani Kaitainen, who grew up in Miehikkälä near the Soviet border, experienced a spiritual awakening in 1967 at the age of 14.
The awakening was linked with spiritual activities that emerged in different parts of the world, emphasising personal rebirth. In the same year, the Finnish Lutheran Mission was set up.
Kaitainen learned about the work that the new organisation was doing east of the border at the age of 15 at the Mission’s youth festival in Ryttylä. He began to pray for a young Russian woman who had been imprisoned for her faith. Kaitainen also donated money to the Slavic Mission Section of the organisation.
Kaitainen heard about the shortage of Bibles in the Eastern countries in the following year, 1968. He began to plan his own Bible export activities together with a boy next door. The boys paid for their passports, visas, train tickets, and hotel rooms out of their own pockets, as all of the volunteer couriers did.
They got the Bibles from the organisation, as well as information on where to deliver the books.
Kaitainen still will not divulge where he hid the books. “The technique wasn’t very special. Let’s say that they were out of sight. We planned and rehearsed many times, like you can imagine how boys plan things at that age.”
At the destination, in Leningrad, the boys gave the books to Russian recipients. In the evening they were invited to a service held by an underground religious group. It was held in a private home, and those attending were offered food, including salted pork fat.
Many of the couriers brought back clandestine Samizdat publications, where the drawbacks of the Soviet system, such as the oppression of religious believers, was described and criticised directly and severely.
The writings were translated and published in Valoa idästä, and were forwarded to other Western countries.
The Finnish Lutheran Mission was attacked in parts of the Finnish press and by leftist Members of Parliament in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Security Police investigated the group, and ministers answered questions put to them in Parliament.
There was criticism, but nothing else, because exporting bibles and criticising the Soviet Union was not illegal. For instance, ministers Ahti Karjalainen and Väinö Leskinen both noted that Finland is a country where freedom of expression prevails.
The public chastisement only added to Kaitainen’s determination.
“We didn’t’ do anything illegal. We were thinking of people who needed Bibles, the basic books of congregational life”, he recalls.
The last time that Katainen took part in a smuggling operation was at the beginning of the 1980s, when he was a youth pastor in Kangasala. Now he works at the Finnish Lutheran Mission, focussing on outreach to Estonia and Russia, among other places.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.11.2008
Previously in HS International Edition:
Aamulehti: Historians call for thorough examination of Finlandisation era (8.10.2007)
Mantra against Finlandisation (26.10.2006)
Max Jakobson recalls heroes and villains of Finlandisation (25.9.2003)
MATTI HUUSKONEN / Helsingin Sanomat